News | Uptown

Tenant groups prepare to fight HPD as cuts come to Section 8

  • Deborah Secular for Spectator
    RALLYING | From left: Tenant association representatives Willie Ford, Julie Cohen, Caludette Simmons, Bridgette Scott, and Alicia Barksdale, and attorney for the Housing Coalition Against Downsizing, George Peters. HCAD plans on filing a lawsuit against the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to stop the agency's downsizing of Section 8 housing.

Tenant associations from subsidized housing complexes are preparing to fight city efforts to downsize the Section 8 voucher program and move residents into smaller units.

At a meeting Tuesday night, members of the recently formed Housing Coalition Against Downsizing—which includes the massive apartment building 3333 Broadway on 134th Street—gathered at a nondescript office on 145th Street and Convent Avenue to discuss a potential lawsuit against the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development as it moves to cut costs after the federal sequester reduced the agency’s funding.

George Peters, the attorney who represents HCAD organizers, said that he plans to launch a lawsuit against HPD to “stop any downsizing until this has been seen in court.”

In a statement, an HPD spokesperson said, “We are trying to keep our existing tenants housed, but given the magnitude of cuts to our funding, we’ve had to implement measures that require everybody to make some sacrifice so that nobody risks losing their Section 8 benefit.”

But one way tenants say that the “sacrifices” are carried out is by reducing the size of Section 8 vouchers, forcing families to move into smaller and cheaper homes. The Section 8 program works by providing rent vouchers to qualifying households.

“You’re going to tell us to put a bed in the middle of our living room, dining room, and kitchen?” Alicia Barksdale, president of the tenant association at 3333 Broadway, said. “You’re putting us in the doghouse.”

She said that the landlords of 3333 Broadway are now harassing tenants who have received letters from HPD asking them to move.

“HPD gave the landlords an inch, and the landlords took a mile,” Barksdale said. “They’re playing games, and no one wants to answer for anything.”

The HPD spokesperson said that the cuts are necessary because the federal sequester last year caused the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to reduce funding to state- and city-level housing agencies like HPD. The spokesperson added that because of the cuts, HPD is projecting a $40 million deficit for 2014.

“If HPD didn’t completely spend down our existing reserves for 2013 and undertake these measures immediately and going forward to stretch our Section 8 budget, we could have been forced to rescind vouchers from about 2,900 families in 2013,” the spokesperson said, though added that 140 exceptions for disabled and seniors have been approved so far.

The spokesperson said that even though Congress’ recently approved two-year budget deal will provide $17.4 billion for HUD, not enough money may trickle down to city-level agencies to make up for HPD’s budget shortfall.

Still, those present Tuesday night said that the process through which the cuts are carried out is complicated and unfair.

Peters said that his experience with HPD, which can be requested to supervise meetings between tenants and landlords, has left him with reservations about the fairness of the process.

“You’re supposed to be impartial like a judge, but actually she was advocating for HPD,” Peters said of the HPD employee who heard his client’s case. “I said, ‘That’s not fair’ ... but it makes sense, because her salary is being paid by HPD.”

Other tenant presidents reported a similarly disorganized experience.

“There was no formal need of declaring who was representing who,” Tuck Milligan, president of the tenants association at the Upper West Side apartment building Glenn Gardens, said about a recent hearing.

In a letter sent last Friday by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, GS ’97, to HPD, she raised concerns about “transparency, basic fairness and the perceived lack of uniformity” of the downsizing process and called for a moratorium on the practice. 

Susan Marens, president of the tenant association at the Lower East Side Kips Bay Court apartments, said that during the organizing process, it can be difficult to get tenants to be open about the reasons downsizing is unfeasible for their families—meaning families may not be able to take advantage of HPD’s accommodations for elderly or disabled residents.

“One of the issues that I keep tripping over is the fact that the form that they have asks the health practitioner to sign as a disability,” Marens said. “The issue for many people is that the doctor doesn’t see what they have as a disability.”

“In my building they have downsized people, but sometimes they didn’t want to fight,” Barksdale said. “Listen, you don’t want to be downsized, you have to let your attorney know everything about your family.”

Barksdale and several other tenant presidents formed HCAD in December to coordinate legal representation among housing complexes as they try to oppose HPD.

Barksdale has fears herself that the downsizing will ultimately mean rising rents for everyone in 3333 Broadway.

While low-income tenants in the building were given Section 8 vouchers after the building’s owners opted out of the city’s Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program in 2005, the reduction in Section 8 payments could mean the landlords will raise rents for both low-income and market- rate units to make up the losses.

Though Peters is preparing to fight HPD in his upcoming lawsuit, he sees larger issues at work. He questions why such issues are even necessary for the tenants to face.

“Because Congress was fighting?” he said. “Because certain politicians want to show how tough they are on the poor and the weak?”

deborah.secular@columbiaspectator.com  |  @DeborahSecular

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Jeff posted on

Boy, these welfare queens can't get a freakin job, but they can sure find the time and energy to file lawsuits and complain when they are asked to share the common sacrifice that most Americans are making. These selfish, entitlement people are a disgrace to our country, taxpayers pay their rent and they still bitch and complain, I hope the Republicans pull the plug on HUD, perhaps then these lazy people will get a job and pay their own way. I hope they throw this lawsuit out on its butt.

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Anonymous posted on

This is petty cash compared to what the 1% receive in tax breaks and corporate welfare. Most of these people have worked hard all their lives and were appropriately housed until HPD changed the rules. I hope you never face being thrown out of the home you've been living in for years and years.

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Anonymous posted on

Wow, Jeff.

Just wow.

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Kelly Ann Junior posted on

This is such a shame when HPD is downsizing disabled, elderly tenants due to a $35M debt!! HPD has been increasing all of the Section 8 landlord's contract rents which is paid by the GOVERNEMENT!! NOTE to GOVERNMENT: TAKE BACK YOUR MONEY FROM THE LANDLORDS AND YOU WILL NOT BE IN DEBT FOR $35M!!!

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Anonymous posted on

I have been living in what was once a Mitchell Lama Building for 21 years. When our owners opted out of the program, they could not wait to get their hands on the HPD/HUD money and the government went along . This was a deal brokered by the landlord and the government agencies, not the tenants. The property was originally built as low cost affordable housing for low income people and the subsidies were small. This has turned into a windfall for the landlords - corporate welfare - not welfare for the residents. My rent and utilities rise annually as my income and as my income is small it is a struggle just to keep my head above water. I never would have imagined when I moved into this very well conceived, inexpensive and modest housing that it would turn into the debacle that it has. I am being pushed around because of corporate greed and if Jeff thinks I am a welfare queen he can by me a crown with jewels, because I sure could use the money dealing with these shysters. I am approaching my senior years, am single and have worked since I was 15 years old. These properties were built with PUBLIC MONEY and have basically been given away to a bunch of rich lawyers. THEY are the welfare queens. Get the facts Jeff. Do you ever read?

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Anonymous posted on

AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR THE WORKING CLASS. HPD AND THE LANDLORDS ARE THE WINNERS. TENANTS ARE PAYING 30% OF THE gross income. That is not what they come home with. So the Landlords are making out like bandits!!! The tenants are NOT lazy. they are the heart and soul of New York City before the rich hipsters took over. So please do not call these peopel Welfare. Section 8 is good for seniors but for people who work and make a living its a living hell! Recertification Letters, looking at all your savings, accounts, money everything is considered Income. If you ask me they will find something to through you out.

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Anonymous posted on

The people that built Independence Plaze North and started Tribeca have Sticky Vouchers also. maybe there are 10% left. Because the landlord and HPD were working together to find something, anything to get a tenant out and do construction work to the apartment. Tranform a one bedroom to a two bedroom, a two bedroom to a three bedroom. The new tenanats pay $4,500 and more to live there maybe 2 years and leave. The voucher tenants live in fear every day!! Its a horrible thing. HPD NEEDS TO BE INVESTIGATED FOR WORKING WITH THE LANDLORD!

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Anonymous posted on

In the Mitchell-Lama coop we live, called Luna Park and located on Coney Island, HPD deliberately granted SCRIE program to millionaires, who is supplying HPD honchos with the money, gained illicitly from illegal apartment sale - see more information on www.mylooneypark.com. That information could be helpful for fighting hpd. That illicit policies of HPD well known by DOI, but nothing is done

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dina posted on

HPD is very nice to the people - who supply them with illicit income, they granted millionaires the SCRIE program for low income people, because she is promptly supplying them with illicitly gained money - see www.mylooneypark.com. All our claims are supported by documents.

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