By Lynn Edmonds
Elderly New York City Housing Authority residents will no longer be forced to move out of their homes if they have only one extra bedroom, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) announced at a press conference on Friday at Pomonok Houses, along with State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Kew Gardens Hills).
The councilman said he negotiated with NYCHA over their “rightsizing” policy, begun in 2012 and ramped up in 2014, meant to shuffle around NYCHA residents so in each household the number of bedrooms roughly corresponds to the number of occupants. Under the revised policy, only those who have two or more extra bedrooms will be required to move.
Lancman said the change would protect vulnerable residents who were not able to handle a move late in life.
In 2012, NYCHA’s executive vice president of operations Carlos Laboy-Diaz told the City Council that 56,000 of NYCHA’s approximately 178,000 apartments were either “under occupied” or “extremely under occupied,” while 15,000 were over occupied.
Under the old “rightsizing” policy, the housing authority send two warning letters to those living in under occupied apartments, requiring them to register for a transfer to a housing development of their choosing. If they did not respond, they would be randomly assigned an apartment in a new location within the borough.
But the policy drew backlash, especially on behalf of senior citizens, who tended to be left with big apartments after their adult children moved out. Elderly residents could be forced to move across the city, away from the community they’ve come to depend on.
Lancman said seniors “were just absolutely terrified at the thought that the home that they’ve lived in for decades is now going to be taken away from them.”
“NYCHA was treating some of our most valued senior residents here at Pomonok and other New York City housing authority development like they were pieces of furniture to be moved from one apartment to the next,” he said.
In addition to being allowed an extra room, under the negotiated policy seniors will receive warning letters which clearly state that they have the right to stay in their apartments if they have a medical condition.
But Simanowitz said that the changes did not go far enough.
“Many of these people rely on their neighbors to sustain themselves; to go shopping, to do their laundry. This is not a matter of convenience. This is a matter of life and death for a lot of these people,” he said.
The assemblyman said that seniors should be asked to downsize right when their children move out of the house, not when they’re in their 80s or 90s.
Though NYCHA was originally envisioned as a temporary haven to help buttress individuals until they could move into market rate housing, politicians and residents said that in reality the authority doesn’t function that way.
“It’s really a life, a community, and fortunately NYCHA saw the light, particularly in this holiday season,” Stavisky said.
Monica Corbett, President of the Pomonok Residents Association, said she was happy that seniors who needed to stay would be able to.
But she said that there were still cases of overcrowding, like one household where a married couple with five children was sharing a one bedroom apartment.
“You have people who can’t grow. Girls who are becoming teenagers who are blossoming but they can’t dress right in front of their brothers. So its glass half empty, glass half full,” said Corbett.
Part of the problem may be NYCHA’s slow response times.
“When I was in a one bedroom with my son it took me seven years, from when he turned six when I put the application in, till he turned 13, to get a two-bedroom apartment,” she added. “The day I got the apartment was the day he got accepted to boarding school.”
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana