Date: Mon, 08 Mar 1999 00:45:24 -0500
Subject: Tenants Online 3/7/99

Tenants Online                                            3/7/99
In this issue...

* Rodney, how could you?
* Hudson Guild needs Tenant Organizer 
* Queens college dorms could affect neighborhood and dislocate tenants
* Are Civil Court Employees Civil?
* SRO Housing: for tenants or tourists?

Listen to Housing Notebook, with Scott Sommer
NEW DATE & TIME: Mondays at 8 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5 FM (starting 3/15)


A NYC tenant has sued the owners of Dangerfields, the owners of the
nightclub bearing the name of comedian Rodney Dangerfield seeking proper
rent stabilized registration and overcharges and promptly posted the court
papers on his website. The landlord discovered that the tenant was making
public documents public and sought an injunction to force the tenant to
cease such publicity. For the latest, go to



The Hudson Guild, a multi-service settlement house with a strong community
building and advocacy mission, is seeking a full-time Tenant Organizer to
work in its tenant advocacy program, the Chelsea Housing Group. This person
will assist tenants in distressed buildings to collectively address poor
conditions/services, harassment, eviction and rental overcharge. Organizer
will also provide individual case work services and assist tenants in
housing court.
Qualifications: Knowledge of NY rent laws and NYC Housing Court. At least
two years experience in grass-roots, neighborhood-based community
organizing. Bachelor degree preferred. Computer skills, bi-lingual
English/Spanish a plus.  Salary from $27, 000 (depending on experience)
plus benefits. Send cover letter and resume to R.M. de la Torre:
Coordinator, CHG  by March 31:  

By mail: 	Hudson Guild
		441 West 26th Street
		New York, NY 10001

By fax :	(212) 268-9983



Kew Gardens Hills community leaders have organized a coalition including
the Flushing on the Hill Taxpayers Association, the Georgetown Mews
Cooperative, the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, the Kew Gardens
Tenants League, the Mid-Queens Community Council and the Queens Community
Civic Corporation to respond to Queens College's plans for on-campus
dormitories. Other local groups are working with the coalition. The
coalition's major and immediate concern is that construction of dormitories
would displace hundreds of faculty members, students and staff from
existing parking lots onto local streets, further aggravating already
chaotic parking conditions. "Coalition members are established community
organizations that represent residents whose homes abut the college
campus," said Shirley B. Weinstein, president of the Mid-Queens Community
Council, and a coalition leader.

College President Allen Lee Sessoms refuses to meet with local civic
leaders, said Patricia Dolan, president of the 3,600 family Kew Gardens
Hills Civic Association, reinforcing their suspicions that the college is
about to follow St. John's University's example by telling the community
nothing until construction on dormitories is about to begin. "We are not
prepared to wait on Dr. Sessoms until the cranes appear on Kissena
Boulevard. We are reviewing our options, legal and political," said Dolan.

Dr. Sessoms wrote to State Senator Leonard P. Stavisky that the college is
negotiating with ELCOP, a developer that has built dormitories for Rutgers
University, with Educational Housing, a real-estate management company that
operates dorms for Pratt Institute and Marymount College, and with Lehman
Brothers, which would structure a finance plan.

In December, Dr. Sessoms announced a new venture with the Center for
Educational Innovation to establish a campus based elementary school
program that will eventually serve as many as 480 students. The elementary
school program would serve as a training laboratory for the college's
education program which serves about 6,000 Queens College students.
According to Sessoms, the elementary school program will begin to enroll
students in l999 or 2000.

A month later, in a January speech to the Center, an affiliate of the
Manhattan Institute, Dr. Sessoms described dormitory development as
integral to an expanded, quasi-independent University at Queens that would
enroll students from "localities far removed from New York City." ...
"Other city colleges/schools could eventually be integrated into the new
university..."  "The new university would require its own separate
protected line in the state budget."

Dr Sessom's plans for Queens College are raising objections among CUNY
faculty and students who see a new "Queens University" breaking away from
CUNY, a first step in the privatization of Queens College. CUNY and State
legislators are surprised by Dr. Sessoms' confidence that he can advance
his dormitory and development plans without CUNY or state oversight and
review. A CUNY leader described Dr. Sessom's assertions of independence as
"misplaced." Some city-based state legislators are appalled at the
implications of Dr. Sessoms' plans for Queens College and, by extension, CUNY.

A Manhattan architect who studied the campus for the Kew Gardens Hills
Civic Association, a coalition member, determined that the only available
sites for dormitories are the existing parking lots.

Senior college administrators continue to insist that community concerns
that the college is planning to build dormitories on the Kissena Boulevard
campus are premature.

Another highly placed senior Queens College administrator has told a local
civic leader that the college will announce by mid-April it has chosen
three sites for dormitory development: the parking lots facing the Long
Island Expressway near Reeves Avenue; a location near the parking lots
facing Gravett Road; and one off-campus location, an occupied, rent
regulated apartment 13-building complex several blocks south of the campus.
"We will resist any effort by Queens College to displace tenants to make
room for residence halls for students," said Florence Fisher, executive
director of the Queens Community Civic Corp., a housing group and coalition

The coalition is consulting regularly with Councilman Morton Povman,
Assmblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, Senator Daniel Hevesi, Senator Leonard
Stavisky, Councilwoman Helen Marshall (chair of the City Council Committee
on Higher Education) as well as other state and city legislators.

For information contact Patricia Dolan, Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association
at (718) 592-5757 or Florence Fisher, Queens Community Civic Corp. at


from the New York Law Journal, March 1, 1999

IT HAS BEEN five years since persistent problems caused by rude court
personnel prompted Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and then-Chief Administrative
Judge E. Leo Milonas to initiate state-wide "civility" training for the
court system's 13,000 non-judicial employees.

While many scoffed at the program, a recent tour of several city courts
revealed that most clerks and court officers believe that being civil to
the public is more than just the right thing to do, it also makes their
jobs easier -- and safer.

In 1994 and 1995, court officials conducted the first wave of training
sessions for front-line personnel. The sessions, stressing themes such as
"how to be a good listener" and "how to deal with difficult customers,"
included instructional videos and role-playing exercises where clerks and
other employees got to "portray" belligerent or confused members of the
general public.


As a follow-up, supervisors were taught to be trainers themselves in order
to continue the process in their own courthouses. This two-tiered effort
continues. "Civility training" is part of 14 hours a year of training that
is mandated in the contracts for court clerks. The ability to deal with the
public is part of the clerks' annual job evaluations. Margaret Morton, of
the Office of Court Administration's Human Resources Department, said OCA
has followed through with supervisor training, conducting a program called
"Dialogue With Customers" in 1998 and a spin-off, three-hour seminar called
"Communicating With Style."

Ann Pfau, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Management Support, said
ongoing training reminds employees "that everybody has to be as polite as
possible," and recognize that "those who come to court are often
"disgruntled, unhappy people."

Imagine coming into a court as a litigant, she said. "you are very nervous,
you don't understand the process, and you don't understand what you are
getting into," Judge Pfau said. "If you are met with anything less than
good service, that's unfair."

Employee Response

A common reaction among court employees asked about the training is an
exaggerated roll of the eyes.

"It was a joke -- it was all about political correctness," said a veteran
clerk manning an information window on the fifth floor at Brooklyn Criminal
Court. "The people who run these programs should spend some time here and
see what we have to deal with: we had 106,000 cases come through here last
year." One clerk described the videos as "corny, badly acted scenarios in
pristine courtrooms, probably shot in the 1950s." Another clerk said the
role-playing and interactive sessions were "right out of a 'Dilbert' cartoon."

"Everything they told us was common sense," said a 47-year-old Queens
Supreme Court officer, who called the training a waste of time. "Either you
got manners or you don't," he said.

Earlier Training

Many court officers say they already received the requisite training on how
to deal with the public at the court officers' academy. "Everyone I know
made fun of it -- they said it was like kindergarten or nursery school"
said Dennis W. Quirk, president of the 1,500-member New York State Court
Officers Association. "These officers are already trained and they know its
easier to be nice than it is to be nasty."

While Brooklyn Supreme Court Officer Wayne Powell said he has seen court
officers go out of their way to help people without being asked, he said
has also seen "officers act in a way that makes me embarrassed."

Mr. Powell said training is a good idea. "Many times we are too quick to
say, 'sit down' or 'shut up', " he said. "The training was needed. And for
those who didn't need it, it didn't hurt."

Charles T. Compton, president of the New York State Supreme Court Officers
Association said he would support even more training. "This is a job where
you deal with thousands and thousands of people -- and you don't have the
opportunity to have a 'bad hair day,' " Mr. Compton said. "For this kind of
training to take hold, it should be done throughout the career."

Alan Beck, who worked for The Fund for Modern Courts for nine years and now
serves as a consultant to the group, the manner in which court employees
treat the public has improved. "I've certainly noticed fewer complaints,"
Mr. Beck said. "Its hard to quantify, but I think the training has to have

Coping Difficulties

Every once in a while, supervisors remove a wayward employee from public
view. Judge Pfau said that if a good employee is having trouble dealing
with the public, supervisors try "and get them some help." If that does not
work, "we try to put them in a more appropriate assignment where they don't
interact with the public as much," she said.

Mr. Compton said most employees know that "if you get a little steamed, you
step away for awhile." In the "very rare" case where an officer cannot
handle the public, "management puts them in a position where they are still
But supervisors said they generally are tolerant of employees having a bad
day, understanding that dealing with an endless stream of distraught
patrons is not a dream job. And the emphasis on good manners and "listening
skills" is based, if anything, on being practical.

"You come back from training persuaded to try and get people to go the
extra yard," said Kevin Begley, assistant borough clerk in Queens. "The
more you help people, the less you are going to see them again -- they
won't have to come back."


from Met Council Tenant/Inquilino, March 1999
By Frank Brodhead

Single-room occupancy housing is perhaps the most vulnerable sector of
affordable, privately owned housing in New York. It was once home to more
than 100,000 New Yorkers; most of the remaining 40,000 live in Manhattan,
where they are being battered by the powerful tides of a strong real-estate

SRO residents typically pay about $100 a week for a 9' x 12' room, sharing
a bathroom and/or communal kitchen with others on their floor. It’s not for
everyone, but SROs fill an important niche for many seniors, beginning
workers, or just low-income people.

A large portion of Manhattan’s SRO housing is in residential hotels,
especially on the West Side. It is here that the tourist boom has had it
greatest effect, tempting even fourth- and fifth-string hotels to dress
themselves up as tourist hotels offering rooms at $75 and $100 per night.
To cash in on this bonanza, hotel operators must not only advertise widely
and make cosmetic improvements, but force out permanent residents to make
room for the tourists. Many hotel owners also try to upgrade their
buildings, combining small rooms into bigger ones, or installing private
baths. Some owners do this one room at a time; others attempt to redo their
entire building at once.

Different landlord strategies produce different kinds of problems for
long-term residents. But all tenants are affected by the city’s failure to
enforce legal protections now on the books. One such protection is the
requirement on an owner to obtain a “certificate of no harassment” prior to
adding bathrooms or changing the “room count” of their buildings. Obtaining
a certificate, issued by the Department of Housing Preservation and
Development, is usually automatic: HPD only denied three of the 649
applications made between 1993 and 1998.

New life was breathed into this process last week when HPD denied a
certificate of no harassment to Property Markets Group (PMG). for the
Allerton Hotel on East 57th Street. PMG is currently the most aggressive of
Manhattan’s hotel “converters,” having recently purchased four SRO hotels.
It is a strident violator of tenants’ rights; the 90 permanent residents of
the West Side’s Broadway-American now live in the midst of a construction
zone, and tenants at the Commander Hotel have filed dozens of harassment
and other grievances since PMG took over a year ago.

The tenant victory at the Allerton, whose case was presented at HPD by the
East Side SRO Law Project, is important. It may have some effect on PMG’s
ongoing harassment of tenants at the Commander and their other East Side
hotel, the Martha Washington. And it may send a signal to other hotel
converters that they can’t get an automatic “pass” on tenant harassment.
But will it automatically stop the conversion of the Allerton? Legally,
yes. PMG can’t get necessary work permits without their certificate. But in
practice many hotel owners have converted much or all of their buildings
without a certificate, and sometimes without any permits whatsoever.

Responsibility for stopping “illegal conversions” rests with the Department
of Buildings, which has the power to issue “stop work” orders and enforce
them against owners who continue work. Yet in practice it rarely does this.
To try to change this Councilmember Ronnie Eldridge (D-Manhattan) has
introduced two bills that attempt to require, rather than simply allow, the
DOB to issue stop-work orders and take other steps to stem illegal
conversions. The department predictably this bill, and the Mayor’s office
has refused to allow it to even meet with the bill’s advocates to discuss
some compromise. Thus the bill lies dead in the water, and the city’s
protections for its SRO residents remain mostly theoretical.

SRO Tenants United meets at the Goddard-Riverside Community Center on the
first Tuesday of each month. To learn more, call (212) 799-9638.

The Tenant Network(tm) for Residential Tenants
  NYtenants(tm) Discussion List: email to  
  and in the body of the message put "subscribe nytenants".
Information from TenantNet is from experienced non-attorney tenant 
activists and is not considered legal advice.

Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 15:57:34 -0500
Subject: Tenants Online 3/10/99

Tenants Online                                            3/10/99
In this issue...

* Speak Out on Police Misconduct
* Perspectives on TIL and NEP (part 1)

Listen to Housing Notebook, with Scott Sommer
NEW DATE & TIME: Mondays at 8 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5 FM (starting 3/15)

Sponsored by ity Council Members Ronnie Eldridge & Phil Reed

Monday, March 15 from 6:30-9:00 PM
Goddard-Riverside Communiity Center
593 Columbus Avenue at 88th Street

For more information, call:
(212)765-4339 or (212)828-9800

Additional Speak-Outs Sponsored by The Manhattan Delegation of the NYC Council
March 11th - 7:00 PM P.S. 128 (Bdway & 169th St.)
March 16th - 6:30 PM Gay and Lesbian Community Center (1 Little West 12th St.)
March 18th - 4:00 PM Riverside Church (490 RSD - Entrance on Claremont Ave.)


Relocation in Harlem
One Tenant’s Horror Story
By Roselene Dolce
from Met Council's Tenant/Inquilino, February, 1999

In 1997, I spent nearly two months living in my apartment with no cold or
hot water. I was living in a city-owned building, 150 West 130th St., which
the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program (NEP)—a Giuliani administration
program to turn city-owned buildings over to private landlords—had taken
over in 1996 for reconstruction.

On June 12, 1997, at around two o’clock in the morning, a vandal found a
hole outside the building and got into the basement. He took out all the
pipes and damaged the boiler. I heard the noise but did not know what was
happening. Unfortunately, having lived there for 12 years, I was adapted to
noisy occurrences. Calling the police could have been dangerous because
criminals sometimes retaliated. They would not think twice about hurting
me. Looking back, the entire incident was suspicious. I had refused to move
out unless I got proper relocation documents; soon after that, I was
threatened and harassed. Red graffiti was scrawled on my apartment door and
the wall outside it. The words indicated bodily harm and even death. On
three separate occasions, a heavy rock and ketchup and relish bottles were
thrown at my door. The debris and broken glass were splashed on my door and
the wall. I had to skip over the garbage to come in or out of my apartment.
I refused to clean it. I lived in fear every waking moment and got very
little sleep.

Urination in the hallways was always common. In May 1996, an 11-year-old
boy who lived two buildings away—old enough to know better—came into my
building and defecated on the second-floor stairs. The excrement was left
there to dry until I moved out that August. I had no choice but to pass it
on the way to my third-floor apartment. The odor was unbearable, but I
could not afford to move out. And I did not want to take the chance of
moving out without a written agreement from the new landlord.

The building had long been abandoned by the city Department of Housing
Preservation and Development, which owned it; the only tenants left in the
eight units were me and a family of three who lived on the first floor. It
seemed as if they had never witnessed any vandalism, even though they were
home most of the time. In order not to become a target, mum was the word.
There were no locks on the entrance doors, so anyone could come in and do
as they pleased, which they usually did. With only two occupied apartments
and no superintendent or anyone to look after the building present, drug
dealers and users took over. Vandalism was rampant. I always felt helpless
and feared for my life, because the landlord did not care if I lived or
died. The plan was to force me out in any way possible.

Although I had lived in the neighborhood for a long time, I did not feel
comfortable with the people. My apartment had been broken into several
times, and there were many other attempts. Therefore, I did not trust
anyone; I kept my distance. I would leave my apartment, go to school and
work, and would not stop to socialize.

I was coming out of 47-49 West 129th St., another NEP building, when I ran
into Carol, an Association for Community Empowerment organizer. We had met
two years before when she and I attended the same school. I had just
finished looking at an apartment to which I was to relocate. NEP was not
willing to fix the pipes in my 130th Street building, as it was slated for
reconstruction. The family downstairs had relocated to the 129th Street
building, so I was left all alone. I was petrified, yet somehow I found
courage to hold on.

I was informed by the 129th Street super, who lived in another building,
that the new place was ready for me to move in. However, the apartment I
saw was like a dumping ground. I could not believe my eyes. The floor had
black spots all over and there was no toilet seat, no bar to hang towels
from, and the kitchen cabinets were filled with roaches and mouse
droppings. I was moving from one horrible place to another. The only good
thing about this apartment was that it had running water.

It was tempting to move to a place that appeared safer and had water. But
in spite of all that and the gross conditions in my building, I had to stay
brave. I told both the super and the landlord that I would not move in
unless the toilet and the cabinets were taken care of. They agreed to do
so. I knew if I moved in without getting the repairs done first, I would
have a hard time getting their cooperation.

Carol from ACE was doing a survey of the HPD/NEP tenants and I told her my
situation. She told me about ACE and the organization’s efforts to help
tenants deal with the many policy changes taking place. She also told me
about a meeting that Nia Mason, ACE’s director, was going to hold at the
129th Street building. I decided to go.

The meeting was very informative. Many tenants living in the building came,
and they voiced concerns similar to mine. We learned how to get involved
with the organization by volunteering and becoming members. Finally, I felt
someone cared about the tenants who lived in such horrible conditions. Even
though my apartment still had no water, I left the meeting feeling better.
Soon after, the superintendent asked me to sign a relocation paper and
seven other forms given to him by the NEP. He pressured me to sign them
right then and there without first reading what I was signing. I kept the
papers and noticed that the relocation paper was dated two months earlier
and did not indicate my right to return to my old apartment after

I discussed the papers with both Nia and Carol. Nia asked me to write a
letter to the NEP representative inviting him to meet with the tenants to
discuss our problems. The representative did meet with us, but did not
offer satisfactory answers to our questions. however, he did agree to give
me a new relocation paper and a new lease.

I moved into 47-49 West 129th St. on Aug. 2, 1997, after nearly eight weeks
of living without any water supply. In the beginning, I would buy water,
but that got too expensive. fortunately, I had joined a gym a year before
and was able to use their facilities to shower. Because of ACE, I had
gained new hope and had gained confidence to ask for policy changes. ACE
continues to keep an eye on the building and to hold NEP responsible for
emergency repairs. Since my experience, I have become an ACE board member
and have volunteered in their office.


Relocation in Harlem: (continued)
One Tenant’s NEP Experience
By Roselene Dolce
from Met Council's Tenant/Inquilino, March, 1999

Last month, Harlem tenant Roselene Dolce told how she was forced out of the
city-owned abandoned building she lived in. This month’s installment tells
what happened when she moved into a Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program
building—part of the Giuliani administration’s efforts to turn city-owned
property over to private landlords—while waiting for her old building to be

In 1997-98, I spent 14 months at 47-49 West 129th St. before being
relocated back to my old apartment on West 130th Street. The 24-unit
building was a lot bigger than the eight-apartment one I had lived in for
12 years. After living without water for nearly two months, seeing running
water again was very emotional for me. Being able to flush the toilet, wash
my face, drink a glass of water, take a bath, cook something to eat, brush
my teeth, wash dishes, whatever you do with water, was just overwhelming.
Tears came to my eyes. I could not believe I survived that ordeal.

Living there was strange and uncomfortable. I did not know anybody except
the other tenant who was also relocated in that same building. The block
had many abandoned buildings and the street was always filthy. Young and
old men who had nothing to do would hang out 24 hours a day. I felt
intimidated when I would walk down the street to go to work and school.
Drug dealers and users were everywhere in my building and the others on the
block. I did not feel safe even inside my apartment. There were always
people sitting on the stairway smoking crack cocaine and using other drugs,
inches from my door. I would look out my peephole at any hour of the day or
night and there they were, men and women getting high. Some of them lived
in the building. A few times I would click the locks pretending I was
coming out; however, they did not care. Then one day I came home from work
and saw scratches on my door saying “fuck you.” I was scared and shaking. I
thought about calling the police many times, but I don’t know what would
have happened to me if I had.

I was ashamed to go in and out of the building because of the drug
trafficking. The conditions were so bad that I did not want people to see
where I lived. Most of the times when I went out or came in, there would be
five to eight people standing in line in the entrance doors buying drugs.
There were always one or two dealers waiting for the addicts inside, while
a companion would stand outside as a lookout for police. It was definitely
moving from one dump to another.

My biggest fear was that if there ever was a drug raid by police and I just
happened to be walking in or out, who would say I was not one of the drug
people? I was very vulnerable and angry at those criminals. I would stay
locked inside my apartment unless I really had to go out. It took them a
couple of months to realize I would not stoop to their level. Whenever they
saw me coming or going, they would say to their customers, “move out of the
way, let the lady pass.” However, the new arrivals sometimes thought that I
was coming in to purchase drugs. I would angrily say to them that I was not
one of their crackheads.

I had been living there less than three days when the mailbox was broken
into. I knocked on the super’s door, and he fixed it the next day. He was
not surprised, because crime and vandalism were common. I never saw him try
to say or do anything about the drug dealers and users. Maybe he feared
retaliation. Every morning he would sweep and mop the stairways, yet the
vandals would litter and urinate in the halls. On three separate occasions,
I saw blood trails in the hallway, leading to the street. Stabbings and
shootings were also common. I felt sorry for the children living in the
building. How could we expect them to listen to their parents saying drugs
are bad, when they were witnessing young men and women counting large sums
of money without having to go to work?

Despite the awful conditions, I hung in there. I became a stronger person.
I had to make sure that the new landlord who took over my old building
moved me back in after it was renovated into a decent place to live. With
the help of a caring friend and Action for Community Empowerment, we were
able to make it happen. We wrote letters, we held meetings, we got the
politicians involved, we made phone calls, and thankfully we got some
positive results.

I had endured a great deal over the last 12 years. I deserve to have this
new place, which is now beautiful. Finally, a building that I’m not ashamed

There are still some disagreements regarding the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs
Program (NEP) policy. Because of poor management, the new mailbox was not
taken care of for six weeks, so I had to pick up my mail at the Post
Office. The heating system was making so much noise that I could not sleep
without being startled every half hour. NEP landlords have a tendency not
to give tenants documents in writing. And when they do, they give them to
you at the last minute, expecting your signature without giving you the
time to read what you are signing—and sometimes the copies are so poor that
you cannot read them. I had to go all the way to the Bronx to pick up my
lease and other documents at the landlord’s office, six weeks after I had
signed them. The landlord had still not signed the lease. I had to wait
another three weeks before receiving it in the mail, after several phone
calls to the office.

The bottom line is that the NEP, NRP and Central Management programs are
not what their directors are making them out to be. Some tenants have been
living in their apartments for decades, yet they are being displaced or
pushed out in the streets. We have been harassed, threatened, and
disrespected by landlords whose goal is to kick us out in order to rent the
apartments at market rates. They are getting away with this because they
think people in Harlem are not going to stand up and fight. We have to
realize that we have more power than we think we do. We are not going to be
treated fairly if we ourselves don’t expect to be. Organization is the key.
I learned a lot during the last three years. One of the lessons was
standing up for my rights. I have suffered indescribable hardships.
However, I have survived and am still fighting.

The Tenant Network(tm) for Residential Tenants
  NYtenants(tm) Discussion List: email to  
  and in the body of the message put "subscribe nytenants".
Information from TenantNet is from experienced non-attorney tenant 
activists and is not considered legal advice.

Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 10:50:55 -0500
Subject: Tenants Online 3/12/99

Tenants Online                                            3/12/99
In this issue...

* Perspectives on TIL and NEP (part 2)
  Harlem for Whom? (Village Voice, J. A. Lobbia)

Listen to Housing Notebook, with Scott Sommer
FLASH: WBAI has changed the time again!
NEW DATE & TIME: Mondays at 7 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5 FM (starting 3/15)

Harlem For Whom? 
Village Voice, March 10, 1999 
by j. a. lobbia
Josephine Richardson has spent 34 of her 73 years in her West 129th Street
apartment. Now she must move. The City says its housing plan will renovate
Harlem. Tenants fear it will remove them.

Tiered sconces light the pale sage walls and faux-marble floor of the
corridor of 228 West 140th Street, where, in 1997, 42-year-old Denise Tuzo
moved into a newly renovated apartment. Less than five years ago, the
building had been a roofless shell, long abandoned by its owner and vacant
for well over a decade. Now, it's home to 18 families. "It's very nice
here," says Tuzo, a student and secretary at nearby City College who moved
from the St. Nicholas Houses on 127th Street. "This entire block is being
uplifted, and in five years, I think it will be very upwardly mobile. I was
born and raised in Harlem, and I don't have any plans to leave."

Just a few blocks away, on West 129th Street, 73-year-old Josephine
Richardson settles into a gold-hued, plastic-covered divan in a parlor
crammed with porcelain figurines, crystal candy dishes, glass vases, and
myriad chotchkes. "My ladies gave these things to me," says

Richardson, recalling her years as a domestic in Riverdale. After 34 years
in this three-bedroom apartment, the gifts, including high-back chairs,
china closets, and rich draperies, have piled up. Now, Richardson's
landlord wants her to move to make way for renovations; one of her fears is
that she'll return to a smaller apartment. "But the landlord doesn't care,"
she says. "They don't give a kitty, as long as you move out."

Tuzo and Richardson are neighbors, living within a 15-block radius in
Harlem. And they are also joined by a Rudy Giuliani­inspired housing
program that promises— some say threatens— to forever change Harlem. Called
the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program, NEP's goal is to return to private
landlords tens of thousands of apartments across New York that fell into
the city's hands when owners abandoned them decades ago. At the same time,
NEP aims to draw working-class and middle-class tenants to some of the most
neglected neighborhoods, including Harlem, Bed-Stuy, and the South Bronx.

Since the program began in 1994, 6000 units citywide have been renovated or
are undergoing renovation through NEP. But NEP's significance lies not only
in the number of buildings and tenants it touches; it is also the linchpin
of the Giuliani administration's housing policy. While not on the scale of
Robert Moses's slum clearance efforts, NEP's transfer of publicly owned
property to private hands, its relocation of thousands of tenants, and its
aim of drawing wealthier tenants to poor neighborhoods is a contemporary
feat of social engineering.

"NEP is a very big part of the administration's policy, but it's a terrible
idea," says Peter Marcuse, head of the doctorate program in urban planning
at Columbia University. "Generally, reliance on the private market to
provide decent housing in New York is a mistake. It's not going to help
people who need housing."

If Giuliani's goal of privatizing city-owned housing is most clearly
articulated in NEP, nowhere is NEP more prominent than in Harlem, where a
third of all NEP apartments are located. Decades of abandonment by private
owners left the city holding title to much of the community's housing and
turned it into Harlem's biggest landlord. NEP aims to change that. And
while the people who run the program say it promises better housing, a
better income mix, and, in their estimation, the advantage of less
government, tenants and their advocates say NEP is freighted with problems.

"We're worried about the lack of affordable housing that will ultimately
develop," says Harvey Epstein, a lawyer at the Community Law Office in East
Harlem. "City-owned housing has historically been a place where people
could afford to live, even if it wasn't in the best condition. Now, the
city is giving it to private landlords who have incentive to get tenants
out. What they're attempting to do is bring the middle class into Harlem,
but it's pushing poor people out." Says Donald Richardson, Josephine's son
who lives with her, "We just don't fit in this neighborhood anymore."

Under NEP, longtime tenants like Richardson are temporarily relocated
during renovation. But because NEP assigns permanent apartments based on a
renter's income and family size, tenants don't necessarily return to their
original units, or even their original buildings. Especially hard-hit are
seniors who have lived for decades in large apartments where they have
raised families that are now grown. They are likely to be permanently
placed in studios or one-bedrooms; most will pay 30 percent of their income
for rent. New tenants, like Tuzo, rent NEP apartments they find in
newspaper ads and usually pay market-rate rents.

George Armstrong, who directs NEP for the New York City Housing
Partnership, which runs the program with the city, says NEP does not drive
out low-income people. "We really cater to the existing tenants," says
Armstrong, who notes that NEP properties include a mix of vacant and
occupied buildings so tenants can be relocated during renovation and new
tenants brought in without displacing old ones. "We do market to other
tenants, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're higher class. They're
working-class people who maybe work for the Transit Authority and have five
kids. To the extent that we can bring these people to the community, we
don't see anything wrong with it."

One community group, Harlem's Action for Community Empowerment (ACE), is
pushing for city council hearings on NEP. On March 11, a small group of NEP
tenants and legal advocates will meet with Manhattan borough president C.
Virginia Fields's office. To 60-year-old Maxine Newman, who has lived in
her apartment at 128th Street and Fifth Avenue for 37 years, the issue is
simple: "Rudy Giuliani's administration has a problem: poorophobia. NEP is
his vehicle to rid the city of the poor."

When Giuliani unveiled NEP in 1994, it was the main component of a
three-pronged plan designed to get residential property out of city hands.
It is run by the department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)
and an arm of the Partnership, a powerful nonprofit akin to a chamber of
commerce. Through NEP, HPD transfers its buildings to the Partnership, and
together they select "entrepreneurs" who get loans, management fees,
construction money, and tax credits to take over deteriorated buildings.
After several years, the Partnership transfers the property to the

An abiding faith in the private sector is NEP's foundation, but the program
is riven with mistrust from advocates for tenants. City councilmembers Stan
Michels and Bill Perkins, both of Harlem, have refused to let buildings
into NEP because they say rules are vague and the Partnership too
unaccountable to the public. "It's clear that the city doesn't care how it
gets out of being a landlord; it just wants out," says Perkins. "They just
want to say, 'There were X number of buildings in this neighborhood in our
portfolio but now they're not, so we have been successful because we cut it
to zero.' Where the buildings went and who went with them is not nearly as
relevant to them."

Legal advocates question why some entrepreneurs are selected despite owning
or managing buildings that ache for repairs and are laden with tax arrears.
And they complain that tenants are given little chance to opt into the
Tenant Interim Lease (TIL), one of the city's oldest property disposition
programs that allows tenants to turn HPD-owned buildings into low-income
co-ops. While TIL is often regarded as the most satisfying option for
tenants, it is the administration's least favorite, given City Hall's
penchant for privatization and the fact that TIL is a truly demanding route
for tenants. Default is a constant threat; a recent audit found TIL
buildings owe $15.3 million in back taxes.

Mistrust of NEP is greatest among tenants, many of whom view the program as
a scheme to get rid of them. "The manager just wants us to get out of here,
that would make him happy," says Newman, who lives in a four-bedroom at
2071 Fifth Avenue. "I'm 60 years old. I should not be worried about this
sort of stuff at this point in my life. I should be looking forward to
happy, glorious things. Not this."

Francis Syn-Moie, the entrepreneur at Newman's building, says Newman is
"free to come back to an apartment appropriate for her family size," but
notes that because Newman's daughter lives with her and has an income, she
should expect a hike from her $357.50 rent.

Tenant mistrust of landlords in city-owned buildings has been simmering so
long, it's almost a matter of habit, and no one argues that changes are not
needed. But critics have long claimed that HPD's legendary mismanagement
was a political choice: "The city never wanted to be a landlord, and it
made sure it wasn't good at it," says ACE director Nia Mason. Ironically,
HPD's incompetence bolsters the ideology for a privatization program like
NEP. HPD did not return calls.

Wariness stems, too, from NEP's own policies. Some NEP tenants must sign
leases that allow landlords to move them from a permanent apartment
mid-lease if the owner wants to put a different tenant in that apartment.
"It's unconscionable, but we see it all the time," says Epstein. Armstrong
of the Partnership says he only recently became aware of the provision and
that "We'll work on the language."

Syn-Moie says tenants' skepticism runs so deep because what NEP promises
"seems too good to be true. This program takes property that is nothing but
an eyesore and makes it viable. These tenants just have to see these
apartments get finished to alleviate their fears. . . . If you look at the
broad picture, NEP can only add growth and rapid change to the community,
and in 20 years, I think the market will have matured a lot for these
properties to increase their value." That is exactly what worries
Newman."Why do we have to move," she asks,"so someone else can come in?"

For about 65 per cent of NEP tenants, rent is either 30 percent of their
income or a market rate, whichever is lower, says Armstrong; most of these
tenants are on public assistance. Another 10 percent are new tenants whose
income does not exceed 60 percent of the area median, or $29,000 for a
family of four; they pay rents ranging from $375 for a studio to $575 for a
four-bedroom. The final 25 percent pay market rate, but their income cannot
exceed 165 percent of the area median; in this case, $85,000 a year for a
family of four. Entrepreneurs sign a regulatory agreement to keep
apartments affordable for 30 years, Armstrong says. Rents for the biggest
apartments, four bedrooms, top out near $900.

But Epstein reasons that NEP drains low-income housing from communities in
a few ways. First, entrepreneurs have evicted some NEP tenants who have not
been paying rent to HPD. Second, NEP apartments become rent- stabilized at
rates set by HPD and the Partnership and registered with the state. Some
tenants may not pay the registered rent, which is about 20 per cent higher
than the rent charged and rises yearly. When a longtime tenant leaves a
low-rent apartment, the next tenant pays the steadily risen registered
rent, which may even hit $2000 and become entirely deregulated. "Each of
these are incremental steps: evictions get low-income people out of the
apartments, and rent hikes make affordable apartments unaffordable."

Armstrong says eviction is only a last-ditch resort. "We recognize people
have been living in horrible conditions, but they need to let us know what
repairs need to be fixed if they're withholding their rent," he says.
"Because when managers take over, we expect tenants to start paying the rent."

Even if tenants were returned to their original apartments, and even if
there were no fear of losing Harlem as an affordable community, the
prospect of going through NEP is daunting, especially for seniors.

"They say they're going to come and move me with one truck in one load,"
says Josephine Richardson, surrounded by six rooms of furniture and
keepsakes. "They said we could come back, but they're going to make it from
three bedrooms to two," which would create an impossible situation, since
Richardson lives with a grown son, daughter, and granddaughter. "It's truly
aggravating. I'm not looking for an apartment on Park Avenue. I just want a
decent place that I can move to with my family and my furniture."

For Odell Johnson, who was a long-time neighbor of Maxine Newman's at 2071
Fifth Avenue, the process has been harrowing. Last October, the 60-year-old
Johnson came home to find his usually orderly eight-room apartment
ransacked. Johnson says contractors working for Syn-Moie tore through the
place, taking a suede coat, a watch, and a camera, among other things.
Syn-Moie and Armstrong say the contractors made a mistake, thinking the
apartment had been abandoned. "If Mr. Johnson will itemize what he lost,
we'll do what we can to replace the property," says Armstrong. "It's a

Things worsened after December, when Syn-Moie relocated Johnson to a studio
at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue. One midnight in February, Johnson says, a
man with a knife tried to mug him at the doorway to his new home. "I made
such a holler," says Johnson, "that he just ran off." Syn-Moie says he's
installing security cameras at the building but adds, "The fact is, I can't
control what happens outside a building."

Indeed, it is within NEP buildings that the program's promises materialize,
and to make the point, the Partnership regularly sends reporters,
politicians, and others to 228 West 140th Street, renovated by entrepreneur
LeRoy Morrison. It is here that Denise Tuzo found a two-bedroom apartment
for herself and her 18-year-old son. "I saw an ad in the Amsterdam News,
and I'd seen all the restoration that was happening on the block," says
Tuzo. "I've seen these blocks change from being abandoned to having people
move in." She pays $683 for a two-bedroom unit.

Does she think rents like hers will drive old-timers out? "With people on
fixed incomes, it really squeezes the budget. I think it will become a
problem gradually and they'd have to move out altogether." Given her Harlem
roots, she doesn't like the idea.

Johnson likes it even less. But even with his eight roomfuls of furniture
and collection of jazz books and records in storage, he says he understands
the logic of a single man like himself giving up a large apartment for a
family. "I don't mind that," he says. "What bothers me is, don't take me
for granted, don't shuffle me around and think that I'm an idiot. And don't
give me stories and then renege on me."

Johnson is awaiting a promised one- bedroom apartment in a nearby
brownstone. Syn-Moie told him it will be ready in June. Johnson has his
doubts, and fears he'll end up in a studio. "I feel I've been had," he
says. "But I'm not sure. I won't know till June. Ask me then."

The Tenant Network(tm) for Residential Tenants
  NYtenants(tm) Discussion List: email to  
  and in the body of the message put "subscribe nytenants".
Information from TenantNet is from experienced non-attorney tenant 
activists and is not considered legal advice.

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 17:29:11 -0500
Subject: Tenants Online 3/14/99

Tenants Online                                            3/14/99
In this issue...

* Perspectives on TIL and NEP (part 3)
  TIL's Ills, from City Limits, February 1999
  TIL the Politicians Got Involved, from City Limits, February 1999

Listen to Housing Notebook, with Scott Sommer
FLASH: WBAI has changed the time again!
NEW DATE & TIME: Mondays at 7 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5 FM (starting 3/15)

TIL's Ills
City Limits, February 1999

The city's premier tenant empowerment program should be celebrating 20
years of fixing broken buildings. Instead, the Tenant Interim Lease
program's supporters are busy fending off the critics. And fighting to keep
low-income housing development alive. 

By James Bradley and Glenn Thrush 

No one, save a few meteorologists obsessed with global warming, was
expecting 75-degree weather this December. 

Carlota Reyes certainly wasn't. So she found herself one recent afternoon
in the scorching basement of her apartment building in Washington Heights
learning how to turn down her boiler to compensate for the long Indian
Summer. Unlike most apartment dwellers in the city, Reyes and the other
tenants in her 35-unit building own the apartments they live in-so they
want to keep expenses low. "We're spending too much money on oil," she says. 

Had it not been for the city's Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) program, Reyes
probably would have just opened her windows and let the landlord's money
waft out. But 12 years ago, Reyes signed up for TIL, a city housing program
that provides low-income tenants with funding to renovate their buildings
if they agree to take over and manage the apartments as co-ops. 

TIL is one of the city's most successful community development initiatives,
having transformed more than 600 dilapidated buildings over the last two
decades and brought thousands of poor and working-class tenants into the
ranks of homeownership.  

But if the program has been a paradigm of tenant empowerment, Reyes'
building is also an example of the traumas TIL can visit on residents who
are unprepared for the rigors of management.  

In Reyes' case, the problem was that the first generation of elected tenant
leaders had poor oversight over the building's finances. Due to their bad
financial planning-and the failure of the city to properly train tenant
leaders-the building's taxes and bills piled up a six-figure debt. Finally,
when Reyes was elected head of the tenant association, she started untying
the financial knots, putting in the six-hour work days that are typical of
committed tenant-managers. Still, it was only by securing a $160,000 loan
from the Community Service Society that she was able to keep the building
from being repossessed by the city. 

Reyes notes that for the second year in a row, no one stole-or even
vandalized-the Christmas tree in the lobby, a barometer of her success.
"We're going to save this building," she says with absolute certainty, eyes
locked on a reporter. "Everything is done. Insurance. Inspections. New
boiler. New roof. The windows are going to be fixed. People are happy."  

On balance, most TIL tenants are happy with the program. But as supporters
celebrate TIL's 20th anniversary, critics are questioning how well-managed
the buildings-and the program-are. 

In September, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi delivered a perverse anniversary
gift: a scathing audit reporting that many of the program's buildings
suffer from poor oversight and deteriorating conditions. "Simply stated, a
large number of these buildings have not succeeded in any way, shape or
form," wrote Hevesi's auditors. "Many of the buildings have... deteriorated
and are probably in the same or worse condition than before they were

TIL's ills, Hevesi reported, stemmed from confused management, insufficient
guidance for newly formed tenant-run co-ops and general sloppiness in the
operation of the program. The problems mean that TIL buildings now owe
millions of dollars in back property taxes.  

But the report hasn't provoked the city Department of Housing Preservation
and Development (HPD) to pull the curtain down on the program, to the
relief of tenant activists. "TIL is considered to be one of the basic
programs in HPD," an high-ranking agency officials told City Limits,
echoing the opinion of several other agency sources. "It is considered to
be essential by this administration." 

Instead, the program may be facing an even bigger challenge. Soon, there
may few buildings left to renovate. 

Since the Giuliani administration stopped seizing tax-delinquent apartment
buildings four years ago, the stock of apartment buildings available for
TIL has dwindled. And that means within a few years-nobody is exactly sure
when-there will be no more city-owned buildings for tenants to take over.
Meanwhile, TIL supporters must compete with the city's other housing
preservation programs for the trickle of apartment houses still in the

"I get the feeling that when the Giuliani administration leaves, they're
going to be turning out the lights on TIL and the rest of HPD, for that
matter," says Joe Center, a longtime housing activist on the West Side and
The Tenant Interim Lease program, and its core philosophy of involving
tenants in reclaiming their neighborhoods, is a product of an era when New
York City's government lost control of its ability to deal with the
wholesale disintegration of its poorest neighborhoods. 

New York City's housing problems during the 1960s and 1970s were rooted in
white flight and the concentration of poor blacks and Latinos in
substandard housing. But it was the city's palsied response that made the
crisis a cataclysm.  

Until the late 1970s, the city repossessed buildings when landlords were
delinquent with tax payments. The buildings were then auctioned off to new
owners, giving the city a quick way to recover tax cash. But many of the
buildings were bought up by speculators who purchased them for a pittance,
then did little more than collect rent. Few invested in maintenance or
repairs and, ultimately, the rotting apartment houses would be repeatedly
repossessed and auctioned off.  

Trapped in this cycle of abuse, hundreds of buildings became so run
down-scarred by vandalism, water damage and fires-that even the poorest
tenants abandoned them. Around that time, a handful of guerrilla
homesteaders began occupying and renovating discarded buildings.
Eventually, they started organizing tenants, spreading the mantra of
self-help and neighborhood rebirth.  

Considering how unprepared city bureaucrats were at the time, it was
inevitable that housing officials would, at some point, turn to the
homesteading movement for help. "No one sat around a big table and planned
this," explains Harry DiRienzo, a pioneering homesteader in the South Bronx
who helped found Banana Kelly, one of the most successful community
revitalization groups to emerge from that era. "It was the height of the
housing movement and the city's attitude was, 'You wanna take over some
buildings? Hey, go knock yourself out. We don't want 'em.'"  

The program started off modestly, in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine,
with homesteading veterans counseling interested tenants in the art and
craft of hardscrabble rehab. Originally, residents would do the renovations
themselves, using their "sweat equity" to get the buildings into habitable
shape. As the program gained momentum, the city combined local tax revenues
with federal grants to gradually increase the amount of repair dollars per
unit from $2,000 at the time to around $45,000 today. "It was very
exciting-we had 10 to 20 buildings coming into the program every month,"
recalls Andrew Reicher, executive director of the Urban Homesteading
Assistance Board (UHAB), which was formed to provide technical help for
squatters in the early 1970s. "It was one of those rare coincidences: The
city wanted this to happen, the tenants did, and the housing community did."  

(As a matter of full disclosure: Reicher is City Limits' board president
and sublets space to the editorial staff. However, at the behest of its
board, City Limits has always maintained a policy of strict editorial

Since the first building made through renovation into tenant ownership in
1980, the program has grown steadily. About 50 new buildings now enter TIL
program each year, while another 50 graduate out. At the moment, 173
buildings are in the pipeline, and 60 are waiting to have their
applications to enter the program approved.  

To get into the program now, residents in city-owned buildings form a
tenant association, elect officers and establish bylaws and guidelines.
When 60 percent of a building's residents agree to join the co-op program,
the group applies. If their application is okayed, at least half of the
tenants must go through a series of orientation and training classes run by
UHAB and other nonprofits, where tenant leaders are taught financial
management, maintenance, and repairs. 

In the meantime, tenants collect rent, pay for minor repairs, accrue a
small rainy-day reserve and file their financial paperwork with HPD to
prove that they are up to the task of running a co-op. Once the agency
agrees, it releases the rehab money. 

The renovations can take two to three years, and then tenants can purchase
their apartments at the bargain-basement price of $250.  

Converting a building from a run-down city-owned rental property to a
private co-op is a difficult and dangerous enterprise. TIL doesn't always
assure a happy ending. 

According to Deputy Comptroller Roger Liwer of Hevesi's office, 28 of the
45 TIL buildings that went co-op between July 1995 and 1996 are in tax
arrears. Fifteen of those buildings are in danger of tax foreclosure and a
potential return to city ownership, he says. 

All told, TIL co-ops owe $15.3 million in back property taxes. The problem,
the comptroller's office concluded, was poor management on the part of
tenant associations. Many are unwilling to raise rents-known in the co-op
world as maintenance fees-when the buildings need more money. The
tenant-owners take money slated for water bill or property taxes and spend
it on repairs or other unexpected expenses.  

At the root of the problem, Hevesi alleges, is that HPD has overestimated
the rent rolls of many buildings before handing them over to tenants. In
one instance, auditors found that a rent roll had been estimated at four
times its actual cash flow.  

HPD, in a pointed response sent to City Limits, argued that Hevesi's
calculations failed to mention that just 18 of the 352 buildings cited as
tax deadbeats in the audit accounted for one-third of the total TIL tax bill. 

Still, HPD's TIL director Elba Ramos conceded in the letter that debt
wasn't the program's only problem. "Indeed, there are sold TIL buildings in
tax arrears and disrepair," she wrote.  

Some TIL tenant-owners-especially those who were accepted to the program
before HPD had become so generous with its repair budget-say the agency
handed them damaged goods. 

On the third floor of 41 Convent Avenue in Harlem, eight tenants work
diligently every day running the 79-unit St. Agnes apartment house, a
90-year-old grand dame of a building. 

HPD's fix-up job, which ended when the place was sold to the tenants in
1995, wasn't enough to undo the damage done by decades of indifferent
landlords and government ownership. The elevator runs on an antiquated
electrical line that results in astronomical Con Ed bills. The plumbing is
poor, residents say, hiking water rates and sewer bills.  

"The city said to us, 'You either buy it as is, or it will go back to the
city,'" says Sophie Johnson, president of the tenant's association. "We've
struggled too long for that to happen again." So far, Johnson and her small
cadre of neighbors have done well: They have hired their own security,
accountant, bookkeeper and clerk and are now shopping for a loan. They're
also considering raising rents to do new repairs.  

Other buildings have not been so lucky. Since TIL's inception 116
buildings-12 percent of the total admitted into the program-have failed and
fallen back into city management.  

But all of these problems pale in comparison to the threat posed by the
city's new anti-foreclosure policy. The four-year-old moratorium on seizing
buildings, part of the Giuliani administration's budget-cutting strategy,
has made for an ironic situation. For years, tenant advocates complained
bitterly about the shoddy upkeep of city buildings. Now, they fear that
without any new city-owned tax delinquent properties, there will be no more
free buildings to rehabilitate. 

In the last year alone, the city has shed nearly 250 buildings with some
4,000 units from its portfolio. The competition to enroll the remaining
buildings has become fierce-and will get more intense as the supply dries
up completely during the first years of the next century. 

The most intense competition for buildings has taken place between TIL and
the three-year-old Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program (NEP), which uses
government money to renovate buildings that are later handed over to
pre-selected private landlords. TIL supporters have long feared that NEP,
run by the powerful New York City Housing Partnership, would siphon off the
best remaining buildings. In reality, almost the opposite has happened: NEP
tenants have been taking advantage of their right to opt out of their
program and into TIL. "We're seeing a lot of that," says UHAB's Andrew
Reicher. "The tenants would rather get into an ownership program than go
back to a private landlord." 

In fact, HPD sources tell City Limits that the flood of NEP buildings into
TIL has gotten so large that about 80 buildings were accepted into the
tenant ownership program last year-compared to the annual average of about

Nonetheless, if TIL is going to continue to justify its share of buildings,
the program will have to rehabilitate its own image. And that will be hard
to do.  

It is likely that TIL will always be one of the city's most chaotic housing
programs, simply because it is more ambitious. It is a petrie dish of big
ideas, philosophical flourishes and competing objectives, including tenant
empowerment, building repair, community building, homeownership and, now,
budget cutting. 

"With TIL, self-management requires commitment and skill," says Jackie
Wilson, head of the United TIL Coalition of Harlem. "Democracy is slow. If
you want everybody to take part, it takes time." 

By contrast, NEP and another housing preservation program called the
Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) rely on the expertise of seasoned
landlords and community groups to do the most difficult work and, hence,
will always be more streamlined enterprises than TIL. But neither of these
programs can accomplish what TIL does when it works: building neighborhoods
and providing permanent homes for low-income tenants. 

"There's a lot of pain and suffering, but I'm happy," Carlota Reyes says.
"To me, this has been a powerful experience, convincing people that we can
save this building if we really want to. The doors are open, if you're
willing to solve the problem. But your mind must be open." 


TIL the Politicians Got Involved
City Limits, February 1999
by Philip Shishkin

Does politics play a role in New York City's community housing programs? If
you want an answer, just check out the window dressing on the apartment
building at 515 West 174th Street in Washington Heights. 

Instead of nice nonpartisan curtains, the tenants have shaded their windows
with the smiling campaign-poster visage of one Adriano Espaillat, the young
Dominican assemblyman who represents the district. The reason for
Espaillat's presence on the premises is that he and the city's other
Dominican elected official, Councilman Guillermo Linares, have decided, as
part of their ongoing turf war, to wage a battle for this city-owned
apartment building. 

Over the last two years, the two rivals-along with a cast of supporting
players that includes a handful of upper Manhattan's better-known
politicos-have swamped the tenants in a sea of confusing acronyms-NRP (the
Neighborhood Revitalization Program) and TIL (the Tenant Interim Lease
program) chief among them. 

It all began in the summer of 1996, when the city Department of Housing
Preservation and Development (HPD) sent off letters to the tenants telling
them they had been selected for NRP, a program that sells city-owned
buildings to local community development groups.  In this case, the local
group was none other than the Community Association of Progressive
Dominicans, known by its Spanish acronym ACDP, an organization with close
ties to Linares.  

The notice puzzled most of the tenants, except for a chain-smoking,
rum-drinking fifty-something named Manny Alvarez, the unofficial tenant
leader, who immediately decided that it sounded like a set-up. "It hit us
like a ton of bricks," he says, not hiding his basic suspicion of
Councilman Linares' motives. "They made deals over there. Linares was
behind it."  

A key Linares ally admits Alvarez is probably right. "I can't see ACDP
doing it without Linares at least signing off on it," says former
assemblyman Brian Murtaugh, who lost to Espaillat in 1996. 

Alvarez says he was wary of NRP's reputation for hiking rents and
relocating tenants while major repairs took place in a building. So he
shared his opinion with his fellow tenants, organizing them to apply for
TIL, a tenant ownership program that he says would have resulted in more
modest repairs and no relocations.  

There is some truth to this. NRP overhauls do sometimes involve gut rehabs
and TIL repairs can often be done without the same level of disruption or

By December 1996, Alvarez convinced all but two of the building's 23
tenants to sign a petition asking HPD to place the building in the TIL
program. At some point he contacted Espaillat and enlisted his support-an
easy sell considering the assemblyman's longtime rivalry with Linares. 

Then the counter-offensive by the pro-Linares forces began. Around
Christmas that year, representatives from a local management company met
with the tenants and made the case for NRP. Soon after, another vote was
taken. This time nine of 19 tenants present reversed their TIL verdict and
voted for NRP. Because 60 percent of a tenant association must vote "yes"
on a TIL referendum, HPD officially rejected the TIL application.  

Most of the tenants, however, remained thoroughly befuddled. "I don't know
anything, I don't know," says Pedro Palafox, who has lived in the building
for 16 years. To this day he says he has no idea what either program would
mean to his life.  

Since then, the battle has continued, with an increasing number of tenants
siding with the TIL camp-at the direct behest of Espaillat, who spends the
occasional Saturday lobbying them personally. The dispute became even more
intensely political, not to mention personal, when  Linares decided to back
Isabelle Evangelista, an ACDP board member, against Espaillat in last
September's Assembly primary. Up went the Espaillat posters at 515 West
174th Street;  down went Evangelista in a humbling defeat. 

Still, it appears that Linares and Evangelista will prevail. HPD has
steadfastly refused to take the building out of NRP. The city hopes to
begin moving tenants out in the next few months, but many of them now say
they won't budge. 

To help them stay, Espaillat and Alvarez have enlisted the legal help of
yet another local pol, failed State Senate candidate Daniel O'Donnell,
brother of talk-show smurfette Rosie.  

And so the guerrilla war continues, with most of the tenants telling City
Limits they're still confused. For his part, Alvarez has vowed to fight
relocation until they drag him out in cuffs. "It's a war," he says. 

The Tenant Network(tm) for Residential Tenants
  NYtenants(tm) Discussion List: email to  
  and in the body of the message put "subscribe nytenants".
Information from TenantNet is from experienced non-attorney tenant 
activists and is not considered legal advice.

Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 13:06:18 -0500
Subject: Tenants Online 3/17/99

Tenants Online                                            3/17/99
In this issue...

* NYCHA Follies (could any agency be more corrupt than DHCR?)

Listen to Housing Notebook, with Scott Sommer
Mondays at 7 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5 FM

TenantNet Note: We received the following letter detailing alleged
corruption at the New York City Housing Authority. The statements, views
and opinions are those of the writer.


The letter below was faxed and e-mailed to over 150 various elected and
appointed officials, including the US Attorney General, the NY Attorney
general, NYC Public Advocate, NYC Comptroller, Andrew Cuomo (Secretary,
HUD), HUD IG, every US Senator and Member of Congress who sits on
committees that oversee HUD funding, every NY State Senator and Member of
the Assembly and the NYCLU. Thus far, Ken Fisher, a NYC Council Member, has
been the only one to reply.

March 13, 1999

The synopsis I wrote, below, is rather long. But I believe it to be
important. It points to organized corruption in the New York City Housing
Authority (NYCHA). The corruption appears to reach right up to the
Executive Offices, and it seems that those charged with investigating such
corruption, NYCHA's Inspector General's Office, have become part of the
problem. By coming forward and allowing my identity to be known to so many
politicians, I'm taking a chance. I'm hoping that if enough people in power
take note of the charges, an independent panel could be convened to
investigate NYCHA. If such a panel were convened, I can guarantee that many
NYCHA employees, on up to the executive level, will voluntarily testify.
And their testimony will bring forth a tale of many illegalities at NYCHA.

I began working at NYCHA in September of 1994. I was assigned to the
Contract Administration Department (CAD). As I had demonstrated computer
skills, and had edited and published both a paper and Internet version of a
Computer Users Group magazine, the Director of CAD took notice of me.  I
only spent a week in the field as a Supervisor of Mechanical Installation
(SMI), commonly known as a Mechanical Contract Inspector. At the end of
that week, I was transferred to CAD's Central office located at 123 William
Street in Manhattan.

The Director of CAD was Mr. William Russo. He met with me and told me that
with my computer and desktop publishing skills, we'd both "move ahead
swiftly in NYCHA." For the next year, I was tasked with publishing the
spreadsheets and other data that CAD was forwarding to others in NYCHA, to
City Hall and to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, among
other tasks that I was assigned.

By the closing months of 1995, I was asked if I'd accept a promotion to run
a new Section that Mr. Russo wanted to create. This section would be
designated the Computer Operations and Reports Section (CO&R). I would be
tasked with publishing well formatted reports based on data supplied to me
by CAD's various sections, such as the Mechanical Section, the Structural
Section, the Security Section, etc.. I had been doing this same work, but
with the 5 other employees I would now be supervising I could increase both
the quality and quantity of reports and charts.

Our first assignment under our new Section was to publish a report from the
CAD Security Section dealing with the number of contracts for intercoms,
locks, exterior lighting etc.. During that past year, Security Section
reports had been my constant nightmare. Figures didn't add up, dates were
wrong, listings of each Contract's official Inspector were wrong, among
other contract tracking mistakes. I had once attempted to resolve some
wrong information on the data I received from the Security Section by
accessing the NYCHA Financial Management System (FMS). However, when Mr.
Russo happened by my cubicle and saw that the FMS screen was on my computer
screen, he directed that I never access that system again unless he
directed that I do so. (I had already noticed discrepancies on 2 contracts
that I had accessed, and whose payment records I had found on the FMS.)  I
followed Mr. Russo's directive until it was time to do this CO&R report,
and someone above Mr. Russo in the NYCHA chain of command overruled it.

The first draft of this CO&R report was sent to all interested parties. Mr.
Dominic Catania, the Deputy General Manager of Development at NYCHA, and
Mr. Russo's immediate boss, was going to be using this report in an
appearance he was making, I believe before Congress, in Washington DC., so
his approval was most important. His aide, Mr. Robert Sharak, wrote a memo
to all parties stating that the report was a big hit. Everything was coming
up roses, or so I thought.

A couple of days later, Mr. Sharak came to my office, and he was agitated.
He said something derogatory about my computer skills, and tied that remark
into a tirade about my "missing a Security contract on that report." I
answered by stating that every contract and all accompanying info on that
Report came from the head of the Security Section, Mr. Nat Parris. Mr.
Sharak didn't like that answer, and he continued his disparaging remarks.

So, to be quite honest, I decided that it was time to try another tack. I
thought carefully of how to extract myself from what was looking like a
career killing argument between Mr. Catania's aide and myself. So I said:
"Do you want me to get the data on that Contract from the FMS system?" Mr.
Sharak looked dumbfounded and said "Of course. If you could have cleared
this up by doing so, you should have made the corrections prior to sending
out the draft of the report." As he made some other remarks while his tone
dripped with sarcasm, and I could see that I was going to be setup to be a
fall guy for this problem, I decided to go out with a bang. I asked him "Do
you want me to see if any other Security contracts aren't listed in the
report?" He angrily answered, "Of course I do. What's the matter with you?"
or words to that effect.

The next morning I sent a new draft to all concerned. It showed that +/-
150 contracts, valued at over $50,000,000, were not being tracked on CAD's
computer system. They did not exist on any of the Security Section's
databases. We had no record of inspections, payments, safety record,
insurance certifications or any other normal contract tracking documents.
(In the weeks immediately prior to this report, all the CAD security data
had been mysteriously deleted from the CAD computer systems over a weekend.

If I hadn't known that all the data was automatically backed up on a NYCHA
mainframe, I would not have been able to see that data was not kept on all
contracts. But I had the data restored and asked the Director to ascertain
who had signed into the building on the preceding Saturday and Sunday, but
he wouldn't do so. I later found out that he had been in over that weekend,
along with a friend of his from Computer Services.)

Anyway, within a few days of sending the now complete report around, I was
told that there was no longer a need for the Computer Operations and
Reports Section. Although two of our members had not even gotten to move in
to our Section yet, and we had only done one report, everyone else was
being transferred back to their old units. I, however, was not going back
to my computer duties. Instead, I was being sent to the field to inspect
boilers, something for which I had no background.

During the week that I was told to wait for my assignment, my secretary
from CO&R, Mr. Charles Berrouette, received two odd phone calls from the
Security Section. In the first one, he was told that Mr. Parris, the head
of the Security Section, was interested in the contracts I had found on FMS
and that I had then copied to the CAD system. Mr. Parris wanted Charles to
delete, from CAD's system, all the contracts I had found. Charles told me
before he did the deleting. I called James Martonik, the Deputy Director of
Administration at CAD, and he came to our area.

He directed Charles to call the Security Section and request either a
signed memo or an e-mail directing the deletion. Security refused, and the
files remained on the computers. Then, Security tried again. They called
Charles back and directed that he delete all the new contracts that were
listed as 100% complete. Chatles again told me; I called Mr. Martonik. Mr.
Martonik gave the same direction, and Security again refused to commit the
delete order to paper.

Mr. Martonik accompanied me to the NYCHA IG's office. We reported what had
occurred, and the IG investigator (John Kilpatrick) said "I smell money
changing hands here!"

That was years ago, so I have no idea if those contract files still exist
or if they've been "modified".

I knew that having me inspect boilers would be a farce. Boilers that are
installed improperly can cause immense damage and loss of life. Plus, my
spinal fusion made it physically torturous to climb around the boiler pit
doing a thorough inspection. When I pointed all this out to the Deputy
Director of Mechanical Contracts, James Gleba, he agreed that I couldn't be
responsible for Boiler inspection with no previous boiler experience. So,
he asked me to wait while he spoke with the "boss" (Mr. Russo.) When Mr.
Gleba returned, he told me that Mr. Rusoo had ordered that I go to the
Coney Island Field Office where a Mr. Timpinaro would assign me out to
projects needing a boiler inspector.

Within a month of working under Mr. Timpinaro, he confessed that he had
received instructions to give me unusual scrutiny. While he wasn't directly
told to find reason to dismiss me, he confessed that his understanding was
that he should find reason for such a dismissal. After talking for a while,
we both decided to just ignore the instructions he had received.

As word of what happened to me as a result of finding those contracts
spread out to the field, other Inspectors assumed that I was trustworthy.
So, they began to tell me stories of odd happenings in the field. They
explained that it soon became obvious that certain contractors were to be
handled with kid gloves, while others were to be closely inspected and
given no breaks. They told me that if an inspector got the two types of
contractors/treatment confused, and didn't treat a "favored" contractor in
a "favored" manner, the inspector could expect harassment from management.
The harassment could run from a punitive transfer to being written up on
false or ridiculous charges.

In December, 1996, an inspector who came from my neighborhood, Richard
(Tony) DiAlto, asked me to meet with him after work. I agreed, and we met
at a restaurant near where we both lived. Tony told me that he was a member
of a large group of inspectors who all took bribes. The bribes ranged from
$300 to $30,000 per contract. Tony and the others never received the money
directly from the contractor.

There was one inspector, Richard Panese, who was the leader of the group.
He would make the proposal to the contractor, and he would meet the
contractor and collect the bribe. Half of the bribe would be given to the
Inspector of Record for that particular contract. The other half of the
bribe was retained by Mr. Panese. Mr. Panese said that the money wasn't all
his, that some had to go "upstairs." (In a later interview by Ms. Polly
Kreisman of WOR TV, Channel 9, Mr. Panese said "If you're looking for
crooks, look to the higher ups in NYCHA.)

I brought Tony and his information to the IG's office, after being assured
that they would recommend full immunity in return for his testimony. During
the next 4-5 months, I coordinated activities between Tony, other
inspectors I recruited and the NYCHA Inspector General's office. I
recruited nearly a dozen other people to work with the IG. Tony and a few
of the others wore wires (tape recorders) for the IG, and incriminating
evidence was collected.

Months passed, and nothing seemed to be happening. With one big exception.
It seemed that the "dirty" group of inspectors knew the name of every new
recruit within a day or two of the person's name being given to the IG
investigators. The "dirty" inspectors started searching people for
microphones, but they only searched people who were working for the IG.
They knew who to search. My inspectors started finding their cars
vandalized. Threats were passed, and I had someone ram my car off the
highway. A contractor warned my boss, Jim Timpinaro, that he was in danger.

Then two things occurred that affirmed my decision to quit my job. Tony
DiAlto was told that he could no longer tape offers of bribes from the 13
or so large contractors that had been working with the dirty group all
along. When he expressed some confusion about this, he was told that he
could tape any offers from any contractors who were "new" to the Authority.
With these contractors, who were mostly brand new minority owned shops that
were taking advantage of some programs that helped them contract with
NYCHA, Tony was given odd instructions from the IG. He was to tell the new
contractor that he, Tony, was facing money problems as his wife had just
undergone expensive surgery that wasn't covered by our insurance. Then,
Tony was to point out how many items on the inspection were actually left
to the inspector's discretion. He would also point out that the inspector
had a lot to do with how quickly payment paper work was handled.

Of course, both Tony and I realized what was happening. The "favored"
contractors were still favored. The new contractors could be fall guys and
would give cover to a corrupt investigation.

The second item that helped in my decision to quit was even more reason to
question the honesty of the IG's office. One of my other inspectors who was
supplying information had been mishandled by the IG's office before, and
was being ignored now. Months prior, this Inspector had been on Edgemere
Houses in Queens when a large oil spill occurred. He wrote a report in
which he pointed out that he had warned the contractor of just such a
possibility. He had also written that he believed the contractor had
ignored previous warnings and that the spill could not be termed an
accident. Rather, it was the result of negligence on the contractor.

He then observed some odd behavior between the contractor and some of the
Inspector's supervisors.

I reported all this to John Kilpatrick of the IG's office. He told me that
he was going to visit the project and pick up a copy of the Inspector's
report. I quickly advised John that he would be placing the inspector in
jeopardy, as others would see the Inspector giving him the paperwork. John
promised me that he would conduct a questioning session with all three of
the  NYCHA employees who were at the site at the time of the spill, and
that he'd question each one individually in a closed room. Then the
Inspector could give John the report out of sight of others.

Instead, John had all 3 people in a room and asked the Inspector for "the
report you have for me."

Months later, the same inspector was told by a representative of a large
vendor that dealt with NYCHA that this representative had been asked to be
the "bag man" for the money passing from the vendor to an executive in one
of NYCHA's departments. This vendor had many large contracts with NYCHA,
worth millions of dollars. So I immediately passed this information to the
IG. John Kilpatrick said he would contact the inspector and get the name of
the vendor's representative and any other particulars. Over the next few
months, I often reminded Mr. Kilpatrick of his failure to contact the
inspector, to no avail. To this day, that Inspector has never been called
by NYCHA's IG.

There are many other items at NYCHA that deserve investigation. Recently,
news reports have confirmed the sexual harassment that became a part of
life in some executive offices of NYCHA's headquarters at 250 Broadway. The
NY Post credited an underground newsletter that I publish, The Housing
Spotlight ( , with uncovering the
harassment that eventually forced the Mayor to demand Ruben Franco's
resignation. Since then, much has been learned of other NYCHA horrors.  as
well as some glaring examples of mis/mal/nonfeasance on the part of those
handling taxpayer's monies, but I think I've gone on quite enough. All that
I've written is true. If I'm convinced that there is a real investigation,
and that retaliation against those who tell the truth won't be condoned,
many other NYCHA employees are willing to come forward. There is much more
to this story, including the fact that one of the Mayor's press people knew
of this from the beginning. At that time, he asked me to trust DOI. That's
probably the worse advice I've ever received.

John E. Ballinger 

The Tenant Network(tm) for Residential Tenants
  NYtenants(tm) Discussion List: email to  
  and in the body of the message put "subscribe nytenants".
Information from TenantNet is from experienced non-attorney tenant 
activists and is not considered legal advice.


External links are for convenience and informational purposes, and in some cases, might be sponsored
content. TenantNet does not necessarily endorse or approve of any content on any external site.

TenantNet Home | TenantNet Forum | New York Tenant Information
DHCR Information | DHCR Decisions | Housing Court Decisions | New York Rent Laws
Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | Contact Us

Subscribe to our Mailing List!
Your Email      Full Name