John Rhea, the chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, told residents of the A. Philip Randolph Houses on Thursday, that it was time for a long-overdue apology.
Rhea came to the auditorium of Wadleigh Secondary School Thursday evening to meet with members of the Randolph Tenant Association and other local residents to discuss the blight and decay of city-owned brownstones on 114th Street, between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards.
The Randolph Houses—public housing units owned by NYCHA—are comprised of 36 buildings on both sides of 114th, but in 2006, according to NYCHA spokespeople, 159 families on the south side of the block vacated their homes. The move, which displaced 64 families across the street and the remainder to nearby NYCHA developments, was part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s citywide initiative to renovate public housing units and preserve subsidized housing. The plan on this street was to renovate 22 of the 36 buildings.
Now, years later, many residents and tenant leaders are wondering why there has been no action and the brownstones still sit vacant. Residents have not been able to move back into their homes.
This month, Tenant Association President Robertus Coleman said she wanted answers, and on Thursday, she invited chairman Rhea, who took the job in spring of 2009, and NYCHA General Manager Michael Kelly, appointed in the fall, to 114th for an information session.
“Our plight is the renovation of Randolph. We stand here tonight looking for a solution to our 10-year ... housing ordeal,” Coleman said. “We were 365 units in 2002 and now we stand at 14 in 2010. We were told that in a 2-year period of time we would be relocated to new apartments.” Coleman and other tenants maintain that the properties have vacant many years prior to the 2006 date that the city sites.
Rhea told the crowd that it would likely be a lengthy process moving forward, with at least four years before the buildings are finished. The original completion date was 2009.
“It’s not going to be fast and its not going to be short,” he said.
Rhea, after Coleman first introduced him, said that it was time to offer an apology and to put the past inaction behind them.
“I’m looking forward to working with your leadership towards something we can all be proud of, despite it being something NYCHA hasn’t draped in glory. I’m not here tonight to continue to share with you information that NYCHA has done everything right because we certainly haven’t done that. We’ve been keeping you waiting too long,” Rhea said. “I want to honor my commitment to people in this room.”
Rhea said he also understood the seriousness of the situation and the neglect.
“I cannot imagine what this experience has been like for your families so I’m not going to stand up here and pretend I feel your pain because I don’t.” he said.
For Coleman though, NYCHA’s track record with the Randolph Houses speaks to a larger distrust. “We deserve respect and honesty. We feel NYCHA has taken complete advantage of us. The track record that precedes you [Rhea] has no credibility and were hoping that you’ll change that.”
Rhea addressed this lack of trust that NYCHA has fostered with residents, saying, “I can’t ask you to have any confidence in us at this point,” said Rhea. “The way the housing authority has delivered on this is unacceptable.”
The four-year minimum for renovation was upsetting for some residents.
“I feel that they sold us another lot of B.S.,” said tenant association board member Rose Edwards, whose lived in Randolph Houses for 50 years. “I just hope it happens and I live to see it.”
Resident Danae Broom said that though she doesn’t usually attend tenant meetings, she thought it was important not to miss this one. “I don’t want to be the last one to know,” Broom said.
Ultimately, there is still no concrete plan, Rhea said. “I can only commit that we will be focusing on this.”
Sarah Gregory, treasurer of the Tenant Association and resident of 32 years, expressed skepticism.
“Nothing has been done but to relocate tenants,” Gregory said. “There are 32 buildings with padlocks on them.”