By Angelina Nelson
Earlier this month, the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD) gathered at City Hall to protest against the privatization of the New York Housing Authority (NYCHA). Members from across the city, including a few from the San Francisco chapter, gathered to bring attention to displacement in New York City.
The UFAD describes itself as an anti-gentrification organization, with chapters in multiple states including California and Massachusetts. In the past, they have worked with the Linden Houses in Brooklyn and the Harlem River Houses in Manhattan. Recently, the New York chapter has been focused on the Manhattanville Houses, a NYCHA development in West Harlem with around 3000 residents.
NYCHA needs $40 billion to repair all apartments throughout the city experiencing elevator breakdowns, mold, pests, leaks, hot water outages and more. NYCHA began leasing their apartments to private companies in 2016, in exchange for funding to help repair the buildings as a part of their Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program.
PACT has provided over $1 billion in repairs to developments throughout the city. PACT has also made promises to the developments to add more surveillance, new playgrounds, community centers, and additional social services. The Manhattanville Houses are just one of the many developments that are now under private management. The Williamsburg Houses in Brooklyn, the Audubon Houses in Manhattan, and the Murphy Houses in the Bronx are now privately managed.
The developments that have been privatized are no longer managed by NYCHA. Private companies such as L + M Development are now in charge of repairing some of the NYCHA buildings that have been privatized. C + C Management is now in charge of leases and rent for the Linden Houses which are now private. The NYCHA developments that have not been privatized are fully owned and managed by NYCHA. However, residents in the Manhattanville Houses have not seen an increase in repairs since being privatized.
Concerns were sparked after a report came out in 2019 showing that residents at NYCHA’s Ocean Bay Houses were evicted at a higher rate after the development was privatized. The Ocean Bay Houses were the first buildings to undergo privatization in 2016 and between 2017 and 2019 there were 80 evictions —a higher number than at all other developments. The rate of eviction was twice as high in the Ocean Bay Houses compared to the Brownsville Houses in Brooklyn, which had 39 evictions.
The six buildings that are a part of the Manhattanville Houses were handed over to private management in November 2020. The plan for the Manhattanville Houses is to renovate a total of 97 apartments and build a 26-story building on the development that would be rented out at the market rate. This new building would be built on a lot that used to house an Associate’s supermarket that burned down in 2013.
The UFAD has stepped in because residents are unhappy with the outcome of privatization. There have been complaints about the lack of transparency from NYCHA as well as about how repairs are not being made. Residents of the Manhattanville Houses fear for their future, and the possibility of eviction because of the lack of communication.
“Just thinking of the fear of the unknown. … I’ve been there for 26 years and I’m not sure if it’s gonna be better for us or better for them,” says Tyra Alexander, a resident of the Manhattanville Houses. “The way I feel and the way that they’re handling it, I’m more on the side that it’s gonna be better for them.”
NYCHA has been holding Zoom meetings for the developments that are currently privately owned. The purpose of these meetings is to let tenants ask questions and learn more about how PACT will affect their homes. Even so, Alexander doesn’t feel that there is enough communication between NYCHA and its residents.
“The tenants should have more of a say as opposed to just being there as an audience to sign on,” Alexander says. “We should have been at the table making the decisions, saying no or yes, but we don’t have a choice.”
Another concern is what will happen to the elderly residents and those who may not know how to advocate for themselves.
“If they are privatized, where are the elderly going?” asked Brenda Williams, who has lived in the Manhattanville houses for 60 years. They have nowhere to go. I don’t want them to pick up my aunt and move her up to West Bubble Hell. Let the young people grow up like I grew up. I had a beautiful childhood in Manhattanville, so that’s what I want for everybody else — to just live and be happy.”
Williams said that when she was a kid, it was much easier to have repair requests acknowledged and resolved. She, along with other residents, have not seen many repairs take place since the Manhattanville Houses became private in 2020.
“I remember as a child, we had painters, carpenters, and plumbers. My mother could call right now and say, ‘I got a problem with my plumbing’…‘All right, Ms. Williams, we’ll be there in half an hour,’ and they would come,” Williams says. “They would fix it. Now you gotta call a call line. You gotta wait almost two weeks for somebody to even come out.”
In the past, UFAD has worked with the Manhattanville Houses residents in West Harlem. This protest was the first time that residents from multiple NYCHA developments in the area took a bus organized by UFAD to City Hall.
“You know, it was a big thing. A lot of tenants came out. A lot of people from Manhattanville, people from Jackie Robinson, from other projects in the area,” says Ryan Costello, a member of UFAD. “There were a lot of people who weren’t from the projects who came up to support, I thought it was very encouraging. We can’t trust these politicians, these corporations tying it all together into the bigger picture.”
Residents like Williams and Alexander hope to see more people come out and support them. They believe that NYCHA residents must be educated on what is happening to each development so they can better understand how to navigate any problems that arise. Alexander hopes that going forward, more NYCHA residents will speak out.
“Let our voices be heard,” she says. “Opposed to just one or two of us, standing out here doing the work.”