Disabled and hearing-impaired tenants of a Section 8 housing development on the Lower East Side refuse to stay silent amidst claims of life-threatening neglect.
Dozens of residents at 174 and 184 Forsyth St. were in a clear state of emotional distress on Tuesday, Sept. 28. With the aid of a sign language interpreter, the residents — including deaf, partially blind, and wheelchair-bound New Yorkers — pleaded for help in their fight against years of squalid living conditions, with one resident claiming that the situation almost cost her life.
“I would explain to management about a bad smell coming from my stove, but they ignored it,” Elizabeth Walker explained. “I kept telling them there was a gas smell coming from my stove. My family would visit me and they told me they didn’t think it was safe. I called 311 and explained and they told me to dial 911 and then two firemen came to the house and the connection was bad they had to turn off the gas. They said if we sparked something it would have created a fire, we would have all been dead. The firemen actually walked me over to the management office and the firemen were mad and they scolded them and gave them a lecture, and then I waited four weeks for a new stove.”
One by one, residents lined up to assert allegation after allegation.
Taking an amNewYork Metro reporter by the arm, those who call the building home showcased an intercom system that does not use video, only sound — which is useless to tenants with hearing impairments.
The facility also lacked accommodations for wheelchair users; has out-of-service elevators, broken washers and dryers, decrepit flooring inside apartments and rodent problems; and a staff that cannot communicate with residents since they have not been trained in sign language.
Several residents even charged security with refusing to call 911 when a tenant faced breathing difficulties.
“We are not getting the service we deserve as the handicap; handicap people depend on the government and the government is doing nothing for us,” Elewood Torres said.
Many longtime residents say that the management was once kind, helpful, and respectful, yet when a new management took over five years prior the quality of life spiraled out of control with many charging that the working superintendent is not trained to perform maintenance.
“It was good in the beginning, when I first moved in it was so nice but then they changed management and they never did anything. Every one of us are having problems with things that need to be replaced,” said William Perdono, a resident for nearly three decades.
Perhaps one of the most shocking claims of all comes from Judith Quiros-Velez, who says she was coerced by the Jewish Board, a nonprofit mental health and social service agency, to sign an agreement under the guise of assisted living support that resulted in being charged five times more in rent when compared to fellow tenants.
According to Quiros-Velez, she says the higher rents garners the vast majority of her Social Security income, leaving her to rely on food donations to survive.
“When I moved in here, they said that I only had to pay $200 and then after a couple of months, they took all my money. They increased the rent to $1053 and they never explained it. The agreement was $200 a month. Every time, I tell social security to stop giving them my money they say we have no choice. I can’t believe the Jewish Board would do such a thing — I have to struggle to survive. They took advantage of me because I am not well read,” Quiros-Velez said.
After the tour, residents gathered in front of the building in the heavy rainfall with signs in hand and demanded immediate action, stating that they feel management ignores them due to their disabilities. But tenants want to remind them that they will not be silenced.
Democratic nominee for the 1st City Council District seat, Chris Marte, rallied to this plight, calling the situation “unacceptable.”
“We are going to continue fighting, whether it is in front of HUD, in front of the management office, and we are going to demand a change,” Marte said.
amNewYork Metro reached out to the DOB, HUD, and the Jewish Board, and is awaiting responses.