Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to build new apartments in some of New York’s public housing projects, but residents want to know when long-delayed repairs will happen in their apartments.
Come out and sit
“We don’t have guns,” Beverly Corbin, 61, says pleasantly.
Corbin supervises the resident watch program at the Wyckoff Gardens housing development in Brooklyn. Volunteers — many of whom are women, seniors or disabled — take shifts to sit guard at the entrance of their buildings.
There are no security guards in the complex, so Corbin and her Watchers are the first line of defense. As residents in New York City Housing Authority apartments, they’re used to fending for themselves.
Today, the housing authority has more demands on its limited resources than ever. A new program meant to bring more money to the agency may also give residents the chance to demand some help.
Residents in city housing have helped to keep their communities safe through some form of resident watch for more than 40 years, according to NYCHA.
At Wyckoff, volunteers monitor the comings and goings of non-residents. They call the police when needed, make sure kids get off to school and return home safely, and try to discourage people who don’t belong in the building from sneaking in — “crackheads,” says Corbin matter-of-factly, who sleep in the stairwells. Corbin judges that most of the people who do get in do so at night when no one’s sitting shift.
They are part-time mayors running makeshift community centers. They hold the door for and look after the elderly. They let in FedEx and deliverymen. “Benjamin, he comes here about 50 times a day,” Monica Underwood, a resident watch captain, says as a deliveryman heads for the elevator with a bag of food. It wasn’t so long ago when people wouldn’t deliver to Wyckoff. It was “the projects.”
Neighborhood has changed around them
Wyckoff residents live in a swiftly gentrifying part of Brooklyn. While advances in public safety are appreciated, they worry about the loss of necessities like laundromats and supermarkets, replaced by yoga and coffee shops.
They are also concerned about a program called “NextGen NYCHA,” which hopes to capitalize on the changes in the neighborhood.
To gin up desperately needed funds for the housing authority, de Blasio’s administration plans to lease “underutilized” NYCHA land, starting at Wyckoff and Holmes Towers in Manhattan, to build mixed-income housing in these popular areas.
Some residents fear the program will push them out of their homes, though NYCHA has been clear that this won’t happen. The real issue: Residents wonder why NYCHA is contemplating new construction when the current housing is in such decrepit condition.
Improvement is overdue
At a meeting with NYCHA administrators on Monday night to discuss the new construction, residents spoke of the same-old: broken elevators, dogs and vagrants relieving themselves in stairwells, broken intercoms, broken stoves, hostile management and bugs. NYCHA has vowed to do better, saying that the new revenue is needed to improve conditions.
The agency is extending resident-outreach, and should be commended for it. Now it should act on it as well — performing the basic services of a landlord in exchange for the new digs.
On her shift, Underwood discussed NextGen with Felincia Reid, 52, another resident watch volunteer.
“Since the light is shining on us, now is the time,” Underwood, 64, says.
“We deserve to live decent just like everyone else,” Reid says, noting that timely repairs would go a long way. “We’re not asking a whole lot.”
Reid leaves for her apartment, before coming back down to start her shift.
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