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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Public housing tenants watch and wait

Members of a resident watch at the Wyckoff

Members of a resident watch at the Wyckoff Gardens housing development in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

'We don't have guns," Beverly Corbin, 61, says pleasantly.

Corbin supervises the resident watch program at the Wyckoff Gardens housing development in Boerum Hill, in which volunteers, many of whom are women, take shifts to sit guard at the entrances to their buildings. As residents in New York City Housing Authority apartments, they're used to fending for themselves.

Some form of resident watch has been around for more than 40 years, says NYCHA. At Wyckoff, whose three buildings are home to 1,154, volunteers make sure kids get off to school. They call the police when needed, and discourage people from sneaking in -- "crackheads," Corbin calls them, who get in at night, when no one's sitting shift and sleep in stairwells.

The residents are part-time mayors running makeshift community centers. They look after the elderly. They let in deliverymen.

Not long ago, businesses wouldn't deliver to Wyckoff, residents say. But the neighborhood has swiftly gentrified. While advances in public safety are good, the loss of laundromats and supermarkets isn't.

Residents are also concerned about a program called NextGen NYCHA. To gin up desperately needed funds for the authority, the de Blasio 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 being pushed out of their homes, though NYCHA has been clear that this won't happen. The real issue: decrepit conditions. Meeting with NYCHA officials last week to discuss NextGen, residents spoke of the same-old: broken elevators, intercoms and stoves; hostile management. NYCHA vows to do better, saying that new revenue is needed to improve conditions.

The agency is extending resident outreach, and should be commended for it. Now it should act as well -- performing the basic services of a landlord in exchange for the new digs.

Last week, Felincia Reid, 52, waited for the elevator. "We deserve to live decent just like everyone else," Reid says. "We're not asking a whole lot."

Soon Reid is back to start her shift. Mark Chiusano, an editorial writer for amNew York, writes the daily column amExpress. Sign up at amny.com/amexpress.

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