By Zoe Sellers & Kossivi Maglo
CONEY ISLAND, February 5th- “Humanity before profit!” a young protester shouted from the crowd of tenants gathered on Surf Ave, outside of Haber Houses. On the cold winter morning, a large group of public housing tenants, primarily elderly Russian immigrants, spoke out against the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA’s) proposal to privatize their development.
Six days before the protest, the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD) sent a petition signed by 210 Haber Houses tenants to Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials, after learning of NYCHA’s plan to transfer the development from Section 9 public housing to subsidized Section 8 housing. Though NYCHA says that transferring their developments to Section 8, either through the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program or the Housing Preservation Trust (the Trust), will help fund the estimated 40 billion dollars needed to repair all their buildings, many tenants fear displacement.
“No PACT. No transfers. We don’t want to leave our homes,” Sofiya Lobova, a Haber Houses tenant said at the protest. “We don’t want to move anywhere. Section 9 only!”
“Public housing, Section 9, has protections for tenants. Whereas Section 8 favors landlords,” said Anne Valdez, a community activist.
Under PACT, public housing developments are leased to private landlords who receive government subsidies for the units. And the Trust will issue bonds to attract private investors. Though NYCHA will continue to own the land, many tenants believe these programs put private profit above protecting affordable housing. And they criticize NYCHA for keeping them in the dark.
“Lack of clarity of the timeline…lack of information on available housing stock…lack of clarity for the relocation process,” are some of the concerns listed in the UFAD’s petition. They also point out that many “tenants are old and [are] suffering from age related illnesses and might find it difficult to find comparable housing,” even if offered housing vouchers.
Some argue that the temporary relocation of Haber House residents would be stressful for tenants as they would be removed from their predominantly Russian-speaking community. NYCHA states that tenants “will have a right to return to [their homes] as soon as construction is completed,” but that is not always the case.
“Eviction data from NYCHA and the PACT developer for Ocean Bay [a former public housing development in Queens] indicate that eviction rates increased in the years following conversion,” according to Human Rights Watch’s report The Tenant Never Wins. While there is not enough data to conclude that PACT conversions lead to more evictions, the findings of this report make many weary of converting to Section 8.
And tenants are not the only ones concerned.
Former Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus spoke at the protest in support of the tenants. Later, she described to The Paper the moment she and her colleagues were first introduced to the Trust. “You could hear a pin drop when they announced the plan. There was a lot of skepticism. A colleague of mine said, ‘that sounds like privatization.’”
But Haber Houses tenants did not stand by and let their concerns go unheard. And they celebrated a victory in their fight on February 13.
“NYCHA said that they will not privatize Haber Houses, after tenants organized against privatization,” Chantelle, an organizer with the UFAD, told us. But she doesn’t think they are in the clear yet.
“Now, we are continuing the fight, because we cannot trust [NYCHA’s] promises… [and] we are focusing on building up the struggle at all the other Coney Island developments, to make sure that NYCHA does not privatize anywhere in Coney Island,” she added.