Seniors refuse to leave homes in Pomonok

By Alex Robinson

After being asked by NYCHA to leave their multi-room apartments to make room for families, a number of seniors in Pomonok Houses said they are not going anywhere.

More than a handful of seniors in the housing development, at 67-10 Parsons Blvd., recently started receiving notices asking them to submit requests for transfers to smaller apartments in other developments in the New York City Housing Authority’s system to make space for families.

Beverly Riley, 74, has lived in her three-bedroom apartment for 52 years with her husband, Willie, 76. She received a notice in December asking her to submit a transfer request because she was in an “under-occupied apartment” and ignored it.

A few weeks later she received a letter telling her she was put on a NYCHA waiting list for the “first appropriate size apartment that becomes available in this borough.”

In January, NYCHA sent Riley a letter saying her new address was to be at 85-10 Rockaway Beach Blvd.

“You must accept this apartment that is being offered. You will not receive a second apartment offer,” the letter read.

“I don’t want to move to the Rockaways,” Riley said in an interview. “Seniors are isolated out there. They’re targets.”

She signed a refusal to move to the new apartment in the Rockaways and less than two days later she received a phone call from NYCHA saying she was to move to an apartment in Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City. She refused that apartment and is now waiting to have a hearing to determine whether she will have to go to court to stay in her home.

Riley said she was bewildered why NYCHA would ask her to move now, 35 years after her last child moved away from home.

“What NYCHA is doing to seniors is cruel and inhumane,” she said.

NYCHA has been trying for years to implement its controversial downsizing policy to free up under-occupied apartments for families on its ever-growing waiting list. They have tried to move seniors at Pomonok Houses on and off at least since 2001.

In response to public outcry by a number of Pomonok seniors in recent weeks, NYCHA officials held a meeting Tuesday to explain the policy.

Carolyn Jasper, the Queens director for NYCHA, said the authority will send out notices if it identifies apartments that are under-occupied.

“At no point is the Housing Authority looking to put the residents out,” she said at the meeting. “If and when you receive this letter, please don’t be alarmed. Contact your management office.”

If the tenant submits a transfer request and agrees to move, Jasper said NYCHA will provide $350 for moving costs.

“As far as your moving expenses are concerned, it’s a farce,” Riley said at the meeting to raucous applause and shouts of approval. “You’re talking about misplacing people who need to stay in a community.”

The meeting was also attended by state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) as well as representatives for state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing), City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who all represent the area.

“We’re dealing with people here, not furniture,” Simanowitz said in an interview. “You can’t just pick up people and move them because it suits you.”

Simanowitz said he is trying to push a bill in the state Legislature that would prevent longtime residents of public housing over 62 from being subject to transfers based on family composition.

His predecessor, former Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, had tried to pass similar legislation, but it never made it out of committee.

“It’s ridiculous it should take an act of the Legislature to tell the housing authority that they can’t throw seniors to the curb,” he said.

Lancman said there is not much he can do from a legislative standpoint in the Council, but said he would put pressure on NYCHA to change its policy at a budget hearing Wednesday.

“I think the way NYCHA has handled everything is very heartless,” Lancman said in an interview. “We just have to accept the fact these seniors are people and not pieces of a puzzle that can be moved around to fit NYCHA’s puzzle to make more apartments available.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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