Lancman says NYCHA backtracked on pledge

By Rich Bockmann

The city’s public housing authority has reneged on a pledge to let seniors stay in their homes while it re-examines its downsizing policies, officials said last week outside the Pomonok Houses in Fresh Meadows.

The New York City Housing Authority is going ahead with its initiative to move tenants from oversized apartments into smaller units, even though a representative from the agency told the City Council last month it would not continue to do so until it examined flaws in the program involving the elderly.

“We thought that was good news. We thought NYCHA was taking a time-out,” Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said last week outside the sprawling public housing project, at 67-09 Kissena Blvd.

Lancman and other members of the Pomonok community were joined by Ralph Calinda, a World War II veteran who has been ordered to leave the apartment he has lived in for more than 60 years.

“I think it’s terrible I have to move,” said the 91-year-old, who has been active in the houses’ civic community.

At a Council hearing in early April on the agency’s policy, NYCHA General Manager Cecil House said there were serious flaws in the way the policy treated seniors.

“We should not be taking enforcement action or inconveniencing residents until we get this policy appropriately in place,” he said.

NYCHA said, “Rightsizing helps us fulfill our mission to provide safe, decent, affordable housing to as many people as possible. The New York City Housing Authority will continue to work with our stakeholders, including residents, elected officials and advocates, to ensure that this policy is sensitive and fair.”

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) was blunt in her assessment of the public housing agency’s position.

“I’ve never heard such double talk from NYCHA,” she said.

Lancman said the problem is that the city sets the bar too high for who can be forced to move.

“You may find this hard to believe — I did myself — but the only circumstance NYCHA will consider in not forcing a tenant to move is they have a serious health condition — if they have Alzheimer’s, they have diabetes, they suffer from depression. The tenant has got to show that literally moving from that apartment is a matter of life and death. And that standard, life or death, is unique to NYCHA,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a similar downsizing program for Section 8 housing, but the councilman said those guidelines are more reasonable.

“It’s not the standard that’s used in any other setting that I’m aware of to accommodate someone who might have a health condition that might be negatively impacted by whatever it is that the government wants to do,” he said.

State Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Fresh Meadows) said he understands NYCHA’s desire to use its space more effectively, but that goal cannot be achieved at a cost to those who are least able to bear the burden.

“There’s a way to do this. I think everybody on our side is willing to help,” he said. “Again, it’s the question of balancing the needs of the larger families against the needs of the senior community.”

Simanowitz introduced legislation in Albany that would address the issue and said he had hoped that with a new board of directors and chairwoman at the agency its relationship with tenants would change.

But he gave a dim prospect to either having significant impact.

“I don’t hold that much hope,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

More from Around New York