Ralph Calinda is 91. He is a World War II veteran and neighborhood gardener. He has been a tenant leader in the Flushing apartment complex where he has lived for the past six decades.
But because Calinda lives in the Pomonok Houses, one of 334 developments operated by the New York City Housing Authority, by far the city’s largest landlord, he may be forced out of his home despite his advanced age, long tenure and strong community ties.
NYCHA wants to “downsize” Calinda into a smaller apartment. He is not alone. NYCHA has also targeted many other longtime, often elderly tenants for downsizing. NYCHA argues that its subsidy programs require tenants to live in appropriately sized apartments and that large numbers of people are waiting to move into public housing.
But NYCHA has no accurate count of its residents, fails to add eligible family members onto tenants’ leases, does not properly consider requests for medical exemptions from downsizing and disregards its own rules for relocating tenants. Until these problems are fixed, NYCHA’s downsizing will remain an arbitrary and abusive process that takes advantage of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
NYCHA rents out more than 175,000 apartments and has more than 400,000 authorized tenants, but its total housing population has been estimated to exceed 600,000 people. Accordingly, NYCHA often mistakes households with unlisted members for households with room to spare. NYCHA should not downsize households until it has an accurate grasp of their true size and therefore knows how many bedrooms it really needs.
NYCHA also routinely refuses to add eligible but unlisted household members to tenant leases, willfully ignoring the true size of tenant households. NYCHA is responsible for falsely concluding that an apartment is too big for a tenant. NYCHA should not downsize anymore tenants until it fixes this problem.
Additionally, while NYCHA policy permits a medical exemption from downsizing, that policy is draconian and even NYCHA admits it is. NYCHA will exempt a tenant from downsizing only when it would literally kill the tenant.
NYCHA General Manager Cecil House acknowledged the policy’s flaws at a City Council hearing and said, “We should not be taking enforcement action or inconveniencing residents until we get this policy appropriately in place.”
Yet NYCHA is now pursuing Calinda without any inquiry into whether a move from his home of six decades would compromise his health. NYCHA should adhere to its general manager’s promise and stop downsizing until it starts reasonably accommodating tenants’ medical conditions.
Finally, NYCHA’s official policies include downsizing only those tenants with two or more extra bedrooms and offering downsized tenants a choice between two different, appropriately sized apartments. Yet letters to tenants state that households with one extra room must move and that tenants will be evicted unless they move into the single apartment selected for them.
Clearly NYCHA’s own house is out of order, with the result that often longtime, elderly tenants are being threatened with homelessness.