2006-07-21 / Community

NYCHA Apartments Empty As Applicants Wait Years

By Howard Schwach


Congressman Gregory Meeks (left) joins with members of the Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation at a 2005 dinner honoring its "coming out." Present with Meeks are members of the corporation and Tino Hernandez, the chair of the NYCHA. A recent study shows that the agency has been warehousing vacant apartments for more than four years prior to rehabbing them and putting them back on the market. Congressman Gregory Meeks (left) joins with members of the Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation at a 2005 dinner honoring its "coming out." Present with Meeks are members of the corporation and Tino Hernandez, the chair of the NYCHA. A recent study shows that the agency has been warehousing vacant apartments for more than four years prior to rehabbing them and putting them back on the market. Nearly one-fifth of the apartments at the Ocean Bay Houses in Rockaway are empty and awaiting renovation and have been for more than three years as the New York City Housing Authority (NYCH) goes through the process to update them, a report releases by City Comptroller William Thompson says.

Thompson said that the agency's computer systems are so inefficient that families in need of housing often fell off the list before they had a chance to move in.

That led, one tenant activist told reporters, "to drug dealers and prostitutes moving into the vacated apartments," without the agency's knowledge.

The report said that eighteen percent of the apartments at Ocean Bay in Edgemere and Arverne were vacant and most remained so for an average of 40 months.

More than a quarter of the vacant apartments, the report said, remained so for five years and more.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, who represents many of the city housing residents in Rockaway, said that he reacted "with shock and anger" to Thompson's report.

"It is absolutely astounding that it could take 83 months - nearly seven years - for NYCHA to complete capital improvements at the Ocean Bay Houses development," Meeks said. "While imposing and increasing new resident fees, and while thousands of low-income families have been desperately searching for decent, affordable housing, NYCHA has been suppressing an obvious source of additional revenue; new renters. All it had to do was bring rehabilitated housing back on the market in a timely manner."

The "warehousing" of apartments awaiting renovation has spurred long-standing rumors in Rockaway that, when enough apartments were vacant, the buildings would be turned into private condominiums or condos.

A spokesperson for the NYCHA told reporters that the survey only looked at a small sampling of the agency's 344 developments and 180,000 apartments and did not take into account a massive, ongoing $2 billion overhaul.

"In preserving units in public housing, we place residents in quality apartments while renovations and modernization is made to their main residences," the spokesperson said. "We believe [the report] does not fully reflect the extensive preservation efforts underway by the city and the agency."

Meeks called for public hearings and strict oversight by the City Council to insure that the improved procedures that the agency has promised to put in place will be implemented "with speed and diligence."

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