NYCHA's Willingness to Meet With Frustrated Red Hook Residents Makes For Calm Protest

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Red Hook public housing residents and community organizers took it pretty easy on the New York City Housing Authority during their rally outside of the agency's headquarters yesterday.

For a community that went weeks without water, heat and electricity, observers might've expected the atmosphere to be a little more contentious. But, those pushing to gain relief for the community's public housing residents say they're encouraged by NYCHA's willingness to sit down with tenants to hear their grievances -- a meeting that will take place this Friday.

"There have been people who have been trying to get NYCHA to respond to the fact that they need repairs for years...I know that generally the word you get is 'send your paperwork downtown,'" Reg Flowers, a community organizer and private housing resident of Red Hook, tells the Voice. "So, for NYCHA to come to Red Hook and sit down with a number of community members is something that is very new for us."

Despite the mild tone of the rally, the demonstrators let it be known that they aren't satisfied with just a sit-down and reiterated their demands for robust recovery efforts.

That list of demands includes a two-month rent credit for November and December, a moratorium on late fees, water and air quality testing, an allocation of $1 billion to NYCHA from the federal funds requested by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the creation of a community-led task-force to monitor the agency's recovery efforts.

NYCHA has already announced a partial credit towards rent for residents in January -- which NYCHA Chairman John Rhea thoughtfully referred to as "a nice little Christmas present." And, the agency recently announced a moratorium on all evictions until January. Flowers made it clear that the partial credit isn't enough to cover the added expenses that residents incurred while suffering without utilities for weeks.

"I think the important thing is that NYCHA remember that a lot of people are paying for things out of pocket, people who haven't been able to live in their apartments and there are people living on a budget," Flowers said. "Suddenly [they] have to go and buy batteries, blankets, food or water that you expect to have in your apartment. If you're paying rent, it's a huge burden."

Red Hook public housing resident Sheryl Braxton said she still has neighbors who are having issues getting heat and water. Some heating units are sending out extremely hot air, while others are giving off cold air. In spite of the issues which continue to plague residents, Braxton is optimistic about NYCHA's cooperation.

"I thank god that at least we're heading [in a better} direction just by meeting with them," Braxton said.

Flowers and Braxton understand that it is important to temper criticism of NYCHA because the agency does provide an invaluable service to thousands of underprivileged families.

"There are a lot of folks who would love to see the affordable housing in New York not be there because there would be a lot more money for those apartments," Flowers said. "Real Estate is key in New York City. So we have to be really careful about the way we take aim at NYCHA because NYCHA has a lot of enemies on the other side."

With that in mind, temperance and consideration won't stop community members from holding NYCHA accountable. And, Flowers is optimistic that NYCHA, the state and the city will honor the community's demands.

"We've been led to feel confident about a lot of them," he said. "There are some that are still very questionable. But, obviously when you're on our side of the table we don't think that anything is impossible."

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