Tenants in NYCHA Brownstones Organize as Gas Remains Out and Potential Changes Loom

By Michael McDowell

Residents of the West Side Urban Renewal (WSUR) Brownstones, a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complex of several dozen buildings on the Upper West Side between 89th and 93rd Streets, have been without a tenant association for more than two years.

Following the resignation of the previous board in 2017, community leader Cynthia Tibbs has fought to form a new association—and says she has encountered obstacles from NYCHA every step of the way.

According to Tibbs, it’s paramount a tenant association is in place prior to the privatization of her development’s management via either the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) or Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) programs.

Although these two programs are often used interchangeably, they are not alike, and elements of the programs afford the individuals and families who live in developments which enter these programs with different types of protections.

“With upcoming RAD and PACT, if there is not a tenant association already in place, then NYCHA does not have to include the residents in the decision-making process. NYCHA will make decisions for the residents,” Tibbs said, shaking her head. “If there’s a tenant association in place, we have a voice.”

And for the Brownstones, which sit on some of the Upper West Side’s most sought after real estate—in the shadow of Emery Roth’s El Dorado—a role in the decision-making process may prove to be of existential significance.

NYCHA withdrew recognition of the previous board in April of this year, and according to a NYCHA spokesman, Brownstones residents will be able to hold elections in the fall. NYCHA is responsible for ensuring resident association elections are in compliance with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations.

That doesn’t explain the delay, Tibbs responds, as all members of that board resigned in 2018, so NYCHA could have held elections more than a year ago, at least. While the Brownstones aren’t currently scheduled for RAD or PACT, many residents and some local elected officials feel NYCHA hasn’t been forthcoming with information about the controversial privatization process.

“I think an election should be scheduled—I have reached out to NYCHA and asked for a date,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s office has also worked to move NYCHA on the issue, and Tibbs recently met with Federal Monitor Bart Schwartz, whose office declined to comment for this story.

Tenant associations are self-governed bodies with leaders who are nominated and elected by residents. Such associations are not unique to public housing, and provide tenants with a means of organizing ahead of negotiations with a landlord or agency. Tenant associations create a forum for communication between residents, elected officials, community leaders, and other relevant organizations, like the NYPD.

At NYCHA, tenant associations also have funds available to them to hold family events for residents—a summer barbecue, for example—and near the holidays, to find presents for children who might otherwise have no gifts to unwrap.

An active tenant association might have proved effective in demanding the speedy restoration of gas at the Brownstones, which has been out in a number of buildings since Thanksgiving.

Tibbs tell the Rag that there hasn’t been a meeting pertaining to the gas outage since May 23rd. A meeting is scheduled for June 13th, but she’s far from enthusiastic.

“The gas is still out in all of the impacted buildings. Asbestos testing is ongoing in buildings on 90th Street, but in a building on 91st Street, there is no progress, no movement, and no information, which is unacceptable,” she said. “There’s been no dialogue between management and residents.”

NEWS | 2 comments | permalink
    1. Susan says:

      Thank you for reporting on this story! It’s maddening that NYCHA appears to be dragging its heels on letting the next tenant association elections go forward. I wonder if HUD can work with the tenants more directly? I remember them being really helpful back when I was on the board of the HDFC building where I used to live. NYCHA now just seems to be gunning for large-scale privatization, w/ Mayor de B’s support and approval – which I assume will eventually result in these tenants being evicted as the buildings are reclassified as market-rate rentals.

    2. Andre Nogueira-Kourkoulis says:

      We need Cynthia Tibbs as our Tenant Association President!