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The boss of the New York City Housing Authority visited the Red Hook Houses last week, vowing to cut costs at agency headquarters and listen more to residents who make up the vast housing network.
But at the meeting, organized by State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, little time was devoted to hearing from residents of the public housing development, where the majority of the neighborhood’s population resides.
“It was a student−teacher type of situation, where they were telling us exactly how to say things,” said Wally Bazemore, a Red Hook activist and former NYCHA employee.
“In a real town hall, the gloves are off,” he said. “This was an insult.”
To preface the well−attended April 23 meeting at Calvary Baptist Church, Montgomery reminded the audience, “We are in a church. We are going to behave ourselves, so there is no bad language.”
And NYCHA Interim Chairman Ricardo Morales told residents to “choose their words when the cameras are on.”
Lillie Marshall, president of Red Hook West Tenants’ Association, strongly disagreed with Bazemore’s assessment. “They didn’t intend on letting everyone talk all night,” she said. “They asked if anyone wanted to talk, and [those who spoke] were the only ones who did.”
“I love Wally dearly,” she continued, “But I don’t feel the same way.”
Dorothy Shields, the president of the Red Hook East Tenants’ Association, agreed with Marshall. “I was there, and I don’t think anyone was being talked down to,” she said.
“Everyone who wanted to speak, spoke. I think the meeting went very well, and I wouldn’t have a problem saying it if it didn’t go well.”
In total, six residents from the housing development spoke. “When the temperature is 35 degrees outside, it’s lower in my apartment,” said Sandra Sidberry. The air was so cold one recent evening, “I blew smoke signals in my bed,” she said. Another resident, Julia Duval, wondered why housing police conducting surveillance dismantled the light on the top floor of her building, and when she complained about it, they loudly knocked on her door at 10:30 p.m. “and treated me like I was the criminal.”
Morales called the residents of public housing the “very fabric of this city.” He blamed newspapers for focusing on negative stories, and making residents feel like “second−class citizens.” But the media, it turns out, can also serve his makeover scheme. In order to “reinvent ourselves,” he said, the plan is to get more “positive stories out.” To do that, he urged residents to keep him informed of all goings−on, both good and bad.
The agency recently made headlines for being the subject of a federal lawsuit that accused the NYCHA of violating disability and human rights laws by failing to adequately maintain the system’s elevators. The mayor announced over the weekend that $70 million of a planned $423 million in renovations slated for public housing will be allocated for the repair and replacement of faulty elevators.
After residents spoke, community organizations were afforded time to describe their programs. Ludger Balan, the executive director of the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, saw the meeting as a success. “Any forum where you get your public officials eye to eye with constituents is a good thing,” he said.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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