BY DONATHAN SALKALN | Since Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) announced a public/private partnership plan to demolish two of the 11 buildings at Chelsea’s Fulton Houses, relocate tenants to a new building on the same property, and effectively privatize its management, other nearby residents have been feeling the squeeze—and are pushing back.
While petitions in opposition of the plan are being signed with door-to-door interviews at Fulton Houses, activists at Penn South, with its own 10 buildings with over 2,000 apartments, have joined the effort.
Although the extreme heat of July 19 brought warnings from the mayor for New Yorkers to stay inside, Joyce and Paul Wilcox, Penn South residents who refer to themselves as “Friends of Fulton,” hit the baking streets, to petition for signatures against the privatization of Fulton Houses. Their sidewalk table of literature and petitions sat under the shade of Penn South’s majestic sycamores on the corner of Eighth Ave., just south of Gristedes Supermarket.
In a span of just a few Saturdays, they and six other Penn South residents have gathered hundreds of signatures. According to their interactions with people in the neighborhood, everyone is feeling the real estate squeeze.
Said Joyce Wilcox, a semi-retired nurse, “We support the Fulton tenants in having some sort of autonomy, some real control over their housing and their future. These are our neighbors and friends. We have exercise classes together at Hudson Guild. We used to have the classes at the Fulton Community Center, before it closed for renovation. We used to garden with them in the back of Fulton… We even have neighbors in Penn South that grew up there.”
Paul, a retired chapter chair of a small local union, cut to the chase in getting the ink of my signature on a petition. “Privatization is a dirty word,” he said. “The rent money goes to a private landlord, and they are all about profit. Penn South is affordable because there is no landlord sucking the money out of it.” Added Joyce, “Legally, Penn South is under HUD [U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development], as we have a city tax abatement, so we’re vulnerable sooner or later.”
Joyce continued, saying, “We’re not here to tell the Fulton residents what to do. We support what they want. We spent an afternoon down there. The ladies were going door-to-door in Fulton, talking to residents and getting signatures, and finding everyone is against privatizing and what they call RAD [Rental Assistance Demonstration]. We saw it for ourselves.”
The Wilcox family knows the pitfalls of privatization firsthand, as their daughter lives in the east side, privatized Mitchell-Lama housing—and was threatened with eviction, for having a pet bird. “They went right to eviction over one neighbor’s complaint,” recalled Joyce. “Not even a phone call. Straight to eviction.”
After hiring a lawyer and going through the sort of legal ordeal that consumes people’s lives, the Wilcox family got the eviction order withdrawn. Yet, three years later, management wants its legal costs paid, on top of rent. They claim the Wilcox’s daughter is in arrears, and are threatening legal action. With a heavy heart, Joyce said, “We’re going to have to hire a lawyer again.”
Stop by the table on Saturdays (Eighth Ave. & W. 26th St., 1pm-ish). There will be literature available that includes information on how Hudson Yards (rents going from $5,000 to $20,000 a month) got financing worth $1.6 billion, meant for low-income areas in Harlem. But that is another day in the sun for the NYC’s real estate industry.
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