City breaks promise to tenants

City breaks promise to tenants
The Brooklyn Paper / Allyse Pulliam

The city has broken a $2-million promise to Williamsburg and Greenpoint, snatching $550,000 away from tenant advocacy groups that try to keep longtime residents from being washed away in a tide of gentrification.

The cash — which was guaranteed to such groups as a part of the controversial 2005 upzoning that encouraged more high-rise development and sent property values skyrocketing — would have gone to nine neighborhood organizations combating harassment and eviction of tenants as rents have risen.

“In a bad economic time, the people that suffer the most are the people who can’t afford to pay for their housing, and now they’re not going to get the help the city promised them,” said Richard Mazur, whose North Brooklyn Tenant Anti-Displacement Collaborative is facing a cut of $300,000 from its $1.3-million grant.

It’s unclear whether the rescinded cash has affected any at-risk residents yet, but it has already put one of the tenant’s rights workers on the chopping block.

Ryan Kuonen, a recently hired organizer with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, was brought onboard to provide free legal aid to tenants — but now her organization must cut $90,000 over the next two years — roughly twice Kuonen’s salary over that period.

“It’s kind of stressful, not only on a personal level, but also for the tenants,” said Kuonen, whose duties include assisting tenants at housing court, helping residents draft letters to landlords, and aiding North Brooklynites in filling out complicated forms.

“What will they do in February or March if I’m not here?” she asked. “We have a few long-going legal battles that we’re right in the midst of — if I’m not here, where will they go for help?”

Mazur claims the cuts — which will total more than 30 percent of the budget in 2009 and 40 percent in 2010 — are unfairly high compared to proposed citywide cuts of 2-1/2 percent and 5 percent.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development — which operates its own Williamsburg housing preservation office on Hooper Street near the Navy Yard — rejected Mazur’s math.

“When an agency is given a two-and-a-half-percent cut, we don’t just cut two-and-a-half percent from everything,” the spokesman, Seth Donlin, said. “Some projects get killed altogether, and there are always going to be those programs that get cut to a greater or lesser extent than the average cut.”