Haber Houses tenants protest potential privatization, citing fears of displacement

protest against privatization at haber houses
Tenants of Coney Island’s Haber Houses rallied against potential privatization of their complex on Sunday, citing fears of displacement and poor treatment.
Caroline Ourso

Tenants at NYCHA Haber Houses in Coney Island rallied against potential privatization of the complex on Sunday, calling on the city to abandon their plans to add their homes to a public-private housing program. 

Alongside an organization called United Front Against Displacement, residents have been working to unite their neighbors against privatization since December, when they say they learned the city plans to add Haber Houses to either the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together program or the newer New York City Public Housing Preservation Trust

“We are not given enough information, and our questions are not answered in detail,” said Alex Travinskiy, a 20-year NYCHA resident. “We cannot trust what NYCHA says. It took them six years to fix three boilers for our buildings.” 

Government programs use private management to manage repairs, renovations

NYCHA oversees 335 developments housing over 530,000 people across New York City — and many of those developments are in some state of disrepair. Strapped for money and resources, NYCHA has turned to the two programs to help rehabilitate buildings. 

But some tenants say the programs hurt more than they help. With PACT, developments are essentially leased to private management companies, who take charge of renovations and repairs with help from the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program.

haber houses tenants
Many tenants at Haber Houses are seniors, and some speak only Russian — and fear being displaced by construction or eviction if their development is added to PACT or the Trust. Caroline Ourso

Last summer, Gov. Kathy Hochul introduced the New York City Public Housing Preservation Trust — a “public option” that essentially replicates the conditions of PACT, while keeping developments under NYCHA control. 

Under both programs, developments are switched from Section 9 to Section 8.

More than 36,000 apartments at 137 developments are currently undergoing or have already undergone renovations under the PACT program, Mayor Eric Adams announced last month. The agency plans to “recapitalize” 62,000 NYCHA apartments by 2028. 

“With NYCHA’s buildings rapidly deteriorating due to decades of federal disinvestment in public housing and a $40 billion capital need, the Trust and PACT are crucial tools for bringing transformative repairs and providing residents with the quality of life they deserve,” NYCHA spox Nekoro Gomes told Brooklyn Paper. 

But reports and tenants say private management has resulted in higher eviction rates and fewer rights for tenants — some say their new landlords have not only failed to address ongoing issues, but have brought their own, newer problems.

Haber Houses says no to “privatization scheme”

Having seen the issues their fellow NYCHA residents are dealing with, tenants at Haber Houses say they want no part of the privatization “scheme.”

“The residents will be given a voucher and will be forced to find another residence while our current residence will undergo a renovation,” reads an anti-privatization petition signed by 210 Haber residents. “Currently there is a lack of clarity regarding this plan.”

Travinskiy said that while the agency promises to provide temporary housing for tenants if repairs are severe enough to require them to move, many are old or sick and cannot be relocated for long periods or at all. A number of residents speak only Russian, and organizers worry a move — even a temporary one – could significantly impact their quality of life by moving them away from their usual doctors’ offices, grocery stores, and neighborhoods. 

woman holding sign at protest
Family members of Haber Houses tenants supported the protest on Sunday, worried about what would happen if privatization is approved. Caroline Ourso

With the help of UFAD, tenants went door-to-door at Haber Houses, informing their neighbors of the potential change and gathering signatures on their petition. According to the petition, NYCHA has not provided a timeline for the renovations or information about what housing would be provided as construction begins. 

Many residents at the Feb. 5 rally said they don’t want to switch to Section 9 under either program.

“No PACT, no Trust, we don’t want to leave our homes,” one said. 

Regina Bulayevskaya said her mother lives at Haber and, like many residents, is a Holocaust survivor. She’s lived through World War II, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and now wants just a safe and stable home, Bulayevsakaya said. 

“Stability and peace is all we want to secure our future – my mother thought she found that in an apartment provided by the state,” she said. “Out of nowhere this thunder, this earthquake came.”

UFAD wrote letters about the situation to several local elected officials – and only received a response from New York City councilmember Ari Kagan, who attended Sunday’s protest. 

“This is a democracy. If the overwhelming majority are against privatization, so be it,” the councilmember said. “People should not be relocated without their permission. People should be listened to.”

Haber Houses required massive repairs after Hurricane Sandy – as of 2019, NYCHA was actively replacing the roofs of two buildings at the complex, plus installing heat and steam lines and constructing new electrical and boiler systems. 

UFAD said NYCHA and the Haber Houses Tenant Association tried to shut down their work to organize against privatization, taping up flyers that say their survey was “not approved by NYCHA management” and asking residents not to take part in it.

ari kagan at haber houses protest
Councilmember Ari Kagan said if the tenants are against privatization, NYCHA should drop the proposal. Caroline Ourso

“Residents here at Haber Houses got organized and put together a petition, and their Tenant Association president has outrageously claimed that collecting signatures for a petition is illegal and dangerous,” said UFAD organizer Alice Pote. “Residents are saying very clearly they do not want this privatization scheme.”

No action taken yet

Linda Harrison, president of the Haber Houses Tenant Association, said no decisions have been made by NYCHA. The agency is working alongside the Tenants Association to educate Haber Houses residents about their options, she told Brooklyn Paper, including their ability to vote against joining the Trust. NYCHA will continue to work to educate tenants of their options until a vote is scheduled, she said. 

When a development is selected for the PACT program, NYCHA begins a lengthy public involvement process, inviting tenants to learn more about the program, help pick a developer, and create a plan for renovations. 

“I am heartbroken that outside and inside agitators are stoking our elderly Haber resident’s fears of being evicted through privatization when no such action has been proposed or chosen by this development,” Harrison said.