Residents of Williamsburg NYCHA building protest ‘heartbreaking conditions’

Residents of Independence Towers banded together in protest.
Photo by Dean Moses

Residents of Williamsburg’s Independence Towers gathered with local politicos for a rally on Monday to demand a halt to ongoing construction at the residential complex due concerns over the porous conditions at the city-run New York City Housing Authority building. 

Those residing within Independence Towers claim living conditions at 130 Clymer St. are becoming unbearable since the NYCHA buildings began undergoing construction during the COVID-19 pandemic — something they say is inhumane.

During the construction, they claim to have experienced frequent heat loss, discoveries of mold and asbestos, mounting garbage, hot water shutdowns, among other issues.

In a desperate plea for aid, residents gathered at the corner of Taylor Street and Bedford Avenue on Jan. 11 to rally for support, but even the demonstration was delayed due to an elevator malfunction, forcing elderly attendees to descend numerous flights of stairs. Once the protest got underway, those present exhibited signs reading “Stop work order!” and “RAD Kills.” 

RAD is the abbreviation for Rental Assistance Demonstration, a program that allows public housing authorities to preserve and improve the property by creating three “legacy” programs, rental supplement, rental assistance payment and Section 8 moderate rehabilitation. This creates an opportunity for public housing to address the nationwide $26 million backlog of maintenance.   

Residents of Independence Towers reached out to Victoria Cambranes — a candidate for the City Council’s District 33 seat — notifying her of the buildings’ deterioration, along with the continued distress they face while quarantining in hazardous conditions. Cambranes hosted this rally to inform New York that these maintenance improvements are hindering rather than improving the Independence Towers.

Cambranes has been an advocate for tenants’ rights for years, but she says that the conditions she witnessed at Independence Towers are “deeply disturbing” and “unlike anything she has ever seen before.” 

Residents have called 311, but are continuously told to speak to Reliant Management, but Cambranes says they are “systematically unavailable.” 

“It truly breaks my heart that this kind of lack of respect and lack of dignity that people are suffering through right now because… why? Politics? Because our federal, state and city government wants to support the privatization of public housing,” Cambranes said, pushing elected officials to take action now. 

Jonathan Gouveia, Executive Vice President of Real Estate for NYCHA, spoke to amNewYork Metro in regards to the rally, and explained that the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT), developments are included in RAD, which creates Project-Based Section 8, allowing for comprehensive repairs in public housing. 

Gouveia said that buildings, like Independence Towers, are in need of maintenance to prevent serious deterioration, and the PACT program is performing construction to fix the backlog of issues, one of the foremost causes being funding and budgetary issues.

He shared that the construction is overseen by HUD and follows COVID safety protocols, adding renovations should be completed by 2022. 

“We are going to be addressing at a comprehensive level all of the challenges that have been plaguing these buildings for many years,” Gouveia said. 

Both Cambranes and residents are demanding the Department of Buildings (DOB) issue an immediate Stop Work Order for all non-emergency repairs. Cambranes states that blame is placed on every level of government for not providing NYCHA with adequate funding.  

“This goes from Trump, HUD, all the way to Governor Cuomo and our state legislator and our city council, which sold this land. The city council is responsible for the land that NYCHA sits on and they sold it to a slumlord like Reliant, which is not managing this property properly and is not giving the respect that they need,” Cambranes said. 

The RAD conversion began in June, since which time residents have been objecting to worsening conditions by calling 311, Reliant Management, and elected officials. Cambranes is hopeful this rally will steer representatives to focus on the problem at hand, forcing them to heed to residents’ NYCHA pleas, and encourages the DOB to put forth a Stop Work Order on non-emergency repairs. 

NYCHA on the other hand, says that the Towers Independence is undergoing active construction to help remedy the very things the residents are complaining about. 

“Due to federal cutbacks over many, many decades we have not been able to provide the kind of capital upgrades over the years to maintain the building at the level they should be in. What we are seeing today is the result of that lack of investment. PACT is going to address those issues,” Gouveia said.

Marni Halasa, a candidate for City Council for District 3, joined the rally and also pushed for the construction to cease, stating, “RAD was publicized as a way for tenants to get the repairs they desperately needed. But what it really did—was to take deeply affordable Section 9 apartments, low-income housing costing one-third of people’s incomes, and turned them into Section 8, where rents increased, leases could become more restrictive and tenants could get evicted for minor infractions. With many senior and disabled tenants living on fixed incomes, RAD had all the elements to become an eviction machine.”

Gouveia advises that if residents feel like they are not being heard by the development team, NYCHA will make certain that the development team is doing the work they were hired to do, believing it is important that this program move forward. 

“This PACT initiative that we are engaged in at Independence Towers has already delivered critical repairs to thousands of residents,” Gouveia said, sharing that PACT is one of their best tools in delivering comprehensive repairs, bringing resources, and improving quality of life for residents.

NYCHA says that tenants can contact the customer contact center at (718) 707-7771 if they have any issues.