Ben Carson’s Visit Goes Unnoticed by NYCHA Residents

Raquel Montijo, 87. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

On Tuesday, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson visited the Big Apple to evaluate the state of public housing projects, just a few days after Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the NYCHA 2.0 plan, which would spend approximately $24 billion in the next 10 years to repair apartments belonging to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Carson’s stay was brief. The civil servant (…) showed up at around 10:00 a.m. at the Queensbridge Housing Complex in Long Island City, where tenants have battled heating problems and gas leaks in their kitchens for years. [Editor’s note: On Dec. 18, NYCHA announced that it had “closed more than 950 maintenance work order requests in one day across five developments in its second Saturday blitz, as part of the Authority’s proactive initiative to eliminate repair backlogs and effectively engage and assist residents.”]

Carson sent NYCHA a letter on Friday threatening to start a takeover of the system, the first step to transfer the agency’s management to the federal government. The secretary only entered one apartment during his short, barely 30-minute tour. Soon after, (…) Carson met with de Blasio.

On Friday, the mayor asked Federal Judge William Pauley to grant him an additional 45 days to craft a viable plan of repairs that the judge can consider acceptable. The new deadline will be on January 31, 2019.

“We are in the middle of productive conversations with Secretary Carson to improve the quality of life of the 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home,” said the mayor.

However, in the gardens of George Washington Houses, a 13-building NYCHA project in East Harlem, Carson’s visit went unnoticed.

Raquel Montijo, and 87-year-old Puerto Rican resident who has lived in the complex since 1947 and still remembers her neighborhood’s “glory days,” said that “even if Carson or the federal government intervene with NYCHA, things will remain the same.”

(…) “Here, problems go beyond that, and I know what I am talking about; I have lived here a long time,” said Montijo. “This is our home, and many people forget that. I lived here with my husband and raised my children, who are now grown. Still, at the moment I can only walk alone in the mornings, because it is impossible to walk in this area after 9:00 in the evening. It is very dangerous. But you don’t know who to turn to,” she said.

Roberto Malofsky, 58, with his dog Butch. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Part of her concern stems from what she perceives as insufficient information and communication from the city. “Here, you hear all kinds of rumors. For instance, in my building we are waiting for them to repair some things, and when you file a complaint, they say that an administrative employee stole some money and that they will not be able to fix anything until the money is returned.”

(…) Roberto Malofsky, 58, considers himself a “NYCHA expert.” He lives on a sixth floor with his mother. Throughout their life, the two have lived in different apartments in the same project. (…)

“The truth is that the problem with NYCHA needs to be solved here. The mayor should take the time to work for these housing units instead of letting other people who do not know New Yorkers take over our homes,” said Malofsky, whose family is Puerto Rican. He also stressed the importance of “speeding up the process of assigning apartments.”

Standing next to him, a visibly frustrated young man who chose to remain anonymous narrated the anguished time he endured when he was forced to live in the streets as he waited for one of the units. While he was homeless, he was attacked and mugged several times and ended up losing three teeth.

“We are just a number, a figure, to them,” said the 32-year-old of Dominican origin. (…) To him, Carson’s visit “makes no sense.” He added: “It only benefits them, not us, because at the end of the day, we the poor are simply, according to them, a burden, yet we are here paying our taxes and our Social Security. They are not giving anything to us for free.” (…)

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