The residents all receive subsidies through the Section 8 housing assistance program to cover monthly expenses. The vouchers are administered by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). But the agency refused to increase their payments earlier this year, after the co-op raised fees to cover a budget shortfall.
The residents turned to Fran Marino, a former Seward Park board member, who in turn, contacted Silver’s office. In a recent letter to those affected, Silver wrote:
I am pleased to inform you that I have helped resolve a problem involving maintenance increases for Section 8 residents in Seward Park Housing Corporation. You will be reimbursed for increases that Section 8 NYCHA denied to you dating back to December 2009. From now on, your Section 8 subsidies will be increased when maintenance costs go up, even if there are multiple increases in a single year.
Recently, Section 8 NYCHA refused to increase subsidies for you and many of your neighbors to cover a hike in maintenance fees. Working with your management company, I persuaded Section 8 NYCHA to change its policy so that your subsidies will be increased to reflect maintenance costs, regardless of how frequently they are adjusted.
When it was built in 1960, Seward Park was a limited equity cooperative. But in 1999, shareholders chose to privatize, meaning their apartments were suddenly worth a lot of money. A decade later, sale prices range from just under $500,000 to over $1 million for larger units. The adage, “house rich, cash poor,” appears to apply to the shareholders in the Section 8 program. Presumably, their only other option would have been to seek a reverse mortgage (perhaps a tall order in this economy).
Marino said many of them were in the position of having to choose between purchasing groceries or paying their maintenance. “Sheldon Silver does a lot of great things for people in this community and I think everyone should know about it,” she told me. Sadly, two of the residents passed away during the time they were waiting for the reimbursements, Marino said.
This year the Seward Park board voted to raise maintenance fees to compensate for increased property taxes, larger water bills and reduced flip tax revenue. The decision was controversial among shareholders in general and within the board of directors in particular. Board members who supported the move said it would be financially irresponsible to use flip tax revenues to reduce budget deficits. They also noted that Seward Park’s maintenance fees remain some of the lowest in the city.
It would be an understatement to say Silver is familiar with the issues facing Grand Street residents. He’s a longtime shareholder in the Hillman Houses — and lived in Seward Park many years ago.