SPURA Residents Facing Displacement Say City is Ignoring Them

400 Grand St.

Several residents of 400 Grand Street, which is scheduled to be demolished to make way for the Essex Crossing development, say they continue to get the run-around by the city. Last night, they turned to Community Board 3 for help.

400 Grand St.
400 Grand St.

In 2011, CB3 voted in favor of a resolution urging the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to find new apartments for the tenants, the only people still living on the former urban renewal site.   But more than two years later, the residents and attorneys from Manhattan Legal Services working on their behalf, have had no luck engaging the housing agency.

Four years ago, we first reported on the situation at 400 Grand, which was at one time on its way to joining the Tenant Interim Lease Program (TIL). The program allows residents to convert city-owned buildings to co-ops and take ownership of their apartments.  After initially signing off on the conversion, the city abruptly removed 400 Grand Street from the program when it became apparent that the long-delayed Seward Park redevelopment project was finally coming to fruition.

In the past, HPD officials have said federal law requires the city to offer any displaced residents at least three “comparable” housing options.   Last night, Eunice Suh of the agency’s planning unit appeared before CB3’s land use committee, but was unable to provide much relevant information to board members or residents.  Referencing a recent letter delivered to tenants, she said, “I apologize if there’s been any confusion in the past about what is happening… It (the letter) was not an eviction notice. It was just a (notice) that this (the relocation process) was going to be happening.”  Suh said the tenants would be offered comparable apartments but she did not indicate where they are located or what the apartments would cost.  The tenants, she added, “would have to go through an income eligibility process.”

Previously some of the tenants have expressed a desire to move into other TIL buildings on the Lower east Side, but the city has claimed there are no openings anywhere in New York City.   During last night’s conversation, most community board members seemed to agree a better option would be securing apartments for the tenants in the Essex Crossing project (500 affordable units are to be built).

At the meeting, longtime resident Ricardo Rosario recounted his family’s 20-year struggle to stay in the neighborhood. About 15 years ago, he said, they were relocated to Grand Street after their previous building at 199 Orchard St. was destabilized and became uninhabitable. Although the residents were promised they would be able to return to their homes, post-renovation rents were more than they could afford. Years later, Rosario said, he fears being displaced once again.

In a resolution approved by the committee last night, the CB3 panel urged HPD to make available a high-level official who can address the situation. They called on the city to make relocation of the six impacted 400 Grand Street residents a priority.  In response, Suh said she wanted “to help fix the situation” and she would make sure her bosses got the message.

We have contacted HPD for a response but have not yet received a reply.  Essex Crossing is expected to break ground in about 18 months.

UPDATE 6:15 p.m. An HPD spokesperson responded this evening:

It’s understandable that the tenants have some concerns. It’s our job to help guide each household through the transition process, to help them understand their rights and benefits, and to ensure that they are aware of all available options.