Earlier this summer, some of the commercial tenants in buildings soon to be demolished for the Essex Crossing redevelopment project closed their doors. In the fall, the remaining families living on the former urban renewal site will also be required to vacate the site, as well Groundbreaking for the first phase of the nearly 2-million square foot residential and retail project is expected next March.
Earlier this month those five families, all longtime occupants of a tenement at 400 Grand St., received 90-day eviction notices. The letters from the property owner, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, specified an October 27 vacate date. Court action would follow if the residents aren’t out by that time.
As we have reported on many occasions in the past, the residents have been fighting for relocation rights for the past four years. Community Board 3 has advocated on their behalf. In recent months, city housing officials have been working to find the tenants new apartments but the process has been contentious.
This week, we spoke with Rosalind Black and Samuel Lui from Manhattan Legal Services, a non-profit organization representing the tenants. They described the efforts to place their clients as “very weak.” In one instance, they said, residents had been offered an apartment far from the Lower East Side, in the Far Rockaways. Other residents had been offered apartments in public housing developments. In two cases, Section 8 rent vouchers were offered. One family accepted a new apartment in the community. Residents have complained that some apartments they have seen are much smaller than their current homes.
A spokesperson for the city’s housing department told us yesterday:
We are working with the families as well as our local sponsors to help identify permanent housing options that meet the specific needs and requests of each household. We are also helping families that are eligible apply for rental assistance programs. While it has been challenging we are committed to doing everything we can to help these families find permanent housing.
We understand that finding apartments on the LES that meet the residents’ requirements has been challenging. The living situation at 400 Grand St. is unique because the apartments tend to be spacious (some consume an entire floor) and the rents are lower than your average ‘affordable” apartment in the neighborhood. The residents say the city, at one time, offered to sell them the building as part of the largely dormant Tenant Interim Lease Program. That offer was rescinded when it became apparent the former urban renewal site was going to finally be redeveloped.
The city has agreed to give the tenants priority for the new affordable apartments at Essex Crossing, but there’s the question of where they would live during the three year construction period. Black and Lui noted that some of the tenants don’t make enough money to qualify for the low income housing in the new project.