Tuesday, May 1, 2018

City Council investigating claims of tenant retaliation at NYCHA properties

[Photo of Carlina Rivera yesterday at City Hall via Twitter]

City Council members are taking action following published reports that a resident of the Jacob Riis Houses on Avenue D received an eviction notice after complaining about the NYCHA during a PIX-11 story earlier this month.

During a press conference at City Hall yesterday, New York City Council members Carlina Rivera (District 2) and Ritchie Torres (District 15), chair of the Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations, joined NYCHA residents and advocates to rally against negligent property managers at the Riis Houses. The elected officials say that the property managers are allegedly retaliating against residents who have gone public over the lack of repairs and possible lead exposure in their apartments.

Keshia Benjamin, a Riis Houses resident and organizer of the rally, had her apartment featured on PIX-11 earlier this month over numerous unrepaired health hazards, including leaking pipes that flooded her apartment, damaged doors and bathrooms, and pest, mold, and lead exposure.

Management at Riis Houses reportedly then sent Benjamin a notice that they were examining her record to possibly begin eviction processes for unpaid rent, even though Benjamin said that she had fully paid.

NYCHA officials denied any retaliation, the Daily News reported yesterday.

Following a query by the News, NYCHA officials said that Benjamin's termination notice has been canceled. Per the paper: "It was automatically generated because she had been delinquent on rent within a 12-month period, but has been rescinded because she is now up to date, a spokesperson said."

The spokesperson also said, "NYCHA does not retaliate against residents for any reason."

City Council members claim that Benjamin's story is not the only one at the Riis Houses, and "it appears that Riis property managers are held unaccountable by central staff at NYCHA and use that power to promote a culture of silence amongst residents looking for help."

The Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations is now investigating reported instances of retaliatory actions at Riis Houses, as well as the grievance process for tenants and the overall accountability structure within NYCHA.

In addition to the Council investigation, Rivera is planning to introduce legislation to create a formal grievance system so that NYCHA tenants can submit their complaints anonymously and have them investigated fairly. This piece of legislation comes after the recently introduced legislation from Council member Rafael Salamanca that would mandate performance reviews for NYCHA employees.

"NYCHA seems to be focused on moving bad actors around the system whenever they are in the spotlight and not on providing accountability," Rivera said at City Hall yesterday. "This simply cannot continue — the NYCHA must explain themselves in person for these actions."

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