Public Housing Residents Want Wall of Shame for Banned Tenants

By Mary Johnson on January 18, 2012 2:43pm 

Residents at 344 E. 28th St. say that the influx of crime and unsavory characters in and around their building has become unbearable.
Residents at 344 E. 28th St. say that the influx of crime and unsavory characters in and around their building has become unbearable.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

KIPS BAY — Public housing residents who have been fighting for more security in their buildings have come up with a radical new proposal for the New York City Housing Authority — a wall of shame for troublesome former tenants that would be the first of its kind in the city.

The idea, floated by Community Board 6 member and public housing resident Aaron Humphrey, 41, would involve posting photos of those who have been evicted and excluded from public housing for causing trouble inside the Strauss Houses and another NYCHA-managed property at 344 E. 28th St., near First Avenue.

Humphrey said a bulletin board bearing the photos and names of those evicted because they engaged in illegal activity could help stem the tide of those who ignore the rules and try to return, drawn back by family members still living in a building or the allure of familiar territory.

“The best way to combat crime is to flash a flashlight on people’s faces,” Humphrey said. “You’ve got to give the tenants weapons to defend themselves with.”

The proposal comes on the heels of resident complaints about the buildings having become havens for drug dealers and homeless men loitering in the area.

Security measures were recently increased inside 344 E. 28th St., with guards manning the building between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m., but they do not have access to photos of those who have been barred from entering the buildings.

And while the building requires a key for entry, those looking to enter illegally often wait for the door to be opened by someone else, according to Maria Trinidad, vice president of the tenants association at 344 E. 28th St.

Humphrey said that the photos would supplement the so-called “Not Wanted List” that NYCHA publishes in its newspaper,The Journal, which does not include pictures.

“It’s information, simple information,” Humphrey said, dismissing concerns that posting photos could constitute a civil-rights violation.

“In stores they do that. They do it also in a lot of private buildings," Humphrey explained.

“If the person’s a constant problem and they’ve been thrown out and they’re constantly trespassing in the building, [private buildings] take measures to let people know what’s going on," he continued.

 

Humphrey said he first came up with the idea to post photos inside 344 E. 28th St. after sitting in the lobby one day and watching drug deals and other illegal activities take place. There has also been public urination and drinking, assaults and intimidation, he added.

“I saw that and I said, ‘This needs to be stopped,’” noted Humphrey, who has lived there since 1981.

Humphrey’s proposal, which would start small with a pilot program inside the Strauss Houses at 224 E. 28th St. and at 344 E. 28th St., has also gained traction from members of Community Board 6. Last week, the board passed a resolution in support of the pilot program, and the vote was nearly unanimous, with only four of 41 voting members against it.  

The proposal has also found favor with the buildings’ tenants associations, which have been lobbying local police and elected officials for increased security measures.

“We have a few [people] here who are not supposed to come to the building. They come right in like they live here,” said Trinidad, 62.

She explained that posting photos of these individuals inside the building “would be a good thing, because people would see their faces."

“A lot of people, I don’t know them by name," she added. "I know them by sight."

And while City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez is pushing to add an extra shift that would give the building 24-hour security patrols, residents said the photos would still be helpful.

“They gave us security. We have a security guard,” Trinidad said. “That has helped deter [evicted tenants] from us, but the diehards — they’re not going away.”

But Christopher Schwartz, an attorney specializing in low-income affordable housing at the public interest law firm MFY, said he worries such a system would be “overly punitive.”

“The bottom line is that an eviction doesn’t make you a criminal in and of itself,” he said.

Schwartz said there is a range of behavior that can get someone kicked out of public housing, noting it’s not all criminal in nature. In addition, some who have been excluded from public housing are allowed to return for occasional visits, he added.

“It worries me that people are going to be given this Old West, wanted-dead-or-alive book of posters,” Schwartz said.

“There are mistakes in identification that take place all the time,” he added. “It seems like it creates more problems than it actually solves.”

In a statement, NYCHA said while they do publish the names of those who are excluded from public housing, photos of these individuals are not always readily and routinely available.

“The New York City Housing Authority appreciates the involvement and dedication of our residents and their leaders in finding ways that they can assist in enhancing the safety and security at their developments,” the statement read. “NYCHA will work with resident leadership at Strauss on this matter.”

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