Red Hook Residents Call for Marches, Rent Strikes, Lawsuits Against NYCHA

By Alan Neuhauser on November 15, 2012 12:46pm | Updated on November 15, 2012 3:00pm

RED HOOK — Public housing residents stranded for more than two weeks without electricity, heat or hot water in the Red Hook Houses after Hurricane Sandy vented their anger and called for marches, rent strikes and lawsuits against the New York City Housing Authority at a community meeting in Red Hook Wednesday night.

"Enough now! Enough!" shouted Marlena Lunnon, 48, to loud cheers and applause. "I'm tired of the free blankets. I'm tired of my grandchildren going to bed cold. I'm tired of old people hurting because they can't get up the stairs. Enough."

The meeting, facilitated by community activist Reg Flowers in the auditorium of P.S. 27 on Huntington Street, brought together roughly 150 neighborhood residents — not just those in the Red Hook Houses, Brooklyn's largest housing project, but also members of the neighborhood's arts community, its renowned restaurant and commercial district on Van Brunt Street, the Occupy movement, and church leaders.

"As hard as this is, as much need as there is, we have to keep in mind that while we do this … there's no back, there's no front. There's no private housing, there's no public housing. There's no small business, there's no large business. We're Red Hook," resident and Community Board 6 member Lou Sones said.

Red Hook, a neighborhood with about 12,000 New Yorkers, sustained some of the city's worst flooding in Hurricane Sandy. The Red Hook Houses, home to more than 8,000 residents alone, went without power, heat and hot water until Saturday. Twenty of 32 buildings there still did not have heat or hot water as of Thursday morning, NYCHA reported, and some elevators were not functioning.

"I got a bad back, bad knees … It's like slavery because of the way we got to carry stuff," said one Red Hook Houses resident who only gave her first name, Eloise. "I just need somebody to give me some answers. Not just this rumor crap."

NYCHA did not perform a door-to-door wellness check on the project until Tuesday — 15 days after Sandy struck — arriving with busloads of agency employees and nurses, dozens of ambulances, and a mobile command center festooned with blinking emergency lights.

"That freak show out there…that NYCHA just set up, with the news cameras all being called out, that's a cover-up, guys," said Kirby Desmarais, 26, a member of Occupy Sandy, an affiliate of Occupy Wall Street, and a founder of the Red Hook Volunteers fundraising group. "We were here. We lived through all this."

Desmarais and others called on residents to protest NYCHA's perceived inaction and pressure the agency to do more to help residents. Suggestions varied: some called for a protest march, others for rent strikes. Tina Luongo, a Red Hook resident and deputy attorney-in-charge for Legal Aid's criminal practice, said her organization was exploring the possibility of a lawsuit against NYCHA and urged residents to document and take photos of ongoing issues in the Red Hook Houses, such as trash that piled-up in hallways last week and ongoing blackouts.

"Mount your complaints," she said. "If we have to, we will do what we do best, which is sue people."

A follow-up meeting and potential march was scheduled for 1 p.m. at the flagpole on Center Mall in the Red Hook Houses complex.

NYCHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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