Red Hook Residents Plan Rally Outside NYCHA Headquarters

By Alan Neuhauser on November 26, 2012 6:37pm 

RED HOOK — Red Hook public housing residents who went weeks without electricity, heat or hot water after Hurricane Sandy plan to rally outside the headquarters of the New York City Housing Authority in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning, where they'll call for an expanded rent credit, water testing, a moratorium on evictions and other aid measures in the wake of the storm.

"We're going to keep it calm, because it's not time to get radical," said Wally Bazemore, 60, a longtime community activist who has lived on and off in the Red Hook Houses since 1955.

"If they flip-flop, if they get disingenuous, then we're going to get radical on their ass."

Neighborhood residents and supporters are convening at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at the flagpole in the center of the Red Hook Houses complex, and then they plan to travel together to NYCHA's headquarters at 250 Broadway in Manhattan. The rally is slated to start about 9 a.m.

"We just want to let them know that we're going to hold them accountable," said Merlin Mieles, 47, another organizer and Red Hook Houses resident.

"We want definite answers. We don't want excuses. We don't want to be told one thing, then told another."

Residents are advocating for more assistance from NYCHA, which they allege was all but absent during and after Hurricane Sandy. After spending as many as three weeks in the dark and cold, Red Hook Houses residents have asked the agency to offer a two-month rent credit effective Dec. 1 — an expansion of the agency's initial offer to pro-rate residents' January rent bills.

Community organizers also want the agency to institute a temporary moratorium on evictions to allow those who would have been kicked out during or immediately after Sandy to get back on their feet. They are also calling on NYCHA to provide immediate mold abatement and testing on water and air. Water flowing from faucets is "milky" in color, residents say.

"We're not playing with these issues," Mieles said.

She and Bazemore presented those demands at a hastily called meeting with NYCHA at the Miccio Community Center in Red Hook on Monday morning. Two other longtime Red Hook Houses residents were also present, as were representatives of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez and a Legal Aid lawyer.

The list of demands organizers put forward, as well as the meeting itself and the planned rally, were all products of a series of meetings organized by the the Red Hook Coalition for Social Justice, a loose coalition of public- and private-housing residents, activist groups and business owners that formed two weeks after Sandy.

Those meetings, which were held in the auditorium of P.S. 27, were marked by frustrated and often deeply emotional appeals from Red Hook Houses residents fed up with NYCHA's perceived inaction following the superstorm.

"Enough now! Enough!" Marlena Lunnon, 48, said at the first community meeting, Nov. 14, which attracted more than 150 people. "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."

It was unclear whether any NYCHA officials attended that meeting or those that followed — no NYCHA officials identified themselves at any of the gatherings. 

The agency has not returned phone calls or emails for comment regarding either those meetings or the one that took place Monday.

"We're going to march, let them know our demands haven't been met," Bazemore said.

And while he and others called the sit-down "very productive," they noted that NYCHA's representative, Brian Hanon, committed only to conveying the coalition's demands to the agency.

"They said they would continue the conversation," Occupy Sandy organizer Conor Tomas Reed said.

The groups agreed to reconvene Friday morning at 9:30 a.m.

"If [the demands are] not met," Bazemore said, "you're going to see a different side of us next week. We're going to be back in the street."

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