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Harlem Woman Shut Out of Affordable Housing by 'Blacklist'

By DNAinfo Staff on December 15, 2010 8:12am

By Jon Schuppe

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — After she fell and broke her neck in 2006, Monique Holloway desperately began looking for a new apartment that could accommodate her wheelchair and limited income.

But despite the boom in affordable housing in the area, and despite Holloway's thorough search and application process, the 42-year-old still hasn't landed a place, mainly because she's been placed on a "blacklist" of would-be tenants who developers deny because of an old housing court case on their record.

Holloway said she found out she was on the "blacklist" last summer, when she applied to live in the Tapestry Apartments on 124th Street in East Harlem. The developer wrote her a letter saying that she had been denied because an old housing court case showed up on her background check, despite the fact that the case was between the city and her landlord, and she had nothing to do with it. She even got the case dismissed by a judge, and still hasn't had any luck convincing the developer to remove her from the blacklist, she said.

"To me, I feel like it’s discrimination," Holloway said Tuesday morning in the St. Nicholas Avenue apartment where she’s lived for 16 years. "I feel like the doors are being shut in my face."

Calls to C & C Management, which is responsible for the Tapestry Apartments, were not returned.

A spokesman for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which oversees the affordable-housing effort, said housing-court cases are not supposed to be among the criteria used in developers’ selection of tenants. He said he would look into Holloway’s case.

But the blacklist issue is a growing concern in East Harlem, one of the neighborhoods targeted by the city in a huge push to expand affordable housing. Officials there say the housing court "blacklist" policy is pervasive and threatens to undermine the integrity of trying to serve the people who need affordable housing the most.

Earlier this year, the City Council passed the "Tenant Fair Chance Act," which required landlords to provide would-be renters with the names and address of companies they use to screen applicants. But Council members acknowledged they haven't been able to put a stop to the practice. And some in the community say developers told them they don't have the time or the resources to verify all the background checks they receive.

Holloway, who suffers from lupus and broke her neck during a fall in her apartment, has spent years traveling around Harlem in her motorized wheelchair looking at properties. She's applied to more than a dozen buildings. And when her application was rejected, she traveled to the housing court to investigate.

Holloway said a housing court clerk who tracked down the offending case from 2004 explained that it was a dispute between her former landlord and city housing officials who monitored compliance with the Section 8 rental-assistance program.

Monique Holloway's name came up in a low-income housing lottery, but ended up on a
Monique Holloway's name came up in a low-income housing lottery, but ended up on a "blacklist" of people with histories in housing court.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

"You’re on a blacklist," the worker told her.

"How do I get off it?" Holloway asked.

"You don't," the worker said.

Even after Holloway got a housing court judge to dismiss the case in August and send the Tapestry Apartments' developer the paperwork, they still maintained that they would not reconsider their rejection, she said.

Last month, Holloway told her story to Community Board 11. One of the members, housing activist Alvin Johnson, took up Holloway’s case, and is trying to work out a solution with C & C Management.

Holloway, meanwhile, continues to apply for city housing lotteries. But her hope has dimmed.

"I was so excited when I got picked in (the) lottery," she said. "But this was like winning the lottery and not getting the money."