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Harlem Apartment Complex Violates Privacy With ID Plan, Residents Say

By Jeff Mays | February 28, 2012 11:39am
Residents at the massive 1,200-unit apartment complex at 3333 Broadway in West Harlem say they will fight a plan by management to make tenants get picture identification swipe cards to enter the building because it violates their civil rights.
Residents at the massive 1,200-unit apartment complex at 3333 Broadway in West Harlem say they will fight a plan by management to make tenants get picture identification swipe cards to enter the building because it violates their civil rights.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Residents at a massive apartment complex on Broadway say they plan to fight a proposal to require tenants to have picture identification cards to enter, claiming it violates their privacy.

Tenants of the 1,200-unit complex at 3333 Broadway in West Harlem worry that the plan by the management company that runs Riverside Park Community — which notified tenants they will need "individualized" swipe security cards after March 8 — also impedes their safety.

"Many people don't want their pictures taken," said Alicia Barksdale, president of the 3333 Broadway Tenants Association.

The association is fearful that the identification requirement is an attempt to remove tenants who receive subsidies in favor of market-rate tenants.

"This is allowing them to clock what time we come in, what time we leave," she added. "This is starting to feel like it's Alcatraz at this point."

Management officials for the five-building complex, which stretches from W. 135th St. to Broadway, notified tenants of the picture ID plan on Feb. 13.

"These cards are for residents of 3333 for your convenience as well as added security," Urban American Management wrote in a notice to tenants of one of the five buildings where the security changes are expected to launch first.

Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for Urban American Management, reiterated that the changes are about improving the safety and security of the building.

"Since we acquired the property five years ago, we've made significant improvements to safety and security throughout the property," he said.

"The key-card system we are rolling out now was planned in conjunction with the completion of our beautiful new front lobby and is designed simply to make the premises safer and more secure for the people living in the building."

The promises have not assuaged residents.

Under the plan, only residents listed on the lease will get IDs. However, many people in the complex, including City College and Columbia University graduate students, have roommates to make ends meet, Barksdale said.

Under the new system, guests are supposed to contact residents via a phone system and be buzzed in. But no such system exists yet.

"I have two intercoms and neither of them work," said Phyllis Adams who has lived in the building since it opened in 1976.

Adams said she is concerned the front door will be vandalized by residents who can't get in.

Tenants also said they are worried because the ID card will display a photograph of the resident, the address, and which of the five buildings they live in.

"I'm torn because you want to keep the building safe, but you worry how effective a picture on the key will be," said George Peters, an attorney for the 3333 Broadway Tenants Association.

"Everyone wants the building safe, we just don't want to impede on people's identity."

Because the building is privately owned, there are limits to the privacy-rights argument, experts say.

"It will be used only to prevent strangers and outsiders from gaining unauthorized access to the building," Moriarty said.

Assemblyman Keith Wright, who represents the area, said he feels the plan is a violation of building residents' constitutional right to travel freely. It's not uncommon for residents to travel between the five buildings to visit friends and relatives, he said.

"3333 Broadway ain't Kennedy Airport," Wright said.

"In order to be able to travel in and out of your building, you shouldn't have to show identification. They are not the Transportation Safety Administration."

Adams said there are other ways of addressing safety concerns, such as improving the skills of the security guards and working with police to root out drug dealers.

"They said they are doing this to stop drug dealing and I told them the drug dealers live here. Their names are on leases," Adams said.

The building was formerly part of the state's Mitchell-Lama program, designed to create affordable housing for moderate-income residents.

But in the seven years since the building left the program, residents have been feeling pressured as management began renovating some apartments and charging market rent, Barksdale said.

Two-bedroom units now rent for as much as $2,200 — and up, tenants said.

"This is about weeding out tenants you don't want here," Barksdale said.

Wright agreed this is a concern.

"It is one of the last bastions of affordability," said Wright. "However, this seems unconstitutional. Urban American needs to think of something else."

Moriarty said the system is "the same type of system used in many buildings throughout New York City" and is already in place at another Harlem building the company owns, Heritage on Fifth on East 110th Street.

"There, the key card system has been very effective in improving security and has been well received by our residents," he said.

Residents of Heritage on Fifth, formerly known as Schomburg Plaza, disagree with that assessment.

"When we heard they had a security card system we were all for it, but it's just not working out," said Hilary Saunders, former president and current board member of the Schomburg Plaza Tenants Association.

Saunders said tenants had the same safety and privacy concerns as residents at 3333 Broadway about having picture swipe cards. The system is not working properly at the 600-unit complex, Saunders said.

"The front door doesn't always open when people swipe," Saunders said.

Residents have been forced to use a side entrance that has stairs, making it difficult for the disabled or those with shopping carts. And the intercom system that was supposed to allow guests to contact the residents they are coming to visit also isn't working.

"The program needs to be fine-tuned. We are not anti-management or anti-security. We just want an effective system," Saunders said.

Barksdale said residents of 3333 Broadway are willing to work with Urban American to improve safety.

"If they had sat down and spoke with us first, maybe we could have worked this out," she said.