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Harlem Developer Asked to Allow Applicants on Housing Court 'Blacklist'

By DNAinfo Staff on December 20, 2010 3:53pm

L+M Development Partners wants to build Harlem River Point, a 314-unit affordable housing complex, at this site on Park Avenue.
L+M Development Partners wants to build Harlem River Point, a 314-unit affordable housing complex, at this site on Park Avenue.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

By Jon Schuppe

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

EAST HARLEM — Worried that a so-called "blacklist" is shutting out residents from affordable housing, local officials in East Harlem are negotiating with a major developer to voluntarily stop rejecting applicants solely because their credit histories reveal old housing court cases.

Community board 11 is focusing their efforts on L+M Development Partners, which is seeking permission to build Harlem River Point, a 314-unit affordable-housing complex on a plot of land currently owned by the city at 1951 Park Avenue, between East 131st and East 132nd streets.

Before backing the project, the board wants the developers to agree to give applicants a chance to explain the circumstances of their old housing court cases before turning them away. Housing court cases can range from a dispute between the city and the developer over Section 8 housing, to tenants witholding rent to protest poor conditions cases.

Monique Holloway of Harlem found out she was on a Housing Court
Monique Holloway of Harlem found out she was on a Housing Court "blacklist" last summer.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

The developer, board officials said, has seemed willing to comply. But the discussions are continuing.

Messages left Monday with a representative for L+M were not immediately returned.

The effort began after members of Community Board 11 noticed that developers of two other affordable-housing projects had not met city-lottery goals that they set aside half of the low-income apartments to people who lived in the neighborhood. One of the problems, the officials learned, was that developers were rejecting prospective tenants with old Housing Court cases as too much of a risk.

But those checks generally do not provide details about the cases — whether the tenant was withholding rent to protest poor conditions, for example, or who was found to be at fault.

In one case detailed by DNAinfo last week, Monique Holloway, a disabled Harlem woman, was turned down for a low-income apartment after her background check revealed a case that she said stemmed from a dispute between government officials and her landlord. She convinced a housing judge to dismiss her case and appealed to the developer, but was rejected again. The community board took up her case.

Since that story appeared, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has investigated. It found that the developer didn’t do anything wrong, but "could have been more proactive in clearing up the applicant’s appeal," an HPD spokesman said.

Holloway has now been offered apartments in other developments.

Earlier this year, the city council tried to address the “blacklist” issue by passing the Tenant Fair Chance Act, which required landlords to provide would-be renters with the names of companies they use to screen applicants. But council members acknowledged that they could not stop the practice outright.

The issue is a growing concern in East Harlem because it is one of Manhattan’s poorest neighborhoods and in need of more affordable housing. The area has become a focus of the city’s huge push to expand affordable housing. But Community Board 11 officials say the housing court "blacklist" threatens to undermine the integrity of the affordable-housing effort.

The board will presumably make its next move Tuesday night, when it takes up the Park Avenue project.