LOWER EAST SIDE — Jimmy Jannuzzi, who has stage 4 lung cancer, was shocked when he recently received a letter from the city telling him he must leave the two-bedroom apartment where he has lived with his sister for the past 15 years.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development told Jannuzzi, 60, that he must "downsize" to a smaller one-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side complex where he lives, or else risk losing part of the federal Section 8 funding he uses to help pay his rent.
“I’m very weak, I’m in my last stage and I couldn’t imagine moving [and] getting rid of two-thirds of my stuff,” said Jannuzzi, an artist whose work, including origami paper collages, are displayed throughout his apartment at the Land's End I complex at 257 Clinton St.
Jannuzzi is also alarmed at the prospect of losing the little privacy he has left, as he contends with his deteriorating health. His cancer has spread to his brain and pancreas, he said, and his chemotherapy treatments make him feel ill and tired. He relies on his sister and home health care workers who visit him each morning and stay through the night when necessary — which makes the extra space even more crucial, he said.
"I don't want to sleep in the same room as a home care attendant," he said.
Jannuzzi is just one of hundreds of Section 8 tenants across the city, including dozens of his neighbors at Land's End, who are being told to move into smaller units because HPD considers them "over-housed," meaning that their apartments are too large for the number of people living in them, based on a new set of guidelines released last year.
HPD's downsizing plan has been controversial since it was implemented last year in response to a $35 million budget cut due to the federal sequester. Tenants across the city have fought against the tactic, and elected officials have called on HPD to reconsider it.
HPD released a statement saying that the city was trying to mitigate the impact of the budget cuts as much as possible.
“The federal government slashed tens of millions of dollars from our Section 8 program which helps pay rent and keeps our most vulnerable citizens housed," the agency said. "HPD has taken tremendous pains to ensure that despite these devastating federal cuts, not a single one of our families in the Section 8 program has lost their voucher. However, we are extremely concerned that if the [federal budget] sequester is not ended, the deep cuts to Section 8 will restart in 2016, putting our tenants at risk yet again."
Jannuzzi and 38 other tenants at the 255-unit Land's End complex began receiving letters from HPD in July, saying that if they refuse to move out when a smaller apartment becomes available, they will risk losing part of their federal Section 8 subsidy, tenants said.
The prospect of a move is especially daunting for Doris Kaufman, a 79-year-old piano teacher who moved into her one-bedroom apartment in the early 1980s. She has osteoporosis and three fractured vertebrae, and she has had femur operations in both of her legs, which means she cannot walk "any distance without pain," she said.
"Who is going to empty my bookcase, my cupboards? There is no way for me to do this," Kaufman said.
Moving might also mean that she would have to get rid of some of her belongings, including paintings of her father's that hang in her living room, and her grand piano, which she bought in 1957.
"I would have to give up my piano and I would have to live with a hospital bed in the middle of my studio," Kaufman said. "It would be dreadful."
Tenants had 30 days to appeal the downsizing decision after receiving the letter from HPD. Disabled residents can request an exemption, and so far the HPD has approved about half of the requests it has received across the city, officials said.
Both Kaufman and Jannuzzi have asked their doctors to provide testimony that prove they are unable to move because of their health issues. They are still waiting to hear back from HPD.
The Lands End I Tenants Association has reached out to local officials for help and hosted a meeting Wednesday night that drew about 70 concerned residents.
The group will also host more meetings to keep residents updated on the situation, said Aaron Gonzalez, president of the tenants group.