As communities in Upper Manhattan seek to reduce displacement, we need to take advantage of new ideas and promote innovation. One of the most encouraging examples of innovation in the fight against displacement is the landmark achievement of the successful fight to save 231 units of affordable housing at Ennis Francis Houses.Ennis Francis Houses is a housing development in a prime location - nearly a full city block of affordable housing from 124th Street and 7th Avenue to 123rd Street and 8th Avenue. Its ideal proximity to mass transportation and commercial goods and services positions the property as a prime target for luxury housing development, high-end retail development, or other uses that would result in the reduction of the affordable housing portfolio of Manhattan. After years of abuse and neglect at the hands of private owners, the tenants of Ennis Francis Houses, led by one of their younger tenants named Kim Smith, went to court to seek the removal of those landlords. The tenants had decided that they could no longer permit the landlords to abuse them with the sewage running through the development, the mold, the illegal drug activity, the prostitution, and the threats and the reality of physical abuse. With affordable housing so hard to find in Manhattan, where would these tenants go if their courage resulted in there removal from their homes? So, while conditions were beyond unacceptable, the question remained: Would removing the abusive landlords result in a sale to the highest bidder, a loss of affordable housing, and/or increased displacement?
Innovation and Preservation
That is where the innovation began. Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), Harlem's leading community development organization, was asked by the tenants to administer the property while the landlords who had done so much damage to so many people sought to avoid being held accountable for their actions and disappeared for a time.The New York City Housing Court ejected the landlords and put ADC in the role of administrator. Later, the US Government sued the landlords for civil damages related to their misuse of funds received from the US Government during the period of their control over the property. http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/December06/ennisfrancispr.pdf
ADC worked with elected officials and governmental agencies in NYC and NY State to convince the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to avoid foreclosure on Ennis Francis Houses. If HUD had foreclosed, hundreds of Manhattanites would have lost their homes after enduring deplorable conditions for years in an effort to hold onto their homes. ADC was successful in guiding HUD to take the deed for Ennis Francis Houses rather than foreclose.With HUD taking ownership of the property, an unprecedented approach, ADC influenced HUD to only allow non-profit organizations committed to maintaining affordable housing and avoiding displacement to participate in the auction. Not only did ADC convince HUD that such an approach was proper, ADC won the auction and won a grant from HUD to rehabilitate the property. After rehabilitation, the property will offer more than 400 units of affordable housing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PikrlgAzHL4
A Model for the Future
As a result of the success of this innovative approach, other residents in Manhattan now have an additional play for the affordable housing preservation playbook. When possible, HUD, by taking the deed of a neglected affordable housing development rather than foreclosing, can preserve that housing by working with community organizations. http://www.lisc.org/new_york/about_us/releases_1196/2005_7656/press_release_5_20_2005_8148.shtml
The crisis of expiring-use affordable housing properties can be seen all over New York City. The imminent threat of displacement for such residents is on the rise with HUD expiring-use, opt-outs, and funding shortfalls. As a result of these negative forces, the affordability of thousands of homes in Upper Manhattan communities is at risk. In January 2004, the National Housing Trust released a special report which listed the 10,217 HUD Section 8 subsidized housing units located in Harlem alone that would be lost due to expiring contracts. An additional threat posed in the upcoming fiscal year, is the $2 billion HUD funding shortfall. This inadequate funding makes it impossible for HUD to guarantee all project-based Section 8 contracts for the normal twelve-month period.
In the case of Ennis Francis Houses, 231 Manhattan families had their homes preserved through their own determination and through innovation of those working on their behalf, and nearly an equal number of additional families will have new homes to enjoy as a result of the courageous accomplishments of those who endured the difficult years of abuse and neglect. I am proud to share this Borough with those persevering (and now, triumphant) individuals.