Forest Houses protest NYCHA neglect

Mothers on the Move, an unabashed south Bronx activist organization, is on the move at Forest Houses, the New York City Public Housing development in Morrisania where hip-hop artist Fat Joe was raised.

On Wednesday, September 2, residents of Forest Houses gathered outdoors to demand that federal stimulus funds benefit the development. NYCHA obtained $423 million of stimulus funds; it distributed $90 million to developments in the Bronx. But Forest Houses, at 15 buildings and more than 3,000 residents, didn’t see a dime.

“Where are the funds?” shouted Arlene Myers, a Forest Houses resident and member of Mothers on the Move. “Where are the funds for Forest Houses?”

Forest Houses resident Sharon Saunders waited a month for NYCHA to repair a gushing leak in her apartment wall; the wall still needs paint, Saunders said.

At the Mothers on the Move protest, Saunders and Myers asked Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster to set up a Forest Houses tour with new NYCHA Commissioner John Rhea, a former investment banker. Foster agreed.

“Remember that [Rhea] has no background in public housing,” she said.

Garbage is a problem at Forest Houses, resident Lorraine Trent said. NYCHA employees toss garbage bags behind the development. Non-NYCHA residents dump in the parking lot, James Jackson said. There are rats and roaches, and the smell is horrible.

Safety is also a problem. Luz Sanchez’ son lost his eye in January when someone shot a gun into her peephole. There are no working alarms on the building roofs, Sanchez said.

The elevators at Forest Houses often break down, Jackson said. There are abandoned vehicles in the parking lot and broken bottles in the playground, flooded apartments and missing lights on the stairs, Maritza Gomez said.

Marie Tatrow, a lawyer from the Urban Justice Center, attended the protest; she wants to help Forest Houses residents sue NYCHA. But the Forest Houses tenant association needs to assert itself, Tatrow said. Housing violations are going unrecorded.

“I checked the Department of Housing Preservation and Development database,” Tatrow said. “There were only five violations for these addresses. Forest Houses residents need to phone 311.”

Foster is behind the lawsuit. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has slashed funding for NYCHA, she said. Foster encouraged Forest Houses residents to vote against Bloomberg in November. The councilwoman is up for re-election as well; 16th Council District opponent Carlos Sierra also attended the protest.

“NYCHA has been mismanaged,” Foster said. “There needs to be a lawsuit, a shock.”

Gomez and others questioned Foster’s commitment to the development. There are no youth programs at the Forest Houses community center, Gomez said.

Foster blamed NYCHA’s triple-digit deficit. The councilwoman helped refurbish the Forest Houses daycare center. But she hasn’t been around, resident Laythrop Britt said.

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