News | West Harlem

Lack of communication leaves Ennis Francis tenants in fear of losing housing subsidies

A lack of communication from building management at the Ennis Francis Houses on 124th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard has confused tenants who should have already moved out of their dilapidated building into a renovated one.  

Tenants at the Ennis Francis Houses have faced years of decrepit conditions as construction delays prevented them from moving into the renovated building, which was originally supposed to open in January 2014.  

The tenants were finally supposed to move into Ennis Francis II, a brand new replacement building on 123rd street by Sept.19, but many are staying in the old building out of fear that New York City Housing Authority will terminate their housing subsidies if they move before receiving official approval.

A delay in bringing gas service to the building postponed the authorization of the tenants’ move to the new site, but now that the gas meters have been installed, the move can go forward.

Still, tenants say that they have not been kept informed of these developments.

A NYCHA spokesperson confirmed on Friday that no tenant is at risk of losing their subsidy as a result of the management’s handling of the move.

Meanwhile, Ennis Francis tenants and postal officials say mail can no longer be delivered to the building, which management has indicated is vacant even as tenants remain. Paychecks, veterans’ assistance, and electricity bills are all caught in limbo. Some tenants have now gone three weeks without access to their income.

Jessica Hughes, a subsidized tenant still living in the older Ennis Francis building, said that she fears that if she moves before receiving approval from NYCHA, she will lose her subsidy. Without support from the city, the rent at the new building would be too high for her to afford on her income alone.

“I wouldn’t leave. Me, personally, I would not move out,” she said on Oct. 4, two weeks after the official move-out date.

“I have a two-year-old and a 13-year-old,” she said. “Who would want to go into the shelter system? I already have an apartment.”

According to the customer service supervisor of the local post office, Maximo De Paula, mail cannot be delivered to the old building because, “officially, it is closed.”

But the new building is also not receiving mail, said tenant Renee Allende.

“Even if we update our addresses, with everybody moving in, we still aren’t getting our mail over there, so I don’t know what to do. I’m really upset,” she said.

Allende’s son is a veteran who receives his benefits at the same time each month, but he has not received his check this month. When he went to the post office last Saturday, he was told there was no mail there for him.

Jessica Hughes has also visited the post office repeatedly in the past few weeks, hoping to pick up her paycheck—only to be told that there is nothing for her.

“I’m gonna have to borrow money from my mother to get back and forth to work this week,” Allende said.

According to a spokesperson, “NYCHA is working with the owner to move families into the new property.”

Barbara Williams, who is retired, said on Oct. 4 that she was extremely concerned that NYCHA would deny her housing subsidy.

“I’ve been here, this is maybe my 14th or 15th year,” she said. “It’s impossible if I had this funding already that all of a sudden now I don’t get it. I don’t understand, it’s hard.”

Neither the owner of the building, Abyssinian Development Corporation, nor the manager, Prestige Management, responded to repeated attempts to contact them.

Ultimately, Hughes said, the fundamental problem is a lack of communication.

“I need someone to tell me what’s going on, who’s handling the paperwork, give me a name,” she said, noting that when she called NYCHA, she was told that there was no record of her supposed move.

But, she added, the most pressing issue facing her now is obtaining access to her mail.

“Just give me my money, give me my checks,” she said.

Andrew De Angelis contributed reporting.

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