90-year-old war vet fights NYCHA downsizing
by Jess Berry
May 07, 2014 | 1943 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Monica Corbett, president of the Pomonok Residents Association, speaks on behalf of Ralph Calinda (right) with State Senator Toby Ann Stavinsky, Councilman Rory Lancman and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz
Monica Corbett, president of the Pomonok Residents Association, speaks on behalf of Ralph Calinda (right) with State Senator Toby Ann Stavinsky, Councilman Rory Lancman and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz
Elected officials stood outside Pomonok Houses in Flushing last week with 91-year-old Ralph Calinda, who is one of many residents across the city being forced out of his apartment by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

NYCHA sent Calinda a letter two months ago, telling him that he was being “downsized” because his apartment, after his children moved out and his wife passed away, is too big for him. Calinda, a World War II veteran, has lived in the apartment for 60 years.

Many residents are facing a similar fate to Calinda, as NYCHA is currently re-appropriating space across the city. Residents receive a letter telling them they are being moved, listing a new address and telling the resident that he or she has no choice and will not receive any other housing options.

Oftentimes, the residents on the receiving end of these letters are elderly citizens who have seen their families move out over the years. NYCHA wants to move these residents to smaller apartments in order to make room for families who are on a lengthy waiting list for larger apartments.

Calinda does not disagree with this policy, but he wonders why NYCHA did not approach him years ago, when his seven children moved out of his home, when a move would have been less taxing on his health.

“I have no problem moving to a smaller place, but they should have come to me years ago when my kids left,” Calinda said. “Why didn’t they tell me 20 years ago?”

NYCHA policy does not effectively take into account health concerns when deciding who to move and where, as their policy states that deferred moves only happen when that move will “pose a direct threat to the life” of a resident.

Councilman Rory Lancman called this “a cruel and inhuman policy.”

“Framing exemption standards using a ‘life or death’ model is immoral,” Lancman said.

Calinda walks with a cane and suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and hearing loss. His doctor said that the move could be “traumatic” to his health.

Lancman also mentioned that community is essential for the elderly, as many rely on neighbors to check in on them and have support systems set up throughout their communities.

When Lancman brought up the issue of the “life or death” policy at a recent City Council hearing, NYCHA General Manager Cecil House agreed that the policy was flawed and said that NYCHA would cease downsizing until the policy had been properly reviewed.

“We should not be taking enforcement action or inconveniencing residents until we get this policy appropriately in place,” House said.

However, downsizing actions have continued, and residents like Calinda are bearing the weight of life-altering relocations.

Lancman was joined by State Senator Toby Ann Stavinsky and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz, who both decried NYCHA’s policy and continued re-appropriation.

"Mr. Calinda has called Pomonok home for six decades," Simanowitz said. "He served our country with distinction during World War II. His contributions to this neighborhood and the lives he has touched are immeasurable. Forcing him to move to another apartment considering his age, medical condition and years of community service is completely ludicrous.”

President of the Residents Association, Monica Corbett, who spoke of Calinda as a model tenant who is a crucial part of the Pomonok Houses community, questioned why NYCHA was not moving residents who were younger and willing to move.

“They’re seniors. These are their golden years, let them be,” Corbett said. “There are people here who are 50 and still work, and they’re in the wrong size apartment, but they’re not going after them, yet they’re going after the senior population. That’s not fair.”

Corbett mentioned one resident who received a letter ten years ago to move. NYCHA did not pursue the move after the letter was sent, however, and now when the woman approached NYCHA willing and able to move, they told her she would have to wait.

“We have able-bodied people who are willing to move, but they’re not asking,” Corbett said.
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