Tenants of the Southside “Buff Houses” worried about the status of their housing were told to put their fears at bay.
Despite the financial straights of the housing projects’ management company, Kraus Management, which faces over $30 million in debt, state leaders and the city’s Housing Department (HPD) told tenants that they will remain in their buildings whatever the outcome.
For nearly 60 years, Long Island City, Queens-based Kraus Management has managed public and private housing throughout the city, providing affordable housing to thousands of Section 8 tenants. According to an HPD official, Kraus is in arrears on their taxes, and HPD started a foreclosure action against them.
On October 29, nearly 400 Williamsburg residents, most of them tenants of the Buff Houses, a series of buildings located near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Broadway, met at the Transfiguration Church auditorium (250 Hooper St.) to hear an update from their elected officials and HPD Commissioner Rafael Cestero about the status of their residences.
“There is nothing to worry about. Negotiations are ongoing and they will continue,” said Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg), who convened the meeting.
Cestero sought to assure residents that they would remain in their apartments no matter the result of the negotiations over Kraus’ financial responsibilities. Kraus has had historic tax and mortgage arrears on the Buff Houses property, which total over $25 million in taxes and $9 million in mortgage arrears.
“We are absolutely committed to the quality of Section 8 services you are receiving in the Buff projects,” said Cestero. “Our current negotiations with Kraus Management have absolutely no bearing on that. The two things are not connected in any way and our commitment to you is that it will have no impact to you in any way.”
Lopez has hosted meetings among Buff Houses tenants about once every four months in order to address their concerns about services. According to representatives from both Lopez’s office and HPD, it was a routine meeting and Cestero was invited to answer questions from residents.
“For the last 20 years, we have had someone in our office dealing with Kraus Management,” Lopez told tenants at the meeting. “I’m going to do everything in my power to help, but I can’t do it alone. I’ll need your help too."
It is unclear whether Kraus will keep control of the Buff Houses or whether they will be forced to sell them to another management company. When asked whether the city would purchase and operate the buildings, Cestero flatly answered, “No.” Repeated calls to senior officials at Kraus management were not returned by press time.
Lopez resolved to hold another community meeting before Thanksgiving to provide another update regarding the negotiations and address other issues relating to development-driven displacement.
“I am very much opposed to the massive gentrification in this area,” said Lopez. “We’re not going to have displacement. We’re not going to have you gone.”
Janet Colon, a resident who lives off South 1st and Havemeyer Street said that she liked her landlord and hoped that the issue would be resolved quickly.
“We like Kraus. They have 24-hour services. They’re responsive. When we have a problem, they take care of it,” said Colon.