2022-12-21 15:39:49 By : Mr. Michaeol Song

NYCHA resident Mark Liboy sits on his walker inside his apartment at the Baychester Houses.

For even the most fit, the staircase at the Baychester station on the No. 5 line in The Bronx is daunting, an exhausting trek to the elevated platform that can leave you out of breath.

For Mark Liboy, who relies on a walker due to chronic pain from a bad fall a few years back, it is a necessary nightmare.

Liboy, 55, must climb these stairs once a month and take the subway and then a bus from his apartment in NYCHA’s Baychester Houses all the way to the southern tip of Manhattan for pain treatment from his doctors.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2017, NYCHA officially approved his request to transfer to a NYCHA development in Chinatown, a few blocks from his doctors’ offices. The authority also put him on a waiting list to move in when an apartment opened up.

A year after Liboy thought he was good to go with the NYCHA-approved transfer, the public housing authority turned management of Baychester over to a private company under a much-debated program known as Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD.

With the RAD conversion, Liboy’s transfer derailed. Since then, while fighting to get back what he was promised, he has continued his arduous two-hour trek each way via subway, bus and lots of schlepping.

“It’s been such a battle,” he said last week, sitting on his walker inside the one-bedroom he shares at Baychester with his brother, Mike, 58, who is also disabled. “I’m just doing paperwork month after month, year after year, and nothing changes.”

Commuters have to climb several flights of stairs to reach the platform at the Baychester Avenue 5 train station in The Bronx.

The private firm now managing Baychester, C+C Management, told him he could either transfer within Baychester or they’d give him a Section 8 rent subsidy voucher for a privately owned apartment. But Liboy says transferring within Baychester defeats the purpose of the approved transfer, while finding an affordable apartment in Lower Manhattan has proven impossible.

NYCHA referred Liboy to the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit for help finding a workable apartment — but City Hall kicked the ball back to NYCHA.

Two weeks ago, Manhattan Legal Services and the law firm Alston & Bird LLP sued NYCHA on Liboy’s behalf, alleging that the authority’s refusal to honor the original transfer approval violates Liboy’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires property owners to make “reasonable accommodations” to those with documented disabilities.

The suit specifically points out that under the terms of all RAD agreements, NYCHA is obligated to live up to any arrangements with public housing tenants that are pending when their development is transferred into RAD.

Liboy’s disability began in 2009 after he fell down a staircase, breaking his right ankle and damaging the sciatic nerve in his legs. This triggered a chronic pain condition that requires regular pain remediation. Since then he’s had to rely on a walker and, at times, a wheelchair, and he says he has fallen many times during his exhausting monthly trips to see his doctors.

He moved into Baychester in the Edenwald neighborhood in 2010 and first applied for a transfer to Rutgers Houses, which is located on Pike Street in Chinatown, in 2016. He won approval from NYCHA in May 2017. But in December 2018, while he was still on the waiting list for an open unit at Rutgers, he got another letter from NYCHA.

This one informed him that his current housing development was going into RAD and that his transfer was no longer in effect.

Mark Liboy shows a transfer request he filed with C+C Management to move closer to his medical appointments in Lower Manhattan.

Under RAD, a program originally initiated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to ease financing of public housing upgrades, NYCHA continues to own the property but turns over its management to a private sector entity. That new manager agrees to fix up the housing project and collect the heavily subsidized rent going forward.

NYCHA finalized the Baychester RAD agreement on Dec. 27, 2018, with developer L+M Development Partners and MBD Community Housing Corp., a joint venture that agreed to perform $116 million in renovations to Baychester’s 441 apartments. The developers brought in C+C Management to handle day-to-day operations.

Since then, Liboy has faced an uphill climb as steep as the Baychester subway station stairs in his struggle to move closer to his doctors. Consistently, both C+C and NYCHA have pushed him to rent a private sector apartment with a Section 8 subsidy.

This has proven to be quite difficult. First, Liboy struggles to get around under normal circumstances, and traipsing around Lower Manhattan looking at apartments has proven arduous. And Liboy says he’s found many landlords won’t rent to Section 8 tenants — even though such discrimination is illegal under state and city law.

Then there’s the issue of affordability.

In April 2019, NYCHA approved a Section 8 transfer voucher for him — which NYCHA later said he’d “failed to use.” But Liboy says he couldn’t find an apartment he could afford in Lower Manhattan, even with the voucher.

The math certainly didn’t bode well for Liboy, who subsists on disability benefits. The voucher NYCHA offered him for a two-bedroom (to accommodate both him and his brother) was $2,217, while the average rent for a two-bedroom in a downtown Manhattan building with elevators was $5,760 as of September.

That would require the Liboy brothers to pick up the rest, a hefty monthly nut of more than $3,500.

“I can’t afford it,” Mark Liboy said. “I live month to month.” 

Liboy says he’s been particularly frustrated by his interactions with C+C, where “C+C has been nothing but a game. They have you get paperwork from your doctors. They take your paperwork and you wait for a year. And that’s how it’s been over and over.” (C+C Management did not return a call seeking comment).

NYCHA, meanwhile, continued to push back on the idea that it reversed course on the original approval. In May, Andrew Lupin, senior counsel in NYCHA’s law department, used particularly contorted language about their stance in an email to Legal Services, writing that “NYCHA did not disapprove his previous accommodation request, it advised him that it could accommodate him in a different way.”

Over the summer, NYCHA sweetened the pot, offering Liboy a bigger voucher, and in October brought in the mayor’s Public Engagement Unit to help him find a workable apartment near his doctors. Since then, Liboy and Manhattan Legal Services haven’t heard a word from City Hall.

A City Hall spokesperson said the unit focuses on helping people in homeless shelters find apartments, kicking it back to NYCHA for a response “due to the nature of the lawsuit.”

All along, neither NYCHA nor C+C would budge and put Liboy in either a NYCHA or RAD apartment in Lower Manhattan. And C+C, which manages multiple affordable housing developments around the city — including Campos Plaza on the Lower East Side that’s owned 50/50 by NYCHA and private developer BFC Partners — said they had no Lower Manhattan apartments available.

And so the commute continued, with Manhattan Legal Services attorney Neelu Pathiyil noting in a September letter to NYCHA that Liboy “has fallen multiple times during the long journey in the last six years and lives in constant fear about further injuring himself during the long commute to his doctors.”

In that letter, Pathiyil pointed out that the RAD agreement requires NYCHA and project owners to “identify and maintain existing and pending reasonable accommodations during the conversion process.”

“Mr. Liboy should not have to risk life and limb just to get to his doctors’ offices,” Pathiyil told THE CITY. “It’s humiliating and it’s unfair. NYCHA has the power to transfer him closer to his doctors, but they’re refusing in the name of a blanket, discriminatory policy. We filed this lawsuit to force NYCHA to change their policy and restore dignity to Mr. Liboy and every tenant like him. It’s time to stop arbitrarily denying RAD/PACT tenants their rights.”

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