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Council Member Pushes Habitat for Humanity to Restore Homes to Displaced Families

ProPublica showed last week how the charity had used federal funds to acquire vacant buildings, but some had been occupied just days before the charity moved to acquire them.

A New York City Council member is asking the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity to find housing for several families who were displaced as the charity carried out a project to buy and renovate buildings in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Though the properties were purportedly long vacant, a ProPublica investigation published last week found that tenants in several buildings were pressured to leave shortly before the charity moved to buy them.

Seven families lost their apartments. Three ended up homeless.

“The only way for Habitat to rehabilitate itself is to restore these families to at least the stability they previously enjoyed,” said Councilman Robert Cornegy in a statement.

Cornegy represents a district that includes parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a historically poor neighborhood in central Brooklyn that has gentrified quickly in recent years.

In 2010, Habitat received $21 million in federal stimulus funds, partly to purchase and refurbish vacant multifamily buildings in a city neighborhood hard hit by the foreclosure crisis. It chose Bed-Stuy, only to discover that truly vacant properties were tough to find.

Emails obtained by ProPublica show employees at Habitat-NYC complained to the charity’s headquarters about top executives’ tactics in acquiring properties.

The charity’s CEO, Karen Haycox, said the group stands by its handling of the federal funds and that “Habitat NYC reaffirms we were unaware of any coercive tactics.”

“We encourage the seven displaced families who were named in your April 1 article to contact us directly,” she said in a statement. “We want to better understand their situations and help them find solutions that meet their needs. We stand ready to guide any affected residents through our application process or connect them with appropriate alternate affordable housing resources, as we do with all families who reach out to us.”

ProPublica’s findings also prompted the office of New York state Assemblywoman Latrice Walker to issue a statement Tuesday morning calling for a congressional investigation of the charity’s handling of the federal grant and for the city’s public advocate to look into Habitat NYC’s practices.

How Habitat for Humanity Went to Brooklyn and Poor Families Lost Their Homes

The charity paid millions in federal stimulus funds to developers shortly after longtime tenants were pushed out. Read the story.

But in the afternoon, Walker’s office retracted the statement.

“Since releasing our first communication, I have been in contact with Habitat for Humanity,” Walker said in a statement. “While I acknowledge the great work Habitat for Humanity has done historically, unintended consequences can occur. Our office will work with this organization to address the matter of displaced tenants.”

As ProPublica reported, tenants Tashemia Tyson and Roslyn Reed say they were pushed to leave apartments to make way for Habitat. Tyson, a single mother of three, now lives in a shelter in the Bronx. Reed and her family lost their rent-controlled apartment just four days before their building owner accepted an offer from Habitat. Reed now lives in a crowded basement apartment in East New York that is owned by relatives.

“There must be restitution,” Cornegy said.

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