Kennedy Square: Part I
by Chrissie Rizz

Kennedy Square Apartments opened in 1975, providing more than 300 apartments for low and moderate income families. This sprawling complex on the eastern edge of downtown Syracuse changed owners often, and the apartments fell into disrepair. The complex was seized by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) from the prior owner for failure to pay its New York State-guaranteed mortgage. Wynn Management was then hired by ESDC to manage the property, which it intended to eventually sell.

While tenants had to deal with poorly-maintained apartments and crime in the complex, many chose to stay. Some people felt they had built a community there. Many were satisfied with the cost of living-rents were subsidized and utilities were included. Families with disabled members found the thought of moving unappealing.

Last fall, there were 80 families living at Kennedy Square. They received letters in late October, informing them that they had 90 days to vacate their apartments. They had to be out by January 24, 2008. Syracuse Housing Authority was brought in to assist with relocation.

The written notice the residents received promised them money to assist with their moving expenses, as most of the families who lived there had very low incomes. Later, they received word that they did not qualify for moving assistance funds under the Federal Uniform Relocation Act, but that ESDC would provide moving assistance funds at a slightly lower rate. Families were offered $850, $1,000 or $1,150, depending on apartment size. Tenants were also offered a "bonus move-out incentive" payment of $600 if they relocated by January 10, 2008.

Residents felt they were getting a raw deal. They engaged a lawyer from Legal Aid to demand an explanation of why they didn't qualify for the higher amount of moving assistance. They organized themselves to demand answers.

By the first week of December, residents were angry and desperate. Families received an "advance" of 20% of their moving allowance to help them start the process of finding a new home. The balance would be available after turning in their keys. Moving out under a deadline is a stressful proposition. Trying to figure out how to pay movers, first month's rent, and security deposit while they could not access the balance of their "moving money" until they had vacated the premises was unbearable.

Next month: How families fared and what you can do to make a difference to families who depend on subsidized housing.

Chrissie Rizzo is the local area director of the American Friends Service Committee.