Tenants Services Article

Judge Wants Details of M.T.A.’s Tenant Relocation Plan

By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM
Published: September 14, 2009, City Room, NYTimes.com

Dozens of Upper East Siders are set to be evicted next year to make way for the long-delayed Second Avenue Subway. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is required by federal law to find comparable new homes for the tenants, but some have complained that the agency is not living up to expectations.

Those complaints are now being aired in court, and a judge said on Monday that the authority would have to provide more information about the relocation process before it could formally acquire the tenants’ buildings, a required step for eviction proceedings to begin.

Justice Walter B. Tolub of State Supreme Court in Manhattan told lawyers from the authority to return in a week with written details about the agency’s plans to provide assistance to the tenants, many of whom are elderly and living in rent-regulated apartments.

The authority is hoping to receive final approval this month to acquire the four residential properties along Second Avenue, which will be converted into ventilation shafts and other infrastructure for the $4.5 billion underground line, scheduled to open in 2017.

Under eminent domain law, tenants must be given assistance to move to a comparable new apartment in a similar neighborhood, but some of them say the authority has encouraged them to leave the Upper East Side and consider moving into affordable housing, including one building opposite an on-ramp to the Queensboro Bridge. (The authority says no one is being forced to leave the area.)

Monday’s court appearance was an opportunity for affected tenants to air any grievances about the authority’s plans. No tenants appeared, but George Locker, a lawyer for Ann and Conrad Riedi of 247 East 83rd Street, said that his clients had not been offered appropriate assistance from the authority.

A lawyer for the authority, Anthony P. Semancik, denied that charge. He said the agency had worked with the federal government and local community groups to provide the most assistance possible to the affected tenants.

Mr. Semancik described a complicated formula used to determine how much rental assistance can be provided to rent-regulated tenants moving to a new, presumably more expensive apartment. Among the determining factors: how long the current apartment is expected to remain regulated, and actuarial calculations on the life expectancy of the occupants.

But the authority could not produce a written version of this formula and admitted that the formula had not been published except for presentations to community groups. Justice Tolub adjourned the proceedings for a week, until the authority could provide written documentation.

Mr. Semancik said he was not surprised by the delay. “It’s usual for that to happen when there’s opposition,” he said.

Representatives from O. R. Colan, the national real estate company hired by the authority to handle the relocations, declined to comment outside the courtroom on Monday. O. R. Colan’s contract with the authority is worth up to $10 million and covers residential and commercial relocations for the Second Avenue project and the construction of a new tunnel linking the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal.

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