When she arrived in the borough nearly four decades ago, she and her husband bought a house on Pilling Street for just $5,000. They worked hard to fix it up.
But now, with the pressures of rising rents and unscrupulous landlords, Romey said she has seen her neighborhood change for the worse.
Her 86-year-old friend, who has lived in her apartment for 15 years, has seen her rent doubled in the last few years, and is dealing with constant construction noises, banging and knocking.
“Some of them are old, some have moved out,” she said about her friends and neighbors. “And now, a whole lot of them cannot pay the rent.”
Romey, 78, was one of dozens of residents who rallied last Thursday morning in front of the Palmetto Gardens Senior Center in Bushwick.
They are part of the organizations Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and East Brooklyn Congregations, which are pushing a plan for the city to build 15,000 new units of affordable senior housing.
The plan calls for the city to build the units on vacant NYCHA lots and properties. The hope is that public housing seniors who no longer need multi-bedroom apartments in NYCHA housing can move into the new units.
As a result, those public housing apartments would allow as many as 50,000 new residents, including homeless families in need of a permanent home, to live in NYCHA buildings.
Residents also want $1 billion annually to address ongoing capital needs in NYCHA, and $950 million for boiler and heating equipment repairs.
The proposal has support in the City Council. Speaker Corey Johnson has included the funding in his proposed budget response to the mayor’s executive budget. Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, has not yet backed the plan.
Last week, members of Metro IAF and East Brooklyn Congregations joined Brooklyn and Bronx council members on a NYCHA “inspection tour,” culminating with a rally at City Hall. Councilman Antonio Reynoso joined the group at Hope Gardens last Thursday.
“This plan is very smart, and it absolutely works,” Reynoso said. “But what it needs is bold action from our leadership. Right now, that’s not happening.”
The Brooklyn councilman contrasted de Blasio’s inaction with a former New York City mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, whom Reynoso said handled a housing crisis by overseeing the development of public housing.
Reverend Shaun Lee, pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, took the reference another step further.
“It seems so far, Mr. Mayor, you are no La Guardia,” he said at the rally. “But you still have time.”
Lee, who grew up in Bed-Stuy and has lived in East New York, said seniors in his congregation have long complained about the “deplorable” living conditions in NYCHA. Others say they can no longer afford rents in their neighborhood.
“As a pastor, my heart goes out to them. I pray for them, but it doesn’t stop with prayer,” he said. “We also need to fight and hold our politicians accountable to make sure our seniors can live a decent way in this expensive city.”
Like Romey, Lee has seen Brooklyn change at a cost. Though crime has gone down and there have been other positive developments, the cost is that seniors and low-income families are being pushed out, he said.
“This city never did that before, we can’t start doing it now,” Lee said. “This fight is for the soul of our city, and we’ve got to fight for those who fought for it.”
Lee said he wants de Blasio to do what he promised on the campaign trail in 2012: end the tale of two cities.
“Instead of making things better, it seems like things are getting worse,” he said. “We want to hold him accountable to do what he promised. I want to believe he’s a man of his word.”
Romey sent a message directly to the mayor.
“De Blasio, if you have a heart, help us seniors in need,” she said. “You’ve got the power, you’ve got the money. Do this for us.”