By Melissa Klein
The tenants of a Harlem apartment building were eagerly awaiting the gut renovation of their homes when they moved out 10 years ago.
They had chosen the new layouts for their apartments, picked kitchen cabinets and selected stainless steel appliances. They were told they’d be temporarily relocated — for no more than two years — and would return as homeowners through a city program.
Now, after living for a decade in “temporary” housing, their former homes are still boarded up and the city has booted them from the program.
“It’s been a nightmare. I just feel tortured by all the whole process,” said Mildred Gonzalez, 44, who relocated to a one-bedroom in 2008 with her infant son, who is now 11. “My life has been put on hold and I live in a shoe box.”
Gonzalez and five other tenants of 206 West 120th St. are suing the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, claiming it provided nothing but empty promises.
The tenants include an 82-year-old woman whose furniture has been in storage at city expense for 10 years and a member of New York’s Air National Guard who recently served in Iraq.
They underwent training on building management and filled out reams of paperwork with the goal of being able to buy their apartments at a price that was $250 each in 2008 and has since risen to $2,500.
In legal papers, they describe years of trying to meet HPD’s ever-changing demands, deal with a rotating cast of bureaucrats, and completing required financial reports on flawed HPD forms.
The Tenant Interim Lease program, which is supposed to boost affordable housing stock by converting dilapidated city-owned buildings into co-ops, has long been troubled. The City Department of Investigation has conducted several probes of the program.
Michael Besse, a former HPD staffer, said he saw employees who were not qualified to help tenants, building coordinators who would “make up” reports, and “incredibly disorganized” record-keeping, according to an affidavit he submitted as part of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan last month by The Legal Aid Society and seeks to have the building reinstated in the TIL program and to prevent the city from selling the property to a developer.
The tenants heard that the recession was to blame for the delay in starting the renovation of their six-story walk up, which was to be paid for with city funds.
“In 2014, HPD’s staff including our building coordinator, told us that under the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, our building would be getting financing soon,” tenant Gabriel Valentin a 51-year-old IT worker, said in court papers.
Valentin told The Post the tenants were “bamboozled.”
The tenants continued to pay the same rent they had at 120th Street, with the money going to fund their temporary quarters. A few fell behind and entered into payment plans, according to legal papers.
But the city contends there were no payment plans, that the required financial reporting was incomplete and that’s why they were removed from the TIL program.
“Both allegations were made without regard to the facts,” the tenants say in their suit.
An HPD spokesman would not comment on the lawsuit but said generally when buildings leave the TIL program they still get renovated and tenants get rent-stabilized leases.
He refused to say if the city was selling the property to a developer or who would do the renovation.