Rita and Marie

Marie Stephen: . . . and the people.

Rita Johnson: And the condition inside the building.

Marie Stephen: Yeah, the condition and everything out there. (inaudible) clean. But now, a bunch of people that don’t care. (inaudible)

Rita Johnson: Yes.

Marie Stephen: (inaudible)

Rita Johnson: I know. When I moved in, the elder woman, remember, they helped me, so far as introducing themselves to me, to let me know that if there was anything they could do to help me, they was available. And we felt, I felt safe. You know, and they would check on me to make sure that I was okay. And I spent a lot of time (inaudible), the lady on the third floor, she adopted me and made me tell my mom. You know if I got sick, she took me the hospital. I said, “Mom, what are you doing here?  (inaudible will take care of it.” And so, that family became very close with me.

Marie Stephen: (inaudible) so that to me, that’s also a security for the community. And the policemen used to be (inaudible). But to me, it was really nice. It was really nice and I liked that. I felt secure back then.

Rita Johnson: Yes.

Marie Stephen: And that’s it.

Rita Johnson: So now, that’s no longer . . . that’s not (inaudible). I don’t even see them pacing around the college. And so far as, what’s around, like now they have that, the stakes all around the place, with those – and it’s dark at night.

Marie Stephen: Yes, yes.

Rita Johnson: You know, you find yourself stumbling; they don’t have enough lighting out there. And then, in the morning, they are out there, up on the roof, they’re banging. They’re banging and it sounds like they’re going to come through your walls. On the other side, they’re scraping. I’ll be glad when they’re finished because it’s really annoying to be woken up like that.

     And then, the men could see . . . the curtains hang over the window, but you don’t know if the men can see you. You’re walking around the house and you feel unsafe.

Marie Stephen: Yes, yes.

Rita Johnson: So . . . it really has changed a lot there. I’ll be glad that, I don’t know how long – they don’t even tell you how long they’re going to be here.

Marie Stephen: Oh, they’re fixing everything, change.

Rita Johnson: Yeah, that’s a big change.

Marie Stephen: “Why is public housing important to you?”

Rita Johnson: Right now . . . and then the guys say they’re coming to fix something and come back. They’re half-fixing it. The guy can’t even fix, change one socket. That’s not fixed; then it’s your problem. I think that a real electrician should come in.

Marie Stephen: Oh, yes. Yes. Or, when you say “electrician,” oh my gosh! I remember back then we used to have, for the electricity, we used to have the fuse.

Rita Johnson: Yeah.

Marie Stephen: Remember the fuse? Like the were all, like 15, 10; when you have to turn it on. You have to turn it on, turn it off. And then, if you have too many appliances in your house, the fuse . . .

Rita Johnson: Will blow out.

Marie Stephen: And then, you have to go to the . . . remember that hardware store over there? It was across from . . .

Rita Johnson: Yeah, yeah.

Marie Stephen: . . . across from, remember the Red Cross, right?

Rita Johnson: Yeah.

Marie Stephen: You remember the houseware that used to be next to Red Cross?

Rita Johnson: Yes.

Marie Stephen: And then, that’s where we had to go to buy a new fuse. But sometimes, some people, they are old. They cannot go outside at night. So I remember, what we used to do , we used to take a piece of aluminum paper and then you put it . . .

Rita Johnson: Really?

Marie Stephen: Oh, yeah.

Rita Johnson: In the back of the fuse?

Marie Stephen: Or, you put it at the tip and then you . . . yeah.

     Rita Johnson: What? And it would work?

     Marie Stephen: Oh, yeah! The reason I know is because my father was an electrician, as well as my brother. So you just take a piece of aluminum paper . . . it worked.

     Rita Johnson: And put it back . . .

     Marie Stephen: Yeah, and then it worked. And then, the next day you go and get your 15 or 20 fuse, just that, small glasses. You remember them – 10, 20.

     Rita Johnson: Yeah.

     Marie Stephen: Oh, my gosh . . . and then you remember, you have to pull the handle. If you try to pull it . . . (inaudible), those fuses, and then you have to . . .

     Rita Johnson: I remember that.

     Marie Stephen: Oh, my God – that was long, long ago.

     Rita Johnson: I’ve been, like 52 years.

     Marie Stephen: And then, I remember, we used to have storage in the basement.

     Rita Johnson: Uh-huh?

     Marie Stephen: Yes. We used to have storage in the basement. So every apartment had their own storage unit down in the basement. So what you need is your key; they give you a key that opened the door. And when you opened the door, if you want, you could have, lock it for yourself. But everybody had the same key, to open the door. When you go in, you opened the door, you put your bicycle . . . they used to have a bicycle rack. You know, that was good over there. If you ride a bicycle, you have the bicycle, the key for yourself; and then you have the key, if you have a locker, you can put your suitcase that you don’t use, in the locker. And you don’t take the bicycle in the apartment because we have the locker downstairs to put the bicycle. That was good. But you know . . .

     Rita Johnson: They don’t have that, no more.

     Marie Stephen: We don’t have that no more. “Why is public housing important to you”? Why . . . we can go to that question here – “How many generations of family have lived . . . ?

     Rita Johnson: We could answer that. We could answer that one.

     Marie Stephen: Oh, yeah, we can answer . . .

     Rita Johnson: Provide apartments for people who . . .

     Marie Stephen: How you say, (inaudible) . . . it wasn’t like that. The price just also, now the price went up, you know, the rent.

     Rita Johnson: Right. Yes.

     Marie Stephen: Your rent increase.

     Rita Johnson: It’s all income-based. They were income-based, for people who can’t afford to pay high rentals somewhere else. It provided for poor families, really.

     Marie Stephen: Yeah.

     Rita Johnson: And then, people who need assistance. So this is what public housing is, it’s really great for that. I mean, I came down here, with two children. And I was not working at the time. And I mean, it was really good for me at that time. I had just separated from my husband. You know? And when I started working, my rent up, when I started working.

     Marie Stephen: Yeah, yeah.

     Rita Johnson: You know. I had to have a babysitter, they don’t account for that. They just accounted for what I made.

     Marie Stephen: Yes, they’re still doing that. But I remember, when I moved in, I wasn’t working. My husband was working. I was on 67th Street. My husband used to work, and then I stayed home and take care of the people (inaudible). My daughter was 30 days old, like one month old when I moved in. So, I wasn’t working; I take care of the kids. And then, that’s it. I don’t have any problem with that.

     And that’s it. But when we both started working, we had to take the children to an outside babysitter, so the rent was increased. Because now it’s two salaries, so they increased the rent. So . . . still, we were able to pay for the rent. And after that, as much as you make . . . as you know, your rent increased, yearly.

     Rita Johnson: What happened, they increased my rent. I was paying 300 dollars more than I should have been paying for rent. But I haven’t gotten, I have to get that cleared up because . . . and they fixed it. That’s why I know it was 300 dollars more. It was after we, after I went (inaudible) I didn’t know that he had passed, so I found out that he had passed – why he didn’t get back to me.

     Marie Stephen: Oh, okay.

     Rita Johnson: But they was charging me 300 dollars more on the rent.

     Marie Stephen: I know because that was a long time ago, because we both work. I used to pay like, a thousand dollars.

     Rita Johnson: That’s what I was paying.

     Marie Stephen: But that was back then. You know, now it’s the same, everything is now, the rent is still high. Not high, compared to elsewhere, but back then, because we both, my husband and I were working, that’s why they charged us 1000 dollars. But after that, when we . . . I went and I told them.

     Rita Johnson: That’s what I was (inaudible) dollars, another . . .

     Marie Stephen: But now, it’s different. But back then, if you earned some money, they increased your rent. They just increase it.

     Rita Johnson: (inaudible) 839,

     Marie Stephen: They do that, but back then it was hard, because you were not making that much back then. But to pay 1000-dollar rent, back then. I used to pay 995, 1000 dollars, 995 every month – because we both worked. So, for back then, that was a lot of money.

     Rita Johnson: (inaudible) I guess they, he probably talked to them or whatever. The rent is (inaudible), so but they charged us, did you pay for water?

     Marie Stephen: Water? When?

     Rita Johnson: We pay 4.32 for water.

     Marie Stephen: Over there?

     Rita Johnson: Here, now. Yeah, at Amsterdam.

     Marie Stephen: I don’t remember. Now?

     Rita Johnson: Yeah, look at your rent paper; when you count down, they got it, you pay for the rent. You pay for, like for, whatever you have in your house, you pay for.

     Marie Stephen: I’ve been paying for that a long time ago.

     Rita Johnson: Yeah.

     Marie Stephen: But it wasn’t everybody.

     Rita Johnson: No, and that isn’t fair.

     Marie Stephen: No, no, no, I’m saying – I know, some of us have air conditioning. Some don’t have air conditioning, but the people, the tenant who do have air conditioning, they have to pay for the electricity. You pay for the entire year, whether it’s summer or winter, you pay for the electricity, if you have air conditioning. If you don’t have air conditioning, you don’t pay electricity. Because I had air conditioning; I paid, back then, I paid for the electricity. But my friend who don’t have AC, don’t pay electricity.

     Rita Johnson: No, no, no.

     Marie Stephen: That I know, back then.

     Rita Johnson: Right.

     Marie Stephen: If you don’t have it, you don’t pay. So that was back then. And after that, it just, I don’t know anything about it. And also, you have to have a bracket for the AC. Because remember before, people used to have these big AC; they put it by the window and then, when you are walking, it start, you have to go around, because you don’t want that thing to fall. It’s too big. So they came and they tell them, they have to get a small, like 5000, 6000-BTU to fit the window.

     You remember that, right? And that also (inaudible). Now it’s okay. But what change you see . . .

     Speaker: Hi. Sorry to interrupt.

     Marie Stephen: Oh, yeah. Any time.

     Speaker: Are you guys are ready for your portrait? We’d love to have you.

     Marie Stephen: Oh, for a picture. Are you ready for a picture?

     Speaker: Please feel free to finish your conversation.

     Marie Stephen: Oh, yeah. Okay. That would be a single picture, right?

     Speaker: Yes.

     Marie Stephen: Okay, so I’m going to the bathroom while you’re taking your picture. And when I return, I don’t know if you want to go to the bathroom and freshen up first. Can I turn this off? (inaudible)

     Speaker: Oh, yeah. You can say your names now.

     Marie Stephen: Is it on now?

     Speaker: Yes.

     Rita Johnson: My name is Rita Johnson. I’ve been living in Amsterdam 52 years.

     Marie Stephen: My name is Marie Steadman. I’ve been living in Amsterdam for 50 years. Okay, Rita – “What this community, how did the community change? How did it change, the community?”

     Rita Johnson: It changed with all that stuff that’s around us. The condition and the workers are not consistent, of cleaning the building; making sure that everything is clean and in order.

     Marie Stephen: (inaudible – out of range of microphone)

     Rita Johnson: Yeah, the stuff that’s all around the building. All that stuff that’s out there. I’m really, I’m staying on that because it’s just, it’s not . . . if you don’t feel safe coming home. I don’t feel safe walking through that because there’s no security, you know? They don’t have enough lighting around, when you go to see who’s behind you or in front of you. They need more lighting.

     Marie Stephen: (inaudible – out of microphone range)

     Rita Johnson: Yeah, and the men working, working on the building and on top, on the roof. And banging.

     Marie Stephen: “What has changed the most since you have lived in Amsterdam Houses? What has stayed the same?”

     Rita Johnson: The community has changed. The people in the community have changed. You got more people hanging out; I have to tell kids to get out of the stairwell, smoking. They’re out there smoking and it’s coming into the house . . . but thank God that, when I asked them, the few that I asked, they move. But it doesn’t make any sense that I have to go out of my house to ask them to move. We need more security.

Marie Stephen: Yeah, that’s what I (inaudible).

     Rita Johnson: Yes, yes.

     Marie Stephen: (inaudible) fighting, all the time. (inaudible)

     Rita Johnson: One thing is – putting those lights around. They need to put more lights around, where we can see.

     Marie Stephen: (inaudible)

     Rita Johnson: Your favorite what?

     Marie Stephen: Object?

     Rita Johnson: Object? Going to the Community Center.

     Marie Stephen: “What’s your favorite object? What is (inaudible)?”

     Rita Johnson: Lincoln Center?

     Marie Stephen: “What was the community (inaudible).

     Rita Johnson: “What was your first impression of the Lincoln Center? And what did you hope for and what did you fear about, what it would mean for the neighborhood?” Well, when Lincoln Center first came . . . okay, let me go.

     When Lincoln Center first came, Lincoln Center used to get involved and come and give us tickets to the Center; so the parents can go and bring their children to different things over there at Lincoln Center. Every year, we had tickets, and we were involved in different activities over there. As far as I know, a lot of that has cut. We don’t get all those things anymore.

     What do I hope for?

     Marie Stephen: Hope, yeah.

     Rita Johnson: I’m hoping for more involvement from Lincoln Center, I’m hoping for them to open up more for the community. I don’t know how much Lincoln Center is doing, so far as . . . for the Center. I have not been to too many things that they offered.

     Marie Stephen: Lincoln Center, I remember when (inaudible) . . .

     Rita Johnson: It wasn’t even up when I moved in. No.

     Marie Stephen: (inaudible) community used to be the first choice, to get the tickets. But they don’t have that . . .

     Rita Johnson: No more. No.

     Marie Stephen: We don’t have it.

     Rita Johnson: No.

     Marie Stephen: And if they can continue one way or another, we would appreciate it (inaudible) almost every year (inaudible) for the community. If that can continue . . .

     Rita Johnson: I’m hoping that is . . . more stuff for the seniors, if nothing else. Open it up.

     Marie Stephen: And then, (inaudible). They still have it? 

     Rita Johnson: They still have it. Not as often as it used to be.

     Marie Stephen: (inaudible) That was nice. That’s what I remember, it was (inaudible).

     Rita Johnson: They don’t do that no more. (inaudible)     Marie Stephen: We’ll stop here. Okay.