Linda Gittens

Interview by Joanna Chisolm

Marble Hill Houses – Resident Workshop for Paired Interviews – August 6, 2017

Joanna: When did you enter public housing?

Linda: I entered public housing in the beginning of the 80s. This is my first public housing that I ever lived in because I never lived in public housing before. I was transitioning from living in Queens, in a small apartment, and I just filled out an application and they called me. But, I was familiar with the Bronx because I was born and raised in the Bronx and I moved to Queens when I was a teenager so was… you know, I was married now and had kids. So this was fifteen years later. My grandfather is, as far as Marble Hill’s concerned, which I didn’t know when I was a kid, was one of the first black families that moved into this community when they built it in 1951. I used to go see him all the time not knowing it was Marble Hill though, I was young. I realized – I was like wait a minute – but he had died, but this is where he was from. It was strange that I would end up where I used to come to when I was a kid and I didn’t even know it. So that was how I got into Marble Hill. 

Joanna: What was housing like when you first moved in?

Linda: When I first moved up here, I walked around the neighborhood, I checked out schools, cause I had two daughters, and they’ve always been in private schools so I checked out the only one available to me in area was St. John’s and that’s where they went. I liked the area, it was very nice, it was very clean. I liked the stores and stuff, the few stores they had. It was convenient for me where I lived, the building I was in, on Broadway was close to express bus, subway, and everything. It was a plus!

Joanna: What do you think the number one need is in the community?

Linda: Well in this community in the last few years, is very hard for me to say what’s number one. I do know there needs to be better communication. Currently, I’m on a tenants association board and I can see by the amount of people that come out, it’s not good, and even though we put notices out about the meeting, we don’t have that many people that come out. If it was something about your rent’s going to go up X amount of dollars, the place is packed. I mean they come out of nowhere, you never even seen these people before. So I’m trying to understand, how do we communicate with people to get them to come and to learn and to educate them about what’s going on with New York City housing.

Joanna: How long have you been in this position?

Linda: Probably over 10 years, but I went from different positions. I started out as a secretary and I moved up to you know, treasurer. I never wanted the president or vice president although people thought I was. For some reason I didn’t want them because working…you got to go to a lot of meetings and I couldn’t make all of that. So I stayed as treasurer. (laughs)

Joanna: What do you think would help get more people to attend the meetings outside of you know, just like you said, with higher rent or you know repairs or something like that?

Linda: I really don’t know. We’ve been thinking a lot about this through the years and even just recently. What can we do to get people interested and coming out to find out about where they live and what their needs and wants are. We don’t have a big budget but I would say maybe we said if we could pay them a stipend, you know? Maybe that might open up the door, and I know it’s not a good thing to do all the time, but maybe they’ll come out because we have a diverse amount of people that live here and unfortunately, we don’t get any hispanic out. Maybe two out of the whole eleven buildings! And that’s a problem. Because we put everything in bilingual on the notices – it’s not working. So I would like to see more people come out and other races of people that live here. It’s not just one race of people, but I say stipend, if we ever get any money, to ask them to come out to a meeting[00:08:02] 

Joanna: Do you think the fact that there are no latinos on a board keeps them from coming? Do you think they don’t feel represented?

Linda: No I don’t because the board is through elections. They put notices out for elections and positions if you want them. I don’t see that as an excuse when I know they read them or somebody’s read them and they don’t want to come out. So I can’t say that. I wish there was more, but I don’t believe that’s the issue. 

Joanna: How do you feel when you come home?

Linda: Well, we’re talking about coming home today. Well I’m home already since I’m retired right now, but when I step out, it’s disgusting. I don’t feel good about it. Whether I’m coming out or going in because we have a bad influx of garbage in front of the building. I’m on Broadway which is the main area and the garbage is sitting right there in the doorway before you can even get out. I think that’s totally disgusting. And unhealthy. It creates rats and everything else. I don’t know what we can do about that. We’ve put out letters, notices all over the buildings “don’t put your garbage out”, and has done no good, it’s like they ignore it. They put it in the staircases, they put it near the elevator, they put it in the elevator and I’ve never seen these things since I’ve been here since I came in the 80s and this is 2000s. It’s been like this for the last few years and it never used to be that way before. I don’t know what to say about that. How do you make people care about where they live at? 

Joanna: What has changed where you live? And why do you think it’s changed?

Linda: Well generations have changed. The same generation that was here in the 80s when I was here either moved or a lot of them have deceased and we have different people coming in, younger people, bigger families, more children are here. I know that because they would have never built two more schools to accommodate them. It hasn’t changed for the better because I can tell just between 80s and now and it’s no way the same. Everything has changed. I would like it to go back, everything can go back to how it was, but it can be better if we communicate with people that believe and care about where they live at. All these issues with garbage and rodents and stuff and maintenance of the buildings. 

Joanna: Do you think that…what would your solutions be to the changes that have happened in the community?

Linda: Solutions is still back to the same thing. We have to communicate, find a better way to communicate to people to get them to understand where we’re coming from, that we need to care about where we live at. It helps us, it helps your children, and the next generation that’s coming before us. Because they keep seeing us these things, they feel that’s the right way to be. Kids, I see kids throwing garbage right on the floor because they see this all the time so they think that’s the right thing, it’s not the right thing. So we need to teach our young people first so maybe they can start. We have to make a start somewhere even if it’s a little start, you know, and take little steps. Any problems that we have, there’s not going to be an overnight solution. We could work little steps to try to teach the best things to do through the young ones first and maybe go on with the generations. 

Joanna: Do you think how the neighborhood has changed, especially over the last ten years, has some kind of impact on how people feel about it being a close knit community with all the being surrounded by commercial activity and a lot of kind of strangers walking through the neighborhood?

Linda: We do have a lot of commercial activity around here that we didn’t have before. Every place you see now is like a big square box for retail which I think is horrible but I understand that people have to make a living and it takes away a lot of our little mom and pop stores who might have been here for years. I notice that a lot of little Chinese stores we used to have are gone, that used to have good stuff, but the rents are so high so a lot of businesses are also closing down because of the rents, because of the neighborhood. I felt like when I first moved here this is more like a little bit suburban because of the trees and the way it was. Now it has become so commercial it’s like we’re in the middle of a commercial city here, okay. All around us, so we boxed in. I don’t like that.

Joanna: Do you think that has a…do you think that’s impacted how we feel about our community? Like how we used to feel in a bubble but now it’s kind of like we’re almost like a highway like all these people get to stream through where we live?

Linda: Yes, well, yes, you could say that. Because people do. I see people that never been around here before. I think that in one way it’s good and in one way it’s bad meaning as far as people coming out because this neighborhood basically, race wise, was…it was basically caucasian and then it went to black African-American and then the caucasians moved out and then it became Puerto Ricans came and then Dominicans came and now that’s how it is. But I see white people come to good neighborhoods now, they never used to do that. That’s good to see because they feel like they could do this and they feel safe when they do this. But we still feel that we are not getting nothing. I think we’re forgotten about sometimes because we in between so many, Riverdale and across the bridge, Inwood. And we’re just sitting here in the middle and no one’s paying attention to us. We’re not getting services we need.

Joanna: Over your years on the board, what kind of services have you noticed that have left that you think have been really essential to helping residents?

Linda: It starts with New York City housing itself. We don’t have the things we used to have. I’ve been in my building all these years and the last few years have been a time where we didn’t even have a maintenance man to clean up so you can imagine a whole couple of weeks of no one cleaning. Then they got someone, it took two to do it. So they don’t clean, they really don’t. I’m not saying it’s their fault because basically it’s the tenants that are the ones that make it dirty. And that keeps it bad because I had one maintenance man tell me he couldn’t wait to transfer out of our building because it was so disgusting. The staircases and everything and that it would take a week of three or four guys to clean this building. [00:15:48] Every week. That’s how bad it is. Now we have people that work for housing, tell you that, begin to wonder cause it’s the tenants. The tenants are not good. They’re chasing people away. People keep transferring, we don’t get to keep a maintenance man for a long time. We used to, when I came in, not now.  And we have a young and breathing maintenance man. So whatever the old ones did, they’re not doing, and that’s the bottom line. They want a pay check and that’s it. You know, and people make it bad for them because I wouldn’t want to do it if I was in their place. I wouldn’t want to come in there and clean up all that mess that I see. So I understand it. But we lost a lot of those services.

Joanna: To close out the interview, what is a story that you want to tell about you, about living here?

Linda: Well I don’t have a big story except that I could say I want…we looked at a map…I started out real high because it was beautiful where I lived, I liked it, I enjoyed it, I enjoyed walking around and everything and it’s like a hill. I was up there and I see it now dwindling down. So I don’t want to say I hate where I live, but I feel like if I had more money I probably move and get a nice co-op or something in the same area, but just not in Marble Hill. I would be over there, a little further, because there’s nice co-ops around here. I’ll just leave that because I know they would keep the co-op cleaner and better and I would work with people that care about where they live at. So that’s what I’ll say. 

Joanna: Thank you, Linda, for answering my questions.

Linda: You’re welcome. I hope that it helps.

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