The dream of the Second Avenue subway line is turning into a nightmare for dozens of Upper East Side residents who must relocate to make way for ventilation shafts, stairwells and infrastructure for the $4.5 billion line, scheduled to open in 2017. (Coincidentally, that's the very same year a team of leprechauns and unicorns will finish transforming the East River into hot chocolate waterfalls.) Some 60 residences in the neighborhood must be vacated, and tenants—many of whom occupy rent-stabilized apartments far below market rates—say the relocation service hired by the MTA is not providing them with comparable options, as required by federal eminent domain laws.
Part of the problem is the law itself, which is a little vague on the definition of "comparable," and only requires the authority to pay each tenant up to $5,250 in subsidies if they move to a more expensive place. MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz tells the Times, "Tenants are matched up with three units, based on what they can afford to pay and what their needs are. We’re not in any way, shape or form saying you have to do this, you have to move there." The MTA is supposed to find them new homes in the same neighborhood, but some have been encouraged to consider housing in Harlem. Shockingly, Ortiz says "no one seemed to be interested" in that option.
Ann and Conrad Riedi have been living in the same rent-regulated five-room apartment for 40 years, and currently pay $1,120 a month. Finding something comparable at that price seems to be impossible, and they say the MTA has suggested they move out of Manhattan—and be prepared to give up their dog. According to the Times, the authority had approved a program in 2007 to rent vacant apartments and hold them for displaced tenants, but that never happened. Instead, the MTA has spent over $200,000 to rent empty units in the buildings it plans to acquire, in order to avoid paying relocation costs for tenants.
UPDATE: Kevin Ortiz at the MTA called us to emphasize that although the federal requirement for subsidies is capped at $5,250, "We're actually going far and above that, because obviously $5,200 is nothing. That number in the federal guidelines is for folks in different parts of the country. And for people in rent-regulated apartments, they have the option of going to a market-rate apartment, and we will compensate them as well, probably for however long they stay at the new place. And this is also on top of compensating everyone for relocation costs. The idea that we're showing people houses in Harlem and other boroughs is just the MTA giving them options, but we are in no way forcing them to pick residences, per se."