Feds, City Address Security Concerns


Responding to longstanding complaints by the Russian-speaking community of unsafe conditions, Rep. Jerrold Nadler announced last week that he had secured $225,000 in federal funding to provide security cameras at a Brooklyn public housing complex where nearly 20 elderly Russian Jews have been attacked and robbed in recent years.The funding from an appropriations bill passed two weeks ago by Congress will make it possible to equip the Haber House Senior Building Development, located in a crime-ridden section of Coney Island, with a small closed-circuit TV system to record any intruders that might enter the three-building facility.

The federal funding comes on the heels of a grant of $100,000 in City Council discretionary funding secured by City Councilman Domenic Recchia and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz to improve security at Haber House.Sheila Green, a spokeswoman for the New York City Housing Authority, said Monday that her agency expects to have the cameras installed in Haber House by this summer.

The plight of elderly Russians at Haber House first came to light nearly a year ago in a Jewish Week story.Russian Jewish community leaders who had advocated for Haber House residents praised the announcement by Nadler, a Democrat who represents Manhattan and Brooklyn.Yet several Haber House residents contended that the cameras, while an improvement over their current situation, do not fully address their needs. They said a large-scale closed-circuit system with police personnel monitoring the cameras around the clock and able to interrupt an attack in progress, or 24-hour-a-day security guards would be more effective.Green said Haber House does not qualify for the large-scale closed-circuit system since crime statistics there are not nearly as dire as at 12 Housing Authority projects in more dangerous sections of the city that do have such a system. But she said that a second eight-hour shift by security guards will be added as of January.

Spokesmen for Nadler and Recchia, whose district includes Haber House, noted that they were able to secure funding only for so-called “capital expenditures” like the cameras, as opposed to additional guards.

The Housing Authority provides security guards at Haber House from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., but residents complain that criminals prey on them during the daytime hours when many leave their apartments to shop and walk on the Boardwalk. The complex is adjacent to the Boardwalk on West 24th and 25th streets.Nadler, who has worked to build ties to the Russian community in South Brooklyn, said in hailing the funding, “Nobody should feel unsafe at home, and the victimization of these residents must be stopped.”

He added: “Residents will be safer and criminals discouraged from attacking seniors knowing that their images are being recorded, and that the police and the Housing Authority will be able to use these cameras to apprehend any intruders who come into the buildings.”Gene Borsh, director of Local Russian-Speaking Emigrant Organizations, a program of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said the community was grateful for the funding and that it should improve security at Haber House “to the highest level.”“The very existence of the cameras will definitely deter criminals who know they will be caught if they break into Haber House,” Borsh said.Inna Stavisky, project director for the Older Refugee Project of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, said, “This is a wonderful New Year’s gift to the residents of Haber House. Frankly, I wasn’t very optimistic we would ever see this money.”

Yet Sofia Dobrovolskaya, a longtime resident of Haber House, said, “Our community leaders are quick to say that everything is fine, but they don’t have to live here. What good does it do for someone who is being assaulted that the attack is being recorded unless the police can see it and intercede?”Yefim Karlich, another Haber House resident who acts as an informal spokesperson for the Russian-speaking residents, was more upbeat.“This is only a partial solution, but it definitely represents an improvement over the present situation,” Karlich said. “This is a victory for the residents of Haber House who spoke out loudly in defense of our rights.”