NYCHA residents have a new advocate on the NYCHA Board: fellow resident Joseph K. Adams Sr., who has lived in public housing for almost 21 years, was recently appointed to the Board by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Mr. Adams currently lives in Sondra Thomas Apartments, a development for seniors in Manhattan. He lived in Patterson Houses in the Bronx for 13 years and Woodrow Wilson Houses in Manhattan for seven years. In addition to his community and volunteer work, he says his unique experience living in three NYCHA developments during three major phases of his life — as a single, working father; as a disabled person; and as an older adult — means that he has a good understanding of the needs of public housing residents.
Mr. Adams is one of three NYCHA residents on the Board, which works to ensure residents are represented in decision making to protect and preserve public housing.
The NYCHA Journal spoke with about Mr. Adams about education, life in public housing, and what he hopes to accomplish as a Board Member.
The NYCHA Journal: Why did you want to become a Resident Board Member?
Joseph Adams: I wanted to learn the process of how things work at NYCHA and help people like myself and others. I have something to contribute and it seemed like something good to do. I think my experience living in public housing in three different phases of my life is valuable. I can take these experiences and use them on the Board.
TNJ: What do you want people to know about NYCHA?
JA: NYCHA has always been about the people that live here; I would like to show the public more of the people working, engaging, raising children here. I would like more people to learn about the benefits of public housing, how you can get help – there’s always an email about something positive happening, meetings, programs, ways to get help.
I’m very interested in education, as the father of six children (four of them lived with me in Wilson Houses), and my children did very well. There are a lot of extended programs to help people enhance their lives. My kids had a lot of support from the public schools they were in, but also from some programs through housing. They went to some of the top schools in the country — Harvard, Columbia, University of Chicago, Vassar, and Oswego — amassing about $750,000 in scholarships and grants.
TNJ: Speaking of education, can you share more about your path as a non-traditional student?
JA: As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I attended public school shortly after Brown v. Board of Education. I had the right to go to school, but I was not properly educated. I was socially promoted through fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. When I got to high school, I didn’t know how to do multiplication or division. That shouldn’t’ve happened to me. I dropped out in 1970. I did get my GED and worked for the city as a school safety officer for many years to support my family.
One day I was walking with my daughter and I saw these kids going into a building. I asked her what school was down there and she said John Jay; my old high school, Haaren High School, used to be in that building. I went inside the building with my daughter and it was like somebody said, “Welcome back.” I told my daughter, I’m going to take a shot at this. I started taking classes as an undergraduate in 2008. I was only going to stay for an associate’s degree, but a gentleman there spoke to me and said, “You did two, you could do four years.”
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2013. When I got my bachelor’s degree, I had never walked across the stage, though my children walked across all these stages. I got the bachelor’s degree and started crying because all those ghosts that haunted me a young kid were gone.
I decided to apply for the master’s program. My daughter, who graduated from Harvard and is a lawyer, wrote a letter of recommendation for me. The master’s program was a lot easier for me because I had been in school, I had worked for a professor, I could write better, and got a lot of help from the SEEK program, so my self-esteem was better. I graduated in 2016 with my master’s degree.
TNJ: What do you hope to accomplish as a Board Member?
JA: I hope that my experience and my voice will contribute to the team and facilitate getting things done to benefit residents and NYCHA.
There are a lot of great people that live here, and even though we get bad press at times about repairs and things which are challenges, we also have people like myself who have struggled through to get their kids through college, to get their kids after-school programs, get their kids whatever they need to go to the next level.
I would like to be part of the process to make people’s lives a little better with whatever it is we can do to facilitate the help. There are challenges, but it’s a great place to live.