From The Blog

Came for the Pool. Stayed Despite the Crime.

By Lindsay Holcomb   Malikah Shabazz is president of the Tenants Association at LeFrak City, a privately-owned housing complex in New York City...

By Lindsay Holcomb


Malikah Shabazz is president of the Tenants Association at LeFrak City, a privately-owned housing complex in New York City with 25,000 residents. Ms. Shabazz is 62 and has three children, one of whom now lives in LeFrak City with his three children. Though her kids grew up in LeFrak City during the 1980s, when the complex was plagued by theft and violent crime, Ms. Shabazz is proud to state that her children were uninvolved. Memories of this difficult period in many ways define Ms. Shabazz’s agenda for the Tenants Association, particularly her commitment to increasing activities and opportunities for children in LeFrak City. When I spoke to Ms. Shabazz, she was in Albany with some Queens City Council members advocating for increased funding for the Queens Public Library system, so that more resources can be directed to LeFrak City’s own public library.



LH: How long have you lived in LeFrak City?


MS: I’ve lived in LeFrak 41 years.


LH: Why did you first move to the complex? What attracted you to LeFrak City?


MS: You know, I was looking for an apartment, and a friend of mine where I used to live in Brooklyn recommended that I go and look at an apartment in LeFrak and said that she could be my referral. When I went, I applied for an apartment, and I was accepted. When I went there I was really impressed. And what impressed me most was the pool because we didn’t have a pool near our house in Brooklyn, so when I saw the pool, I was like this looks great for me. And I always wanted an apartment with a terrace, so that’s what made me really want to move to LeFrak City. So I just bought an apartment. I was young, I had my children, I just needed a nice place to live, and I got it in LeFrak.


LH: What year was that?


MS: That was 1976.


LH: What were some of the issues that were being discussed by tenants at that time?


MS: When I moved there, LeFrak City was the type of place – and it still is the type of place – where you don’t get to meet a lot of people because people have to go to work and people are busy. You could live there for years, and you only know the people who live right around you in the building, which was my case when I first got there. We’re talking about a place with 5,000 units and between 15,000 to 20,000 residents, so at the time I was just a young mom, hanging out in the park, taking care of my kids. I didn’t really move around that much or talk to too many people. I really just stayed to myself. For me, coming from where I was, it was really nice, and I just wanted to enjoy it. I didn’t have any complaints.


LH: Have you always lived in the same building in LeFrak?


MS: Yes.


LH: What building is it?


MS: Singapore Building.


LH: Is that building known for anything?


MS: It’s mostly seniors, and the apartments have big terraces. I look out at the playground, which I love.


LH: When you first moved there in the 70s and 80s, did you know any of the major organizers in LeFrak? I’ve read a lot about women named Edna Baskin and Helen Marshall, the Queens Borough President at the time. Are those names familiar?


MS: Yes, I knew Helen Marshall personally. I met her about 20 or 30 years ago because that’s when I started working as a volunteer in LeFrak. Some of my neighbors had her come and visit LeFrak and she came down and had an open forum with us. She was so nice. A very down to earth person. You know sometimes when you meet famous people you hear their name and you freeze up, but she was not that type of person. She was the type of person that you meet her, and you talk to her, and she’s like an aunt or a sister. And she loved food, so we connected.


LH: What were the types of issues that she was working on then?


MS: Well she was always very interested in libraries and education for the kids, so she pushed for more funding for the library in LeFrak City, and for school choice because LeFrak City is in two different neighborhoods. She did a lot of work in Elmhurst, Queens liaising with the community and the community board. LeFrak City, when I moved, it was Flushing, but then they re-zoned it, so it became Corona / Elmhurst. Helen really didn’t do that much with LeFrak City, though, because LeFrak City is independent. It sort of functions independently of Queens politics.


LH: When you first got involved in the Tenants Association what types of issues were you working on?


MS: I was a section leader. We used to just help people with whatever issues they had. If they had a problem in their apartment, we would try to get them the proper service and things like that. Then I became one of the board members because they were fundraising for the Tenants Association for different activities in the community, and I had experience doing some of the youth programming, helping the kids in LeFrak with their summer youth camp applications. We used to help out with the basketball tournament because my son, he grew up in the basketball tournament, and, you know, LeFrak City has a famous, famous basketball tournament. Basically whatever anyone needed we would try to help them in the right direction.


LH: What year did you become a section leader?


MS: I think it was 1989.


LH: During that period, LeFrak definitely got a lot of press for being something of a hotbed of crime. Was that the reality that you saw on the ground? Or do you think the press was exaggerating?


MS: Of course we had crime and things of that nature. It was pretty bad during the 80s, and even in the 90s we had a serious drug problem in the community. LeFrak was open in those days too. The gates that are there now weren’t there back then. The thing with LeFrak, though, is that it’s so huge, you wouldn’t necessarily know if something bad was going on. Of course, on your floor, around your apartment you would know if someone was coming to buy or sell drugs, but I was never in that type of environment where I associated with people who did things like that. Besides the drug problem, we had a lot of rapes, and a lot of murders, but you know, a lot of these things just happened and you never heard about it.


LH: What were some of the good things that were going on?


MS: As far as recreation, basketball was huge in LeFrak City, and it still is. We have a few players who became pro in the NBA and overseas. We have a few college coaches that have come out of LeFrak City. Like I said, my son grew up in the tournament. We have a lot of fun. We have barbeques, we have picnics, our family days are really big, it’s a real festive place. Back in the 80s there used to be even more. We used to have fish fries every Friday and there would be choruses singing for the kids on the holidays. So even though we had that bad element, that didn’t affect the good times that we had at LeFrak.