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FIT Layoffs to Leave Dorm Staffers Without Homes or Jobs as President Keeps Penthouse

FIT’s Kaufman Hall on West 31st Street.
FIT’s Kaufman Hall on West 31st Street.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Thirteen residence hall staff at the public Fashion Institute of Technology will soon lose their jobs, homes and health insurance, after the number of students living on campus plummeted due to the pandemic, leading to roughly $32 million in lost revenue.

“The cost to support a full team is not financially viable at this time,” said Beth Mitchell, a spokesperson for FIT, a State University of New York campus in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the college’s president remains in a full-floor penthouse atop a now-empty Chelsea residence hall.

On Monday, FIT notified 13 staffers who work inside residence halls for a nonprofit affiliate, FIT Student Housing Corporation, that they will be laid off and be paid their full salaries through Nov. 30, Mitchell said.

Then by the end of the year, she added, health care coverage for those who have it will expire and staffers must move out of their apartments, which have been provided free of cost as part of their compensation.

FIT’s human resources personnel, said Mitchell, are providing support to staff “with regard to benefits, options, and strategies for dealing with this unfortunate situation.”

One staffer told THE CITY that the news has devastated workers, some of whom have families that depend on FIT for housing. With unemployment in New York City in the double digits, they are losing their homes and livelihoods heading into the winter.

“We’re not being pushed out — we’re being evicted,” said the worker, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution from FIT. “This is my primary residence. This is my home. There is no other home. There is no other alternative. It’s scary.”

Lonely at the Top

Normally, 2,300 students live on campus in one of four residence halls. Three of the dormitories — Coed, Nagler and Alumni — are located on West 27th Street at FIT’s campus. The fourth, Kaufman Hall on West 31st Street, is several blocks away.

Now, with only graduate students taking courses in person at FIT’s campus, less than one-tenth of that number of students is paying to live in FIT housing — all 220 of them in single rooms at Kaufman Hall.

FIT’s housing nonprofit owes bondholders more than $100 million after borrowing beginning in 2004 to transform a commercial building into Kaufman Hall, financial records show. Interest and principal payments due in the year ending June 2021 total more than $10 million. The corporation’s board voted earlier this month to request a restructuring of the bond payment schedule.

FIT’s Alumni Hall on West 27th Street, where the college president lives in a residence on the entire top floor.
FIT’s Alumni Hall on West 27th Street, where the college president lives in a residence on the entire top floor.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

But Alumni Hall still has one resident of note: Joyce Brown, FIT’s longtime president, is required to use the entirety of the top floor of Alumni Hall as her primary residence under her contract with the school, the spokesperson confirmed.

Public records show Brown received compensation worth $637,333 in the fiscal year ending in June 2019, with the apartment paid for by FIT. She additionally received nearly $45,000 through the Fashion Institute of Technology Foundation, a separate fundraising nonprofit.

Brown resides there even though she and her husband, former state comptroller and now-retired SUNY board chair Carl McCall, last year purchased a 45th-floor condominium overlooking the Hudson River on the Upper West Side for $3.4 million, property records indicate. Department of Finance records show McCall and Brown receive a tax abatement on the condo as a primary residence.

Fashion Institute of Technology President Dr. Joyce Brown.
Fashion Institute of Technology President Dr. Joyce Brown.
FIT

In 2001, as McCall readied a run for governor, The Village Voice reported that Brown spent more than half a million of the dollars — $295,000 of it paid for by the city and state-funded school, and the rest by FIT’s foundation — lavishly outfitting the 4,254-square-foot apartment, where she entertained fashion industry guests.

The worker, whose monthly income is a little more than $1,400, said that Brown “has forgotten what it means to be someone who works only part time.”

“I’d love to ask her what sacrifices she made during this time of need,” the worker said.

In April, the federal Small Business Administration approved FIT’s Student Housing Corporation for a Paycheck Protection Program loan between $150,000 and $350,000, federal records show.

The worker said that some of the laid off employees are pleading with FIT to allow them to remain in housing at least until the end of the academic year in May.

“Give us time to stand on our two feet and get out,” the worker said. “You can’t just leave us like this.”

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