It seems that everyone in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, knows Delia Hunley-Adossa by her nickname, “Dee.” This driven, passionate 61-year-old grandmother was born in Brooklyn Hospital and has spent almost her entire life in the neighborhood, working tirelessly as an advocate for those in need, especially underprivileged youth. Today Dee is board president of the First Atlantic Terminal Housing Corp., a 211-unit Mitchell-Lama co-op in a pair of 15-story red-brick buildings a block from Barclays Center. The construction of that behemoth arena – and the Atlantic Yards project around it – was an epic Brooklyn gentrification brawl that left Dee battle scarred but unbowed. “I have been to hell and back,” she says. Emphasis on the back.
Since the smoke from that gentrification fight cleared in 2010, Dee has, with the help of her eight fellow board members, transformed an unruly, bickering, and destitute co-op into a thriving operation that has the feel of an extended family. “I have been active in the community all my life,” says Dee, one of four kids of a businessman father and a mother who worked as a hospital technician. “That’s something my grandmother taught me: you should always give back. When you’re blessed, reach out your hand and pull somebody else up. To me it’s a mandate. If somebody helps me, I must help others.”
Dee and her husband, Norman Adossa, moved into this Mitchell-Lama complex in 1979, two years after the buildings opened, eager for a bigger home to raise their three daughters. After Dee served several stints on the co-op board, her neighborhood activism got its sternest test beginning in 2003 when Forest City Ratner announced its controversial plan to develop the massive Atlantic Yards project – a project that split the neighborhood between those welcoming development and those resisting gentrification. “Initially I was on the opposing side because that was the common thing to do,” Dee says. “But then I put two and two together, and I got 22 instead of four. I said: ‘It’s inevitable, folks! This is a blighted neighborhood, and we need this. We need to know what’s coming, and we should mandate that Ratner give back to the community.’”
Dee helped put together the Atlantic Terminal Housing Group, which crafted a Community Benefits Agreement to ensure Ratner would give and not just get – particularly to youth groups, environmental education, and minority contractors. For this, she was vilified as a sell-out. Instead of giving up, she decided to run in the Democratic primary for city council in 2009 – with Ratner’s backing – against the powerful incumbent, Letitia James, a staunch opponent of Atlantic Yards who is now state attorney general. The campaign got ugly, and James prevailed.
Even some of Dee’s fellow shareholders fought her, though she had successfully demanded that Ratner buy air-conditioners for the co-op that filtered dust particles caused by the construction. The brutal battle over Atlantic Yards had its bright side. “It was one of the best educations I ever got,” Dee says. “I learned that I’m not a politician, I’m just an advocate for my people.”
Back From the Brink
When she rejoined the board in 2010, the Atlantic Terminal co-op was on the brink of financial ruin. There were thousands of dollars of uncollected maintenance, mandatory reports were not filed with the city, and the buildings were drowning in fines. Unpaid bills to vendors were piling up. Lenders shunned the place.
“Some of the same shareholders who denigrated me when I ran for city council now begged me to come back to the co-op board,” Dee says. “I said to them: ‘Do you remember some of the things you said and did? And now you have the audacity to ask me?’” But Dee, as always, started to look at the problem in a pragmatic way. “It took a lot of convincing to talk me into it,” she says, “But I had to be a realist. I live here, too, and I care.”
She created a spreadsheet with 251 items that had to be addressed. Today she is down to 41 items, and the co-op has the funds to tackle them all, thanks to Dee’s tenacity and ingenuity. “I like bartering,” she says. “It’s the old-fashioned way to get what you need.” When she heard that the city had set aside $250 million to persuade Mitchell-Lamas to remain affordable for 20 more years and not go to market-rate sales, she was one of the first to apply for a loan. “I signed off on the $10 million loan on May 18 of last year,” Dee says. “Two years prior to being approved, I was on a conference call every week with HPD, HDC, HUD, architects, engineers, attorneys, accountants, managers, really everybody, until the city finally approved the loan.”
Somehow, Dee finds time to serve as president of the 88th Precinct’s Community Council, overseeing numerous youth programs. She has also served on the Neighborhood Advisory Board and Brooklyn Community Board 2. “I couldn’t ask for a better Community Council president,” says Captain Lashonda Dyce, commanding officer of the 88th Precinct. “She is seasoned, professional, energetic, and filled with wisdom.”
Vincent Lattimore, the co-op board’s vice president, adds, “I’m like, wow. I don’t know where she gets the energy to do it all. I learn from her every day; her knowledge is just overwhelming. If I were the president of the board, I couldn’t do a fraction of what she’s doing.”