Furious Residents Slam NYCHA Plan for Private High-Rises at Annual Meeting

By Serena Solomon on July 25, 2013 8:55am 

 Young residents of the city's public housing projects protested NYCHA's plan to lease land to private developers.
Young residents of the city's public housing projects protested NYCHA's plan to lease land to private developers.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

LOWER MANHATTAN — An annual New York City Housing Authority public hearing Wednesday drew hundreds of residents furious over the authority's plan to lease public housing land to private developers.

Tenant after tenant slammed the proposal, which would build 4,000 apartments in new high-rises at eight public housing projects, replacing playgrounds, parking lots and community centers. 

"NYCHA has in no way considered our point of view or collaborated with us on this plan," Carmen Negron, a resident of the Lower East Side's Baruch Houses for the past 43 years, told a board of NYCHA officials at Pace University in Lower Manhattan.

Baruch Houses will have some parking spaces and part of a children's playground replaced with 794 apartments as part of NYCHA's infill plan, which would offer developers 99-year leases for public space and could generate $50 million annually for the cash-strapped agency, NYCHA representatives said. The goal is to help fund the $13.4 billion shortfall for capital improvements throughout NYCHA's 344 developments across the city.

The annual public hearing, which gave NYCHA residents a chance to comment on the department’s 2014 priority plan draft, also drew hostility related to a host of other issues, including the huge backlog of repairs for apartments and security issues in the complexes.

NYCHA officials listened during the hours-long hearing but did not respond directly to the concerns, though representatives said the board would take the feedback into consideration in finalizing the priority plan.

At the hearing, Negron and others also spoke out against what they saw as a lack of communication from NYCHA, complaining that they found out about the infill plan through media reports.

“We have been steamrolled,” she said, adding that residents fear the plan brings New York's public housing "one step closer to going private and [residents] being homeless."

The NYCHA infill plan would seek developers to build in areas that the agency has deemed "underutilized space"" Campos Plaza in the East Village; the Washington Houses and Carver Houses in Harlem; the Frederick Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side; and the Smith Houses, LaGuardia Houses, Meltzer Tower and Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side.

 Councilwoman Rosie Mendez spoke alongside Councilwomen Margaret Chin and Melissa Mark-Viverito at NYCHA's annual public hearing.
Councilwoman Rosie Mendez spoke alongside Councilwomen Margaret Chin and Melissa Mark-Viverito at NYCHA's annual public hearing.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

NYCHA is aiming to sign leases with developers in 2014. At least 20 percent of the new apartments will be affordable housing, and the new buildings could also include commercial and community space.

Jane Wisdom, who lives in the Frederick Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side, said that even though she would like to see repairs to the complex's broken windows and leaking walls, she will not support the infill plan, which would take over parking lots.

"There are too many unanswered question and it seems NYCHA is determined to move forward despite residents' opposition," Wisdom said.

Elected officials and mayoral candidates also spoke out against the proposal, saying that NYCHA would have more money for much-needed repairs if the city stopped charging the agency extra money for basic services such as sanitation and policing. These are services NYCHA residents say they already pay for in their taxes, like every other city resident.

"If NYCHA can recapture over $100 million annually — double the amount projected to be generated by the infill under the most optimistic of scenarios — this money can be reinvested in frontline repairs and critical upgrade," Councilwomen Margaret Chin, Rosie Mendez and Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote in a joint statement at the public hearing.

For Dereese Huff, tenant association president at Campos Plaza in the East Village, the infill plan would mean the loss of a basketball court that hosts more than just sports.

"It is where we have our community events — our baby showers, birthday parties, Fourth of July, Labor Day," Huff said. "It keeps our kids outside — it keeps them out of trouble."

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