Public Housing Tenants Sue Over NYCHA's Plan for Luxury High-Rises

By Serena Solomon on November 12, 2013 2:24pm | Updated on November 12, 2013 3:20pm

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

CITY HALL — Tenants at five public housing developments are suing the New York City Housing Authority over the cash-strapped agency's plan to let developers build luxury apartments on public land.

The tenants associations at five of the eight developments that will be affected by NYCHA's controversial land lease plan filed a lawsuit Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court to prevent NYCHA from leasing land to developers to build 4,000 new apartments. The plan would bring in millions of dollars for NYCHA, replacing playgrounds, parking lots and community centers with high-rises.

The lawsuit claims NYCHA failed to complete necessary environmental and floodplain reviews before it submitted a request for expressions of interest to developers in August, breaking state and federal laws. An RFEI is a preliminary step before NYCHA issues a request for proposals and ultimately chooses the developers.

"It is clear that NYCHA decided to forego necessary environmental reviews in order to speed up its land lease program," said Harvey Epstein, director of the community development project at the Urban Justice Center.

"In the process, it violated state and federal laws by issuing a Request for Expressions of Interest to luxury developers and therefore should not be allowed to move forward with leasing land at public housing sites."

Along with the Urban Justice Center, the New York Environmental Law & Justice Project is assisting with the lawsuit on behalf of five NYCHA tenants associations: Smith Houses, Meltzer Towers and Campos Plaza on the Lower East Side, and Washington and Carver houses in East Harlem.

Tenants at Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side and Frederick Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side filed a separate lawsuit against NYCHA in October. Another Lower East Side complex, LaGuardia Houses, will also be affected by NYCHA's proposal.

A spokeswoman for NYCHA said the agency had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

"It's unfortunate that there is any attempt to block a proposal that would generate significant revenue for the New York City Housing Authority — money that would go directly into developments and capital improvements for NYCHA residents," said NYCHA spokeswoman Sheila Stainback.

NYCHA's plan would allow developers to sign 99-year leases for public space and could generate $50 million annually for the agency to help fund $13.4 billion in much-needed capital improvements, according to its website.

Aixa Torres, the president of the Smith Houses tenant association, said NYCHA has yet to assure her that the buildings in her Lower East Side complex that were inundated with floodwater during Hurricane Sandy could withstand the nearby development proposed by the plan.

"The purpose of this lawsuit is to bring justice to all public housing residents and save our homes," she said in a statement Tuesday.

"NYCHA's land lease program will destroy affordable housing for low-income families, truly making this a tale of two cities," she added.

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