By Jeff Mays
MANHATTAN — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and other local officials are calling on the New York City Housing Authority to include more community input in its land development projects and long-term strategic planning.
The City Council's Committee on Public Housing recently held a hearing on the topic and Stringer, a supporter of a plan to build a charter school on open space at St. Nicholas Houses, said the process needs to change.
“I still remain committed to reforming the process by which NYCHA develops its land," Stringer said. "We renew our call for a consistent, long-term strategy for the disposition of NYCHA property."
NYCHA does not have to follow the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure when seeking to build developments, only needing permission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development because it is a federally funded agency.
Stringer, in his 2008 report titled "Land Rich, Pocket Poor," said NYCHA has 30.5 million square feet of space that can be developed in Manhattan, an amount equivalent to 35,000 units of housing or 11 Empire State Buildings.
About 85 percent of NYCHA's unused development rights are concentrated in Central and East Harlem, the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side. Approximately 14.1 million square feet of developable space is in Central and East Harlem.
W. Franc Perry, chair of Community Board 10, said the lack of input is one of the reasons the board objected to the Harlem Children's Zone charter school plan. Included in the NYCHA study for the school was a 13-story, 200 unit residential building on St. Nicholas grounds.
Perry said there should be community involvement if a project of that scope was being considered.
"We are not opposed to development in general but we want a more meaningful process for community engagement," said Paimaan Lodhi, district manager for Community Board 10. "Currently the process is to consult with the community and NYCHA reads that as informing the community of their plans."
NYCHA officials say there are no immediate plans to build the structure.
Steven Love, NYCHA federal relations director, told the Council committee that the agency must dispose of some of its property in order to meet current and future housing needs. NYCHA has struggled with a budget deficit since 2001.
"Disposition affords the opportunity to develop new housing or facilities that better serve existing residents or allow for more New Yorkers to take advantage of these benefits," Love said at the hearing.
In his report, Stringer recommended that NYCHA develop a long-term plan for using development rights with site-specific proposals.
"With public property we want to make sure that when space is used for something else or sold that it's done appropriately with all accountability and transparency," said Councilman Robert Jackson. "Where necessary, we should have consensus of people in the district who will be affected."