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Plan to Build Market-Rate High-Rise in Housing Project Draws Anger

By Emily Frost | March 12, 2013 6:14pm | Updated on March 13, 2013 6:54am

UPPER WEST SIDE — The plan to place market-rate high-rise apartments on the open space and playgrounds in a public housing complex drew fire from residents at a meeting with a New York City Housing Authority representative Monday night. 

Residents of the Frederick Douglass Houses, between 100th Street and 104th Street and between Amsterdam and Manhattan avenues, their neighbors and community leaders are seething over a NYCHA plan to create three market-rate high rise developments, with 20 percent of the units categorized as affordable, on the premises.

The plan would help raise money for the cash-strapped authority.

On Monday night, Community Board 7's meeting room on West 87th Street and Broadway was at capacity; people spread out on the floor, leaned on walls and filled every seat, eager to develop a plan to fight NYCHA's plan and to hear more details from Brian Honan, NYCHA's director of State and City Legislative Affairs.

At times, the tension in the room boiled over.

"Those are our playgrounds!” one resident cried out. 

"NYCHA is running roughshod over us," Madeline Innocent, who said her family moved into Frederick Douglass in 1957. "We need to stick together regardless of how we feel about each other."

Honan tried to cool tempers by asking people to keep an open mind saying the plan might not be the authority's first choice to close an operating budget deficit projected to be $13 million in 2013.

"We have to come up with creative ways to come up with funding for public housing," said Honan, "otherwise we’re not going to be talking about new buildings, we’re going to be talking about demolishing buildings."

In its 5-Year Operating Plan for 2013 through 2017, NYCHA explains a revenue generating policy it refers to as "infill," which began in 2012 and involves redeveloping 15 to 20 public housing sites in Manhattan.

"NYCHA anticipates that [redevelopment] leases will be signed and produce income in 2014. This Plan includes Land Lease Strategy revenues of $16 million in 2015 growing to $32 million in 2016-2017," the operating plan states.  

A major point of contention among those assembled for the meeting was how much of the revenue generated by the redevelopment would go towards a growing backlog of repairs and improvements needed at Frederick Douglass Houses. 

"This whole notion that this development will give money to the houses is BS," yelled out one attendee. 

The operating plan states that it "dedicates the majority of projected cash flow of $12 million in 2015 and $28 million in 2016-2017 to perform needed capital work at its public housing buildings," but it does not go into greater detail.

Victor Bach, a senior housing policy analyst at the non-profit Community Service Society, said his organization is "urging resident leaders in targeted developments to mobilize their resources," and "to obtain legal representation" and reminded everyone that NYCHA must get approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before it moves forward.

Though Bach encouraged residents to organize, he said his organization is not taking a stand on the plan.

"There are benefits that come with development," he said. "Public housing in new housing, slots in schools, construction jobs that are going to be generated by the redevelopment process, expanded maintenance operations in the buildings, and other community benefits."

Honan said that NYCHA is trying to work with residents and had already slowed down its process by a month, moving the deadline for issuing the Request for Proposals from March to the end of April. He added that there would be meetings with stakeholders throughout the summer and fall.

"We need to remain focused. The residents have stated they do not want the new construction. It’s an affront to have an RFP go out," said Vicky Gholson, a member of Community Board 9. 

Some Community Board 7 members decried what they see as a trend towards privatizing public resources on the Upper West Side, including the DOE's redevelopment plans for P.S 199 and P.S. 191. 

"The density is getting to a point where you get no daylight because it’s just so dense," said Linda Wood-Guy, a representative from State Senator Bill Perkins' office. 

NYCHA representatives will meet with community members on March 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Children's Aid Society's Frederick Douglass Center at 885 Columbus Avenue at 104th Street.