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NYCHA Meeting at Frederick Douglass Turns Hostile as Residents Get Shut Out

By Emily Frost | March 22, 2013 12:33pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — A meeting held by NYCHA at the Frederick Douglass Houses to explain the agency's plan to redevelop three parking lots on the campus into market-rate housing turned hostile Thursday night when residents locked out of the packed room began pounding on the doors to get inside.

Several hundred people filled the room at the Children's Aid Society on Columbus Avenue and 104th Street, with at least a few dozen people locked out of the meeting because of space constraints. As NYCHA's presentation got underway, a loud and persistent banging on the door to the auditorium interrupted the speakers.

“You should have had a bigger room,” one resident shouted out. “To leave half of Douglass outside waiting is bulls--t.” 

And as the banging continued, NYCHA Environmental Coordinator Margarita Lopez, announced, “If you need to call the police, call the police.” 

The banging eventually subsided and those turned away from entering the meeting departed, but a current of tension ran throughout the rest of the presentation.

Residents were angry that the meeting took place in such a small venue given the importance of the issue and the proximity to larger meeting spaces in school auditoriums nearby.

"You just don’t plan effectively or efficiently," said resident Idelesse Santiago. "This is why we can’t trust you guys."

Residents peppered the meeting with comments like, "Why don’t you tell us something we don’t know,” during an extensive section on the backstory of how NYCHA got into financial trouble through years of federal funding cuts. 

Others were frustrated by the length of NYCHA's presentation and eager to get to the public-comment section, in which microphones had to be almost forcibly removed from some residents' hands. 

“Douglass residents, this presentation is a ploy to bore you to death, so don’t leave," one resident yelled out. 

Lopez tried to impress upon the crowd the enormity of the crisis. 

"Douglass Houses in the next five years needs $192 million in capital improvements. Only $17.4 million worth of improvements are planned for the next five years," she said.

The three new developments proposed would take over three parking lots at Frederick Douglass Houses with buildings, 80 percent of whose apartments would be market rate and 20 percent would be designated as affordable units, available to Douglass residents, according to NYCHA. Affordable is defined as a family of four making less than $51,540. 

Lopez reassured residents repeatedly that no resident parking spaces would be lost and that new parking locations would be in place before construction began.

Fred Harris, vice president of real estate development for NYCHA, said the rent the agency will receive for the land could be used to pay for a back-up generator to prevent elevator, heat, water and security equipment failures during power outages.

Resident Abigail McGloucester said she wanted to see the revenue from the new buildings go towards improving Frederick Douglass Houses, adding that "the elevators are constantly out on a daily basis."

Lopez assured the crowd that money generated from the new buildings at Frederick Douglass would first go towards improvements on the campus before being used elsewhere. 

"Once we finish doing what we need to do here then those dollars need to be used in other houses. We need to save every single building in NYCHA," Lopez said.

But Jane Wisdom, a tenant's association leader at Frederick Douglass, had a different viewpoint.

"We need to have a forum to discuss what we want and then we will tell them," said Wisdom.