UPPER WEST SIDE — The New York City Housing Authority is moving ahead with plans to convert three parking lots at the Frederick Douglass Houses into luxury developments even as the local community board is calling for a moratorium to slow down the process.
Community Board 7's housing committee on Monday approved the moratorium on the authority's issuance of a request for proposals from interested developers, an attempt to delay it long enough for the community to weigh in on the plan.
The board, an all-volunteer local advisory group, does not have the power to halt the RFP process.
NYCHA said it will issue an RFP by the end of April or the beginning of May. The authority has insisted that it has sought feedback on its plan, which it said would provide a critical funding stream for maintaining existing public housing and would not displace any current residents.
"We interpret the community engagement to be pervasive," said Fred Harris, executive vice president for development at NYCHA, who said the authority was going beyond what was required in terms of meeting and talking with the community.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, whose authorization NYCHA ultimately needs to enact its plan, only requires community engagement after an RFP has been issued, Harris said.
He claimed NYCHA has started that process much earlier.
But residents at the meeting bristled at the idea that simply hearing about the plan from NYCHA officials was tantamount to meaningful engagement and dialogue.
"I’m concerned about whether the public input will really be heard or whether it will be a perfunctory hearing," said resident Emily Margolis.
Harris responded that there hasn't been a lot of input beyond general negativity so far on the Douglass Houses plan.
"I will tell you that we are trying to get information and if the content of the feedback is simply, 'Don’t do this,' 'We hate you,' 'Go away,' it’s very difficult for me to incorporate that," he said.
Others pointed to the problems between residents and NYCHA in the past.
"There’s a real culture of distrust. The people who have lived in these buildings have put up with a huge amount of issues," said resident Peter Arndtsen.
Arndsten asked whether NYCHA representatives if the authority would consider having a community advisory board, but they declined to commit.
While the housing committee acknowledged that the need for a solution to NYCHA's billions of dollars in funding shortfall was desperately needed, board members voiced concern about Frederick Douglass residents living through construction and reduced green space, among other things.
To make up the lost parking spaces, "paths and some green space is now going to be converted to parking spaces," said NYCHA Deputy Director Katherine Gray.
Neighbors of the proposed development worried that the influx new residents living in the new buildings would strain existing resources on schools, hospitals and public transportation.
"We should know better by now," said board member Marisa Maack. "If you are having a purposeful development going forward, you have to make sure there’s capacity at those [local] schools."
Before it issues an RFP to developers, NYCHA will hold one more meeting with the community, a "roundtable" discussion with residents on April 17 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. with the location to be determined. A timeline of the plan can be found here and comments on the plan submitted here.