UPPER WEST SIDE — The Frederick Douglass Houses' tenants association has joined in a lawsuit along with the City Council and another public housing complex to halt the New York City Housing Authority's plan to develop luxury housing on their property.
Tenants from the Upper West Side housing development, as well as the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side, oppose the plan to construct more than a dozen new high-rises filled with luxury apartments on current NYCHA land.
The suit, filed in state Supreme Court on Oct. 10, claims that NYCHA is "unilaterally moving forward" with the development plans "without legal authorization to do so, and without pausing to meet the minimum procedural requirements imposed by federal, state, and city law."
The residents enlisted the help of the Legal Aid Society and law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler to represent them in the case.
NYCHA has said the revenue-generating plan is critical to help fill the agency's $13.4 billion shortfall.
Under the Land Lease Plan, developers would build 14 new towers for 4,000 luxury apartments on land currently housing playgrounds, community centers and parking lots across eight Manhattan NYCHA developments.
The parties are asking for a judge to halt the RFEI process before the deadline, because once a developer is chosen it will be harder to stop the redevelopment process, explained CB7 Chairman Mark Diller at a housing committee meeting Monday night.
The rationale behind the lawsuit centers around three points, Diller told residents and the housing committee.
"The argument is that luxury housing is not the same thing as affordable housing," and the land was set aside for that purpose under state law, he said.
Secondly, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states that "any significant modification of an existing plan would also require [prior] approval," said Diller, forcing NYCHA to go through the city's public land use review process, ULURP, and thereby stalling and possibly halting the plan.
Finally, the lawsuit argues that the City Council is "the ultimate arbiter" in these decisions and legally should have the opportunity to review the plan, he said.
In the estimation of Diller, himself an attorney, the arguments are "not bad, but they’re not slam dunks."
Legal Aid, which did not respond to request for comment, is also planning to bring forward a second lawsuit representing the other six developments, Diller said.
In a statement, NYCHA said: "It’s unfortunate that the City Council is attempting to block a proposal that would generate significant revenue for the New York City Housing Authority — money that would go directly into developments and repairs for residents. NYCHA has heard significant interest from developers and looks forward to receiving their proposals next month.”