HARLEM — The neighborhood’s community gardens now have two strong allies in their fight against the Department of Housing Preservation and Development's plan to turn the plots into affordable housing buildings.
Council Member Inez Dickens and Community Board 10 issued letters of support for the gardens that are on a list of vacant lots that may be converted into developments.
“It’s huge,” said John McBride, a member of the Electric Ladybug Garden on 237 West 111 St. “I think this is a big moment in Harlem in terms of really looking at the value of community gardens as something that provide huge benefits to the community rather than just a garden that is biding its time waiting for a building development.”
Under their current agreement, HPD reserves the right to use the green space to build affordable housing developments. McBride, who agreed to that condition before planting, believes HPD should build on other vacant lots in Harlem.
He and members of the garden have been reaching out to elected officials and going to community board meetings for their support since the list was published in January, he said.
“I am advocating for these gardens to be removed from the recent list of sites … until my community has been presented with detailed comprehensive housing plan that includes substantial benefits of affordability that is income targeted for my constituents,” said Dickens’ letter to HPD Commissioner Vicki Been.
Strong support for community gardens seems to be making a difference. HPD is reviewing each garden and has not made any decisions on their future, according to a statement from the agency.
"We encourage neighborhood driven efforts to improve the quality of life in our communities," a spokeswoman said.
"That is why we have been engaging the various stakeholders throughout the process, looking at each neighborhood’s affordable housing needs and the benefits each garden is providing to make sure we are maximizing the value of every site for area residents. This continues to be a deliberative process and no decisions have yet been made.”
CB 10 voted unanimously to support the gardens, after a tour on Tuesday.
“The Electric Ladybug Garden is a phenomenal garden,” board second vice chair Brian Benjamin said. “I was blown away. It was incredible. It’s beyond just a garden, there is a community there.”
Harlem residents use the garden to grow fresh vegetables, teach their children where their food comes from, and take a small break from city life. The vacant lot has become a place where people who have lived in Harlem for generations and those who moved in recently can come together, he added.
Harlem residents should not be forced to pick between green spaces and affordable housing, the city councilwoman said.
“Let me be clear that we can still have a win-win: The preservation of active community gardens and the creation of new affordable housing that benefits the residents of our city,” reads Dickens' letter.