EDGEMERE — Nearly 50 years ago, while living in a rodent-infested apartment in the South Bronx, Lolita P. Miller sent along a plea to the city's Housing Authority.
Desperate for a change, she attached a photo of her two young children along with her housing application and begged to be rescued from her Vyse Avenue home, where she feared her babies would get bitten by mice.
She found her haven at the Ocean Bay Apartments, then called the Edgemere Houses, a 24-unit complex stretch along Jamaica Bay between Beach 58th and Beach 51st streets.
At the time, the buildings were only a few years old, part of thousands of NYCHA apartment units built on the peninsula.
Miller, now 71, raised all seven of her children inside an apartment in the complex, which she says was a peaceful, beautiful place to live. Neighbors and employees of the complex would watch her kids when she went to the store. They played in the nearby park, with views of the bay and the rest of the city.
"My kids would play in the sprinklers," on the playgrounds at the complex, she said.
Through the years, though, she watched change come slowly to her little community.
"I've been living here when it was nice," she said. "I see it deteriorating."
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Fewer funds from the federal government and repairs piling up from NYCHA over the last 20 years turned her former haven into an often dangerous place to be, she said.
But a change is coming to Ocean Bay, with the start of a new public/private partnership expected to introduce better management and necessary improvements to the development.
The 24-building complex is the first NYCHA housing unit in the city to utilize the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, a federal scheme designed to improve the country's public housing.
In New York City, its implementation is called Permanent Affordability Commitment Together, or PACT.
NYCHA still owns the land and will have major oversight of Ocean Bay. But there's new management under a public/private partnership comprised of MDG Design + Construction, Wavecrest Management Team, the Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation and Catholic Charities.
Apartments will be renovated with residents remaining inside, and leases are now transferred to a Section 8 contract to ensure rents remain affordable.
“Families depend on NYCHA to make necessary repairs and protect public housing for future generations,” NYCHA chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said in a press release announcing the transfer, which took place on Dec. 29, 2016.
The program ”will not only fund desperately needed repairs at the Ocean Bay Development, but strengthen and preserve almost 1,400 permanently affordable housing units for future generations,” she added.
“This type of innovative partnership presents an opportunity to ensure the long-term affordability and future of our developments.”
Ocean Bay. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)
The partnership is an early step in the city’s NextGen NYCHA commitment, but there’s a lot of work ahead for those who are now overseeing the day-to-day operations at Ocean Bay.
Juan Roman, the complex’s new property manager, toured the sprawling grounds just days before the new year and found security issues, major infrastructure problems — and a lot of trash.
Compactors in each of the buildings were backed up almost seven floors, requiring extra help from the city's Sanitation Department just to clear the garbage, Roman said.
“There was trash throughout the whole complex,” he said.
That was in addition to the boiler room doors that were broken into by squatters, the elevators in many of the buildings breaking down and mold in apartment bathrooms.
And early Monday, just two weeks into the job and the PACT partnership, power went out throughout the complex, affecting heat and water for all of the residents.
While they're still investigating the cause, a lot of the longstanding issues connect back to poor maintenance, like the old boilers and radiators that have gone years without necessary work, Roman said.
The PACT construction will include major fixes for these problems, including rooftop boilers on each of the buildings.
There will also be roof replacements, brand-new elevators, and security upgrades — including new cameras, improved lighting and major security upgrades, according to NYCHA.
And every apartment will get a complete renovation, with new cabinets and appliances.
"We need the change,” Miller, who took part in years of roundtable discussions facilitated by NYCHA to let residents know about the future of Ocean Bay, said.
“The change must come. These are old buildings, old radiators, old stoves and fridges.”
The improved lighting and security will hopefully discourage some of Ocean Bay’s crime, often centered around gangs, she and others said.
In the early and mid-2000s, gang rivalries would often flare up between residents and the nearby Ocean Village, or O.V., now known as Arverne View. Although the crime has quieted, Ocean Bay and other NYCHA developments nearby remain a center of drug and gang crimes.
Roman said he hoped all of the residents would get behind the positive changes.
“It’s a difficult change for a lot of people,” he said. “It’s still a process.”
Councilman Donovan Richards, who worked with residents and NYCHA during the RAD process, said most issues from residents came from a fear of being priced out of their homes.
“Once you start hearing private management and privatization, to me it sometimes sends a message of displacement. Are they going to come in and invest all this money and kick people out?” he said.
He was relieved to know NYCHA would stay on, with major oversight and control. A promise to hire locally — with 20 constituents so far put to work — also turned him around on RAD.
“With the shortage of fed investment with NYCHA, how are we going to fix the issues?” he said.
Boiler issues filled the lobby of one Ocean Bay apartment building with steam —causing the ceiling to collapse. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)
NYCHA officials estimated the needed repairs at Ocean Bay would cost the city $174 million over the next 20 years.
Under the PACT, private dollars will fund the improvements — it's estimated to take three years for major changes to be completed.
For Miller, she'd also like to see an improved community center for children and seniors, safer stairwells and a garden — which she had years ago, growing a bounty of fruits and vegetables.
"It's going to be awesome," she said. "And I'm going to feel great because I was a part of it."