Residents of the Frederick Douglass Houses and neighboring buildings came out in force on Monday night to learn about a plan to lease land in the housing project to private developers interested in building market-rate apartments. The three buildings built on the site are expected to bring in money that could pay for upgrades to the projects, NYCHA says.
The Frederick Douglass projects stretch from 100th to 104th streets. The new developments would be built on top of parking lots, a garden and a play area.
From people who were there, we hear that residents in the area were mostly upset about NYCHA’s plans. In fact, the Community Board’s Nick Prigo called the meeting “epic” and said he’d never seen so many people at a committee meeting.
NYCHA representatives have been aggressive at meetings on the UWS and Lower East Side, essentially saying that the projects won’t get fixed up (there’s a huge repair backlog)if this deal with developers isn’t passed. Actually, they’re now threatening even more: that the existing project buildings will be demolished. “We have to come up with creative ways to come up with funding for public housing,” said Brian Honan, NYCHA’s director of State and City Legislative Affairs, according to DNAinfo. “Otherwise we’re not going to be talking about new buildings, we’re going to be talking about demolishing buildings.” NYCHA Commissioner Margarita Lopez told residents at a Lower East Side meeting to “shut up” if they couldn’t offer a better idea to fund repairs.
Of course, this is the same NYCHA that can’t seem to account for nearly $1 billion in federal funds it was supposed to spend on repairs and other services for project residents, as the Daily News reported last year. In fact, NYCHA’s finances are quite funky indeed: the city charges NYCHA about $75 million a year for police services, a tactic that some legislators have been trying to get overturned (and that could help fill the agency’s budget gap). NYCHA’s board members are paid nearly $200,000 a year, the Daily News found.
NYCHA also has made only a half-hearted commitment to actually spending the money earned through the leasing program on repairs: “The majority of this incremental revenue is designated for transfer from the operating budget to the capital budget to enable critical capital work at NYCHA’s public housing buildings,” the agency said in its five-year operating plan.
Many of the Douglass Houses residents who attended the meeting were aghast at the plan — among other issues, some were upset that the proposed buildings would face the street instead of the projects, so that the people living in market-rate apartments don’t have to look at the poor people. Upper West Sider Sue Susman put together an account of the meeting based on notes by attendees. We’ve pasted it below:
Karen Smith and some other folks have given me summaries of the Community Board 7 meeting on NYCHA’s proposal – as well as of a workshop that speaker Victor Bach participated in last weekend. Below is a summary that combines them, largely using Karen Smith’s words, with some editing and re-organizing on my part.
The Community Board 7 meeting was packed, with many NYCHA tenants from Frederick Douglass Houses – one of the 8 developments slated for private development under the “Infill” program. (Filling in NYCHA developments’ open spaces!)
The issue: NYCHA wants to lease public land to private developers to construct highly profitable buildings smack dab in the middle of what is now playgrounds, parking lots, and other open space. This is the very open space that during the War on Poverty, was touted as “Towers in the Park,” the progressive, healthier alternative to jamming all buildings together. Read the details of the proposal (at least those released so far) in City Limits.
Victor Bach, a senior housing analyst at the Community Services Society, spoke . He works with a group called the “New York City Alliance to Preserve Public Housing” made up of residents of public housing, activists, policy people and sympathetic politicians on all levels of Government.
He gave some background about the “In-Fill” program, which for the last 5 years has been going after “underutilized” NYCHA property sites for private development. The stated goal is to raise funds to pay for the structural financial deficits of the NYCHA program, in such projects as St. Nick’s in Harlem where the playground and park was sold to Jeffrey Canada’s group (the Harlem Children’s Zone) for the development of a charter school, and other projects in the outer boroughs. ( I believe that NYCHA residents were originally promised priority in seats at that school, but that didn’t materialize. If you have different information, please let me know. – Sue)
Just a couple of weeks ago, John Rhea, the Chair of NYCHA announced “Plan NYCHA”, an escalation of the “Infill Program” which intends to offer for sale to private developers 15 sites in 8 NYCHA projects, 5 on the lower east side, 2 in Harlem, and 1 on the Upper West Side (with more in the future) to create economic value in NYCHA developments and to deal with the accelerating deterioration of conditions in NYCHA projects. Currently there is a $60-70 million dollar structural deficit, and $6-7 billion dollars needed in capital improvements, all occurring at a time of decreased federal funds.
NOTE [from Karen Smith] : NYCHA pays the City One hundred MILLION DOLLARS yearly for the following (which could be ended by the Mayor with a stroke of his pen. $75 million is paid to the City for Police services (policing is provided to private landlord for free) $23 million is paid in taxes (despite the fact that the NYCHA residents pay individual taxes to the City) $1 million dollars for Sanitation pick ups
Frederick Douglass residents and others in the same boat need technical assistance about this proposal – some of which they’re getting from Legal Aid and other lawyers, and from the NYC Alliance to Preserve Public Housing.
While the new development would probably result in increased financial resources for NYCHA, most residents are opposed to ceding their public space to private developers. Those buildings proposed by NYCHA for Frederick Douglass Houses would have entrances facing outside, away from the NYCHA buildings – so some Frederick Douglass Houses residents asked if the NYCHA buildings would have the word “Coloreds” and the luxury housing “Whites.”
Right now, the process has to be slowed down (or better yet stopped) while the residents demand their share of the $15 million fund NYCHA holds for tenant organizations to get assistance. That money can be used to hire lawyers and other experts in formulating plans on how the residents want to proceed. This request must go to NYCHA for its approval and groups need to be advised of it and someone has to monitor that NYCHA honors the requests quickly.
A request for proposals is expected to be released next month. Before that, there will be another meeting at the Douglass Houses. We received this from Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has not responded to our requests for comment on the proposal. It’s not clear if she supports it.
Next Thursday, March 21, from 6:30 to 9:30 PM, NYCHA will be at the Douglass Community Center/Children’s Aid Society (885 Columbus Avenue on 104th Street) to speak about their infill development proposal of three sites affecting Douglass Houses residents:
- West 104th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus (Parking Lot)
- West 100th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus (Parking Lot, Garden and Play Area)
- Manhattan Avenue between West 101st & 102nd Streets (Parking Lot)