The lot above in the Douglass Houses would be one of the sites available to developers to build new apartments. Image via NYCHA.

The city’s quest to build market-rate apartment towers on public housing land — including three possible new buildings at the Frederick Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side — moved forward on Friday.

The New York City Housing Authority released a Request for Expressions of Interest on Friday asking developers for ideas to build at the Douglass Towers and seven other projects in Manhattan. NYCHA says the leases will “initially” raise money to fix apartments in the projects where they are located (they don’t say what happens after the initial repairs are made) and cover budget shortfalls caused in part by a drop in federal aid. In total, the plan could add 4,000 apartments to NYCHA land in the city — 80% of the apartments would be market rate and 20% would be set aside for people making 50% or less of area median income.

The plan drew lots of controversy when it came out. At the Douglass Houses, which stretches from 100th to 104th street from Amsterdam to Manhattan Avenues, the new buildings would be built on land that is now used for parking, a resident garden and landscaping. Current Douglass Houses tenants said in a petition that building towers would deprive them of “open space, greenery, light, and air. It would add further congestion to already overcrowded streets, bus lines, and subways in the neighborhood.” NYCHA also has a trust problem: its finances are a mess in part because of a drop in federal funding, but there’s been ample evidence of mismanagement too. Investigative reports from the Daily News showed that the agency’s well-paid officials weren’t even spending nearly $1 billion it was supposed to use on repairs.

NYCHA appears to have been chastened by the strong negative reaction to this proposal and may be hedging its bets until the next mayor is elected. The fine print of the request issued on Friday indicates NYCHA is not so sure it will actually move ahead with these proposals: NYCHA had said it would to send out requests for proposals months ago. Now it’s issuing requests for expressions of interest. The difference between a request for proposals and a request for expressions of interest is that requests for proposals indicate that the process is closer to its final stages, and it’s time for developers to make their final offers. The RFEI isn’t due until November 18, 2013, meaning the mayoral election will be over. So far, every Democratic mayoral candidate has come out against the plan; the Republicans haven’t yet weighed in, according to the Daily News. Once the developers’ plans come back, NYCHA said it plans to talk more to residents about what might happen.

That said, another glance at the fine print makes it clear that NYCHA may not be backing off that far. If the agency likes one particular RFEI, it can sign a deal with that developer and start negotiating: “NYCHA is issuing this RFEI with the intent of gauging market interest and NYCHA intends to issue an RFP subsequent to this RFEI to award a contract. However, if a response to this initial RFEI is exceptional, NYCHA reserves the right to issue a conditional designation letter (“CDL”) and enter into negotiations to award a contract to such proposer submitting the most exceptional response to this RFEI.” As people who fought the city’s plans to demolish two local schools for luxury housing know, the city tends to tell residents different things from developers. It helps to read everything.

Some of the comments about this proposal in our previous stories have gotten particularly nasty. Keep it civil and informative, people! We reserve the right to reject the bile. Read the whole RFEI here.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 1 comment | permalink
    1. Tony says:

      This is a big issue for the neighborhood, the quality of life for all in the community and those in need of affordable housing. Hope to see more in The Rag on the subject including public discussion forum information.