Follow-up: NYCHA’s Plan to Build New Mixed-Income Housing at the La Guardia Houses

NYCHA wants to develop this site on Madison Street, near Clinton Street.

NYCHA wants to develop this site on Madison Street, near Clinton Street.

We have more today on the city’s efforts to develop a site alongside NYCHA’s La Guardia Houses on Madison Street. On March 1, a Request for Proposals (RFP) was published for the parcel (a resident parking lot) next to the Little Flower Playground. The housing authority is seeking private developers to build a new residential tower with 50% affordable / 50% market rate rental units.

Last night, we spoke with Felicia Cruickshank, tenant leader at the La Guardia Houses. In its press release announcing the RFP, NYCHA emphasized robust resident engagement in planning the new project. There were six tenant visioning meetings throughout 2017. But Cruickshank told us she has major concerns about the process, and whether the development plan is really in the best interests of longtime residents.

During the engagement sessions, said, Cruickshank, residents were asked to play confusing urban planning games, moving pieces of colored paper around land use maps. The organizers, she added, were not forthcoming about the project, which seems likely to result in a new 35-story tower with more than 400 apartments. “People wanted information,” Cruickshank said. “We wanted transcripts of the meetings, but were told none existed.”

NYCHA has estimated there are $70 million in unmet capital needs at the La Guardia Houses. The new project, part of the housing authority’s NextGen Neighborhoods program, is meant to bolster public housing developments across the city with desperately needed financial support. NYCHA has not revealed, however, how much of the money raised from the Lower East Side project will go back into the La Guardia Houses.

Cruickshank said that many residents obviously want repairs, but are wary of the trade-offs. “There will be a lot of disruption,” she explained. “People are worried about getting priced out and pushed out” when a large amount of high-end rental housing is created in a traditionally low-income community. It would be great if the buildings really were for the people in this community.”

Extell's luxury condo tower looms over the Little Flower Playground.

Extell’s luxury condo tower looms over the Little Flower Playground.

NYCHA intends to sign a 99-year ground lease with the developer selected to build the new project. Since ownership will not be changing hands, the proposal is not expected to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Only a ULURP would guarantee a formal advisory role for Community Board 3 and give the City Council some control in shaping the final plan.

City Council member Margaret Chin is looking into whether there’s any possibility of requiring a ULURP. She and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are already pressing the City Planning Commission for zoning changes to require a ULURP for three proposed mega-towers in the Two Bridges area.

Brewer has been outspoken about NYCHA’s handling of the NextGen Neighborhoods program. In public testimony last September, she criticized the process at the Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side,  where a 47-story development project is in-the-works. While residents might have been consulted, noted Brewer, they felt as through NYCHA “did not value their feedback.” She also pointed out that residents in the Two Bridges area have been clamoring for a new supermarket to replace the shuttered Cherry Street Pathmark, a plea that has evidently been ignored:

Jessica Thomas, the previous LaGuardia (Houses Resident Association) President, said she wanted a grocery store in the new building even if “they put it on the roof.” Yet at the July 27 LaGuardia resident engagement meeting, NYCHA did not present ground-floor retail as a possibility, citing zoning allowances only for community facilities when in fact it is possible to pursue a commercial overlay via a localized ULURP.

As we pointed out the other day, there has been no engagement with the general Lower East Side community about the development plans at the La Guardia Houses. A NYCHA spokesperson told us yesterday that the meetings for tenants held last year were open to the general public. The spokesperson also stated that NYCHA has engaged with many local organizations (including GOLES and Henry Street Settlement) to increase public awareness of the project.

Community activists argue, however, that there were almost no efforts to publicize the meetings on the Lower East Side. Community Board 3 will be discussing the project at its public housing committee meeting on Thursday, March 8 (Grand Street Guild, 131 Broome St., 6:30 p.m.).

La Guardia Houses Infill RFP by The Lo-Down on Scribd

City Seeks Proposals For Large New Residential Project at La Guardia Houses

The development site is outlined in red at the top of this image.

The development site is outlined in red in the middle of this image.

City officials yesterday put out a call for residential development schemes on a site at the La Guardia Houses on Madison Street. A Request for Proposals (RFP) could lead to more than 400 new mixed income apartments in the Two Bridges area, which is under siege from large-scale development.

The RFP was issued jointly by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). NYCHA first expressed its intention to develop the site back in the spring of 2017. Since that time, city officials have been working quietly to build support for the plan through community engagement sessions with tenants at the La Guardia Houses.

According to the RFP, developers must build a 50% affordable / 50% market rate project on the 18,000 square foot parcel, located next to the Little Flower Playground (the site is currently used for resident parking). The affordable units must be available to applicants with household incomes at or below 60% of Area Median Income (AMI).

In a section of the RFP detailing community priorities, the city calls for the creation of 450 apartments, plus a ground floor community facility that would be accessible to the general public. Tenants expressed a strong preference for a project that is contextual with the LaGuardia Houses’ existing 14-story towers. While there are no height limits listed in the RFP, NYCHA officials have previously stated that the new tower could rise to 35 stories.

Little Flower Playground/NYC Parks.

Little Flower Playground/NYC Parks.

The project is part of NYCHA’s NextGen Neighborhoods program, which aims “to build mixed‐income housing  on open NYCHA land to generate badly‐needed revenue for repairs and create more affordable housing.” At the La Guardia Houses, there’s an estimated $70 million in unmet capital needs.

NYCHA’s embattled chair, Shola Olatoye, said in a statement, “NextGen Neighborhoods at LaGuardia Houses is a clear example of the steps we are taking to reinvest in our buildings and our communities. After extensive resident engagement focused on resident priorities and concerns, we will deliver long overdue repairs to LaGuardia Houses while creating much-needed affordable housing.”

Development proposals are due on June 1. The project must undergo an environmental review, but is not required to go through ULURP (a more robust public review process). Community Board 3 will be discussing the project at its public housing committee meeting on Thursday, March 8 (Grand Street Guild, 131 Broome St., 6:30 p.m.)

The proposal, of course, comes at a time when the Two Bridges neighborhood is mobilizing to fight three mega-towers on the waterfront. Neighborhood groups are preparing a rezoning proposal to limit the size of new developments. While it does not include public housing parcels, there has been talk of moving forward with a long-established proposal to implement zoning protections on NYCHA campuses.

NYCHA is touting a robust public outreach campaign at the La Guardia Houses. What the housing authority does not mention, however, is that there has been absolutely no outreach to the larger community. There are obviously major concerns about the impacts on over development from one end of the neighborhood to the other. Those concerns are now expected to be voiced at upcoming public meetings required as part of the environmental review.


Residents of La Guardia Houses Should Have Cooking Gas by Thanksgiving


No one wants to be heading into Thanksgiving week with their kitchen out of commission, but that’s what 32 families at the La Guardia Houses were facing.

Gas services was cut in two lines at 280 Madison St., one of the buildings in the public housing complex earlier this month. We heard from City Council member Margaret Chin’s office yesterday that NYCHA expects to have service restored by tomorrow. Chin said she coordinated with the tenant association and the housing authority to expedite repairs. “My office will continue to work with NYCHA to ensure that this timeline is kept so that residents can celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Chin. “I thank the resident leaders and District Leaders Daisy Paez and Pedro Cardi for their hard work.”

Paez told us she reached out to U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez’s office after hearing about the situation from residents. Aides to Velazquez and Chin were on site with Paez to help distribute bottled water and to coordinate with city agencies. The water was donated by Henry Street Settlement. The organization’s executive director, David Garza, and Debbie Cox, a longtime Henry Street employee, spearheaded the water distribution effort.

Chin is encouraging any constituents dealing with heat and water issues during the winter season to get in touch with her office.

Gas outages are a pretty common occurence throughout the neighborhood.  Over at the Seward Park Cooperative, a market rate complex, gas service was cut several weeks ago to one of four buildings. More than 400 apartments have been impacted.

Photo courtesy of Daisy Paez.

Photo courtesy of Daisy Paez.

Photo courtesy of Daisy Paez.

Photo courtesy of Daisy Paez.

NYCHA Announces Plans For New Residential Tower Alongside La Guardia Houses

NYCHA graphic from 2013 plan.

NYCHA graphic from 2013 plan.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) today announced plans to build new mixed-income housing on a parking lot at the La Guardia Houses.

According to a press release, the new building will include 50% market rate and 50% affordable rental units. The project is being proposed under NYCHA’s Next Generation Neighborhoods initiative, which is intended to address the housing authority’s dire financial situation. “Through this program, said NYCHA Chairperson Shola Olatoye, “we’ll generate revenue to invest in La Guardia Houses and throughout all of NYCHA and create new affordable housing. This means better roofs, stronger facades and badly needed bathroom and kitchen repairs.”

No NYCHA money will be used to build the project. The housing authority is pledging to reinvest 50% of the revenues from the new development at the La Guardia Houses for infrastructure repairs. The Lower East Side public housing project has $70 million in “unmet capital needs.”

Back in 2013, NYCHA was forced to withdraw a controversial proposal for new market rate development on five Lower East Side parcels, including two sites at the La Guardia Houses. Today’s press released emphasized, “unprecedented community engagement” as part of the development plans.

The site identified this time around is on Madison Street, between Rutgers and Clinton streets. The news release did not indicate the size of the building that could be put on the parcel or the number of units envisioned. NYCHA previously estimated the lot could accommodate a 35 story tower . According to today’s announcement, “NYCHA (parking) permit holders… will be relocated elsewhere at La Guardia Houses.”

The release included a statement of support from Jessica Thomas, La Guardia Houses’ tenant president. “As the La Guardia Houses Resident Association Leader, I stand in partnership with NYCHA and the NextGen Neighborhoods Program. No one understands better than myself and my neighbors how the financial uncertainty and budget deficits impact residents… This program is a real opportunity to make much needed repairs in our development and to improve quality of life. For the future of my residents and NYCHA, we need NextGen Neighborhoods.”

NYCHA will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the fall, and a developer will be chosen next year. The first public meeting regarding the project takes place May 18.