Stringer, Niou Call on NYCHA to Address Urgent Heating, Hot Water Needs

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Over the weekend,  State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou joined NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer to speak out about heat outages at NYCHA complexes during last week’s cold snap. Stringer announced he’s launching a new audit of the New York City Housing Authority over the issue.

In a press release on Saturday, Stringer called the situation a crisis. “We cannot be a city,” he said, “in which those with luxury towers are living in comfort, while those across the street in NYCHA complexes are deprived of heat and hot water. Unfortunately, heating breakdowns happen year after year – and the bureaucracy continues to play whack-a-mole with short-term fixes instead of permanent solutions. We need to address this maintenance mess now, because our seniors, children, and families are struggling.”

According to the comptroller’s initial survey of Department of Buildings records, the rate of defective boilers in NYCHA complexes is five times the citywide average (39.5%). The new audit will be the comptroller’s ninth of the hosuing authority.

Stringer said there have been complaints about a lack of heat and hot water in more than 30 complexes. Among those developments on the Lower East Side are: the Jacob Riis Houses, the La Guardia Houses and Lower East Side Rehab.

In a statement, Niou said, “I have been receiving constituent reports about heat outages throughout NYCHA developments on the Lower East Side (for several weeks). There are 90-year-old seniors, new born children, and dozens of families in my district impacted by these outages, and it’s critical that NYCHA find long term solutions to these heating problems.”

Channel 2 visited the La Guardia Houses to see how residents were coping:

With socks, robes and layers of clothing on, it was survival gear inside one tenant’s no-heat apartment Saturday… “It’s cold, yeah,” she said. Neighbor Yvonne DeLeon shared a photo of her 2-month-old grandson, Liam Gonzalez, and the electric space heater used to save him from injury, even death, from the cold inside the Lower East Side tower operated by NYCHA. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work,” Linda Cherry said.

NYCHA spokesperson Jasmine Blake told Channel 4, “Our staff is working 24/7 to combat this extraordinary cold spell that has battered the city. This weekend we are focused on ensuring heat is on in all NYCHA developments.” NYCHA says about $2 billion is required to repair boilers in public housing complexes across the city.

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.

Murder Victim’s Mom Files Lawsuit, Charging Lax Security at Smith Houses

File photo.

File photo.

The New York Post reported over the weekend that the mother of a teen killed at the Alfred E. Smith Houses last year has filed a lawsuit against the city.

On Sept. 26, 2015, 19-year-old Nathaniel Szeto was fatally shot in the lobby of a building at the Smith Houses, near Catherine Street and South Street. A couple of months later, cops arrested 15-year-old Johnny Molina of Sparrowbush, New York. He was charged as a juvenile with murder. Another suspect, 19-year-old Alexandros Lorentzos, was arrested just last month and charged with murder and robbery.

A lawsuit filed in state supreme court by Phanessia Liao, Szeto’s mother, argues that shoddy security at the public housing complex was partially to blame for her son’s murder. The suit cites pre-existing “broken, dangerous, hazardous and defective” conditions in the building, including faulty locks. The inadequate security, “allowed trespassers, other unlawful persons, and/or persons intent on committing crimes and/or violence” access to Szeto’s home, the lawsuit alleges. Liao is seeking unspecified damages. City officials declined to comment.

Szeto worked as an assistant in a Lower Manhattan legal office.

 

NYCHA Adds Third Digital Van, Expanding Internet Access For Public Housing Residents

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The newest “digital van.” Photo: Alex Gerald

NYCHA unveiled its third “digital van” – a computer lab on wheels – at the LaGuardia Houses on Tuesday. It is the latest addition to a very small fleet dedicated to touring public housing developments throughout the city, providing internet and computer services to residents who have limited or no access to digital services.

“This is an opportunity for residents to access the web,” said NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye. “We’re bringing technology straight to people’s doors.”

Olatoye said the vans are just one component of NYCHA’s overall plan to stabilize its finances and become a more efficient agency.

Combined, the three vans reach a total of 36 NYCHA developments every two weeks, according to Olatoye. That’s double the reach of the first two “digital vans” alone, but with over 300 developments citywide, it’s still a drop in the bucket.

The authority faces a $60 million budget deficit this year, so it won’t be rolling out an entire army of “digital vans” any time soon. But the new addition is certainly welcome.

NYCHA IT executive John Saggese said internet access in most public housing buildings is “spotty.”

Many of NYCHA’s developments were, of course, built long before the internet was born, and were constructed using a lot of sturdy – but not Wi-Fi friendly – materials like brick and concrete.

Plus, many of New York City’s public housing projects are huge. The LaGuardia Houses, for example, consists of 10 buildings – each 16 stories tall – with over a thousand apartments total. And that’s just one of NYCHA’s 328 developments. 

“It would take a lot of routers to cover that,” Saggese said.

While NYCHA tenants can set up cable TV and internet service themselves, it isn’t cheap – especially for low-income residents. And sometimes, Saggese said, “even if they have internet, they don’t have a computer.”

That’s where the “digital vans” come in.

Each one is equipped with 8 Dell laptops, two tablets and two Wi-Fi hotspots that create a 150 foot “Wi-Fi bubble” around the van. And all of the devices can be used in seven different languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Russian, Arabic and Bengali.

Kim Maxwell is the new van’s driver and instructor. He helps NYCHA tenants navigate the technology.

“For these residents, this is a necessity,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of people who are looking for work.”

Some show up to create, copy or scan their resumes, and many apply for jobs online. One tenant used the computers to finish an associate’s degree. Maxwell said he also get’s a lot of older residents who come in to learn basic computer skills like how to send an email.

Jessica Thomas, president of the tenant association at LaGuardia Houses, said of the newly unveiled van: “I love it. For people – even who are computer illiterate – it will open up a new world.”

The new “digital van” will remain at the LaGuardia Houses today and Friday. Click here for a full schedule of where the vans will be throughout the month. 

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Kim Maxwell (Left) helps a NYCHA resident use the new computers. Photo: Alex Gerald

Rape Victim Sues NYCHA After Attack at Baruch Houses

577 FDR Drive.

577 FDR Drive.

According to the New York Post, the victim of a rape at the Baruch Houses this past November has filed a lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority.

Police arrested 20-year-old Robert Bowie and charged him with the attack, as well as two other attempted rapes on the Lower East Side on the same day. Police said Bowie was waiting in a stairwell near the woman’s apartment. He’s accused of forcing his way inside and brutally attacking the 40-year-old victim. The locks were broken on the front door of the building, located at 577 FDR Drive.

The lawsuit states that the locks were “broken, unsafe [and] hazardous.” The woman is asking for unspecified damages. A NYCHA spokesperson told the Post that security is a “top priority” but declined to comment specifically on this lawsuit.

Residents of the Baruch Houses say door locks throughout the sprawling complex are routinely broken. The front door was unlocked when we stopped by 577 FDR Drive earlier today.

Bowie pleaded not guilty and is being held on $150,000 bail.

Security Upgrade Coming to Baruch Addition Thanks to $240,000 in State Funding

City Won’t Release List of NYCHA Sites For Private Development Until August

New NYCHA Private Development Plan to Be Unveiled Today

Margarita Lopez Loses One NYCHA Job But Gets Another

Former NYCHA board member Margarita Lopez lost her job – but now she has another high profile position with the housing authority.

Judge Orders Immediate Repairs at Smith Houses

Residents of the Smith Houses and community activists held a news conference last month.

Residents of the Smith Houses and community activists held a news conference last month.

Last month, residents of the Alfred E. Smith Houses announced they were suing the New York City Housing Authority for failing to make repairs at the 12-building complex alongside the East River.  Last week, a housing court judge rejected NYCHA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and ordered the agency to begin clearing maintenance requests immediately.  NYCHA officials said they would get started this week.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 300 tenants by lawyers from the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.  Those attorneys say the ruling could be “precedent-setting,” with potential implications for other public housing developments across the city.   The Daily News has more details here.

 

Smith Tenant Association Boycotting Tonight’s NYCHA Meeting

NYCHA map shows development sites at the Smith Houses.

NYCHA map shows development sites at the Smith Houses.

In the past 24 hours, the New York City Housing Authority finally posted details on its web site concerning a plan to lease some of its property for private development.  Tonight, officials will be briefing residents of the Smith Houses about the plan but many tenants will not be participating.

This is because they’re boycotting the meeting, set to take place at P.S. 126 (80 Catherine Street), at 6:30 p.m.  Why?   A press release we received from BerlinRosen Public Relations states: “The Tenants’ Association Exec. Committee asked NYCHA to reschedule the meeting in order to give residents at least a 10-day notice and opportunity to review the proposals, but NYCHA is deciding to go ahead anyway. The Authority is making it seem as though their plan is a done-deal and residents just have to put up with it.”   The Urban Justice Center is advocating on behalf of the public housing tenants, many of whom have obtained legal representation.

NYCHA Details Development Plan Impacting LaGuardia Houses

A meeting was held last night at the Rutgers Houses.

A meeting was held last night at the Rutgers Houses.

Last night, the New York City Housing Authority took its road show to another housing development on the Lower East Side.  NYCHA Commissioner Margarita Lopez, a longtime LES resident, has been tasked with the responsibility of explaining the cash-strapped agency’s plan to lease property for market rate development in order to close a huge funding gap.  The latest information session was held in the gym of the Rutgers housing development, but was mostly intended for residents of the neighboring LaGuardia Houses.

NYCHA intends to offer 99 year leases to private developers at eight Manhattan housing projects, five of them on the Lower East Side (Smith, Baruch, LaGuardia, Campos Plaza Houses, plus Meltzer Towers).  During the presentation, housing authority officials detailed the plan at LaGuardia and attempted to tamp down rumors about the controversial proposal.

NYCHA’s Margarita Lopez: Luxury Housing Plan is Not a Done Deal

Residents of the Smith Houses packed a gymnasium on Madison Street last night for a tense “emergency tenant meeting” to discuss the New York City Housing Authority’s plan to lease some of its property for luxury development.  They were greeted by NYCHA board member Margarita Lopez, who struggled to tamp down what she called “rumors” concerning the proposal.

A week ago, the Daily News reported that the cash-strapped agency would release an RFP (request for proposals) next month seeking developers for parking lots, playgrounds and other spaces at eight of its developments, five of them on the Lower East Side.  The new construction, the News reported, would consist of 80% market rate housing and 20% affordable housing.  Around $50 million in expected annual revenues would be plowed back into the public housing developments, which require billions in repairs and upgrades.  On the LES, Smith, as well as the La Guardia Houses, the Baruch Houses, Meltzer (senior housing) and Campos Plaza (on East 12th Street) would be impacted.  Many of the details in the newspaper report matched up with very general briefings given to members of the City Council and tenant leaders in the past month.

NYCHA Plans Luxury Housing Alongside Five LES Public Housing Projects

Photo via Alfred E. Smith Houses Facebook page.

The next big housing battle on the Lower East Side is upon us.  In the past month, officials with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) have been briefing elected officials and some tenant leaders about plans to lease a huge amount of property alongside public housing to private developers for market-rate apartments and retail.    Last night, at a meeting of Community Board 3’s land use committee, activists began to mobilize against the proposal, one tenant leader saying in regards to NYCHA, “if you want a war you’ve got a war.”

The cash-strapped agency has been talking about selling or leasing some of its property for years.  A 2008 report from the Manhattan Borough President found that the housing authority has more than 30 million square feet of unused property rights (including parking lots, playgrounds and open space).  In September, NYCHA Chairman John Rhea signaled that he was preparing to move ahead with the leasing plan as a way of narrowing the authority’s annual $60 million budget gap.

Velazquez Demands NYCHA Release “Negative” Report

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez is requesting NYCHA publish a report that highlights its flaws.

After City Council member Rosie Mendez spent Tuesday afternoon defending the New York City Housing Authority from recent negative press, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez is calling for the release of a report that could bring more critical scrutiny to the authority.

In a letter she sent to NYCHA Chairman John Rhea this morning and then circulated to press, Velazquez requested that a report by the Boston Consulting Group on NYCHA operations be made public. The authority commissioned the report at a cost of $10 million, with the stated intention of using the findings to make better use of its limited funding. Velazquez, who represents much of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, asserted that the report could help inform city and even national housing policy, but is being withheld from public view because of embarrassing information it contains about NYCHA’s financial mismanagement.