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 Plans 2,026 New Apartments on the LES

2013-03-15 Letter From Mayor Re Infill by The Lo-Down

More than a month ago, local elected officials and three Manhattan community boards sent Mayor Bloomberg a letter requesting a meeting concerning NYCHA’s plan to lease public housing property for private development.  Today they got a response (see above for the version sent to Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh).  While the mayor agreed to set up a meeting with NYCHA leadership,  he also signaled that his administration is in no mood for compromise.

NYCHA Details Baruch Houses Plan; Residents Fear a “Done Deal”

nycha baruch meeting 1

Residents of the Baruch Houses listen to NYCHA presentation at Bard High School.

The crowd was sparse but those who did show up for a briefing by New York City Housing Authority officials last night at Bard High School made sure their frustration and anger were readily apparent.  It was the latest briefing on NYCHA’s controversial plan to build luxury housing on 15 parcels throughout Manhattan in order to narrow a huge budget deficit.

Following meetings in the past couple of weeks at Campos Plaza and the LaGuardia Houses, the troubled agency’s general manager, Cecil House, brought the show to the tenants of the Baruch Houses, New York’s largest public housing complex.  In previous stories, we have documented NYCHA’s talking points, which are designed to counter fears that the plan to offer 99-year leases to private developers is the first step towards the destruction of public housing in New York.  Today, we’ll focus on the new details revealed about the proposal at Baruch, as well as the strong negative reaction heard from residents and tenant advocates last night.

NYCHA Chairman Rhea Grilled By State Lawmakers

NYCHA Chairman John Rhea at Friday's Assembly hearing.

NYCHA Chairman John Rhea at Friday’s Assembly hearing.

Members of the State Assembly grilled NYCHA Chairman John Rhea Friday concerning the public housing agency’s controversial plan to build market-rate housing alongside existing low income developments on the Lower East Side and elsewhere in Manhattan.  Details of the plan, which the New York City Housing Authority promised to finally make public this week, have been seeping out in news reports and during vague briefings for tenants in impacted buildings for the past month.

In an appearance before the Assembly’s housing committee, Rhea said the plan to lease parcels in eight developments  – five of them on the LES – would help make up for the federal government’s disinvestment in public housing (NYCHA has lost a total of $2.3 billion from Washington in the past decade). “Every penny” earned from the leases “will be used for capital improvements” in NYCHA’s aging buildings, he promised.  Highlighting the urgency of the funding crisis, he warned, “NYCHA is at risk.”

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 Lopez: Offer Alternative Financial Plan or “Shut Up”

Map by Kim Gledhill/The Lo-Down.

There were more developments this week concerning the controversial proposal to build market-rate apartments on public housing property in New York City.  Click through for a wrap-up. 

A Closer Look: NYCHA’s Plan to Build Luxury Housing on the Lower East Side

A parking lot at the Smith Houses on South Street is one location being considered for market-rate development.

Editor’s note: the following article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of The Lo-Down’s print magazine:

Real estate boom times are back on the Lower East Side with a vengeance. Developers are fixated on the few remaining undeveloped parcels sprinkled throughout the densely packed neighborhood unlike any time in the past five years. Properties are rapidly changing hands and prices are escalating. So maybe it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that the beleaguered New York City Housing Authority sees opportunity in its vast land holdings on the LES, the birthplace of public housing.

Still, it was a shock to many last month when word leaked out that the cash-strapped housing authority was hatching a plan to offer up property it owns adjacent to public housing buildings throughout Manhattan, including six on the Lower East Side, for developers to build luxury apartments. Many tenants, who have long feared the demise of this country’s largest public housing system, were outraged and vowed to put up a fight.

Elected Officials, Community Boards Send Letter to Bloomberg, Rhea Concerning NYCHA Property Plan

A parking lot at the Smith Houses is one potential site for luxury development.

This afternoon, elected officials and three Manhattan community boards are out with a letter they have sent to Mayor Bloomberg and NYCHA Chairman John Rhea concerning a proposal to build luxury housing on parking lots and other open space surrounding public housing projects.  Click through to see the full text.

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.