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NYCHA Plans Luxury Housing Alongside Five LES Public Housing Projects

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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.

Members of the City Council, including local representatives Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, have been told that NYCHA plans to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) from developers next month. The Daily News obtained “internal documents” showing an initial offering of three million square feet “in hot real estate neighborhoods, including the upper East and West Sides, the lower East Side and lower Manhattan.”

On the LES, five public housing developments are being targeted: the Smith, Baruch, LaGuardia, Campos Plaza and Meltzer Houses.  No residents would be displaced by the new construction.  Developers will be offered 99 year leases and would be expected to build under New York’s “80/20” program, which provides tax exemptions to developers who set aside 20% of their apartments for affordable housing.  At Baruch, NYCHA envisions 175,000 square feet of new housing.  At Smith, a million square feet is up for grabs on parking lots and a baseball diamond. The agency will reportedly “locate the luxury apartments so they face away from the projects, with the upscale neighbors given their own entrance on South St.”  The News dubbed the plan a “Tale of Two Cities,” in reference to the prospect of low and high income residents living side-by-side.

CB3’s land use committee met at the Seward Park Extension building on Essex Street.

Residents and public housing advocates have a wide range of concerns about the proposal.  They oppose the elimination of scarce open space and parking, believe that 20% affordable housing in the new projects is inadequate and fear that this move is one more step towards privatizing NYCHA, ultimately destroying this country’s largest and most successful public housing system.  While residents concede the housing authority has been starved of cash by city, state and federal government, they contend that the leasing plan is a shortsighted way of dealing with NYCHA’s budget crisis.

Last night, Smith Houses Tenant President Aixa Torres was fuming. “This is a travesty,” she said. “We are not going to take this… When no one wanted to live here, we stayed… if you want a war, you got a war.”  Torres noted that Smith, near the Brooklyn Bridge, has endured two earthquakes, two hurricanes, 9/11 and constant gas outages.  Damaris Reyes, executive director of the advocacy organization GOLES, said 20% affordable housing in the new buildings “would be absurd and would trigger all kinds of reactions in this neighborhood.”  But not everyone opposes the plan.  Dereese Huff, tenant association head of Campos Plaza on East 12th Street, sees an opportunity.  NYCHA has a backlog of 420,000 repair orders, and many of its aging buildings require large-scale upgrades that the agency cannot afford. “I’m already making my lists (as far as) what I want them to fix” she declared.

A lot of activists are concerned that NYCHA has put the plan on the “fast track,” giving communities very little time to mobilize and that the process is almost completely lacking in transparency.  Victor Bach of the Community Service Society, an advocacy group, said a mid-March RFP would probably be followed by public hearings in June.  Proposed projects would probably not be subject to the city’s public land use process, meaning that community boards have no official role, he said.  Reyes added, “time is short and that’s the way (NYCHA) likes it.”

During the meeting,  the land use committee decided to send a letter to the housing authority asking it to hold off on the RFP until there’s outreach to impacted communities.  They’ll also demand benefits for public housing residents who will be affected by the new construction and they want environmental assessments to determine how the projects would impact local services, including schools, transit and neighborhood infrastructure.  Finally, the letter will demand that NYCHA make funds available for tenants to acquire legal representation (there’s an existing pot of money set aside for this purpose).

Representatives from the offices of local elected officials were in attendance last night.  They will be working with the community board and advocacy organizations on the issues surrounding NYCHA’s leasing plan.  Much more to come…


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  1. The city can do what it wants with what it owns. Why maintain a project mentality to the area if it can be improved? Nobody is getting kicked out. I would not have a real opinion on this unless I saw the actual plans.

  2. “A project mentality” David? Or do you mean a “sense of community?” You mean, maybe, “let’s see if we can’t keep our baseball field from being turned into luxury condos?” Is the area “improved” if every last inch of open space is sold out for condos? Where do you live, David? Is anything being taken away from you?

  3. everyone one needs to get there tenant associations up and active spread the word ,if one goes we all go there going after all city housing and section 8 in nyc i suggest holding rallys ,demonstrations at nyc officials office buildings if we dont expect the les to be gone as you seen all in the area what is comming in class action suits and whatever it takes

  4. Plenty of people pay substantial rents in public housing. A lot of people that grew up there and stayed have great jobs. There are cops, mta workers and even business owners that stay because paying 30% of your gross salary is still better than market rents. If they would just upgrade some of the buildings so that the electric was up to date and put in meters so those tenants who work would pay their own gas and electric, it would make a huge difference. And just put the elderly in a separate building and put the people who don’t work in another building, it would make a major difference. I grew up in Smith and it’s in a great area, but the projects are mis-managed. Most of my neighbors worked and had good jobs. But it’s not reasonable to think that NYCHA can keep paying gass and electric, people just leave the lights on all the time.

  5. NYCHA already did this with a building built on a NYCHA parking lot on 9th Ave. and 25th St. Parking lots for public housing well served by public transportation make no sense. NYCHA is sitting on billions of under utilized land that could provide ongoing revenue to make much needed repairs. I can’t see how this wouldn’t benefit NYCHA residents.

  6. Have an ulterior motive, Joe? Nice hat.

    Joseph Cunin
    Studied Schack Institute of Real Estate at NYU

Lives in New York, New York

    From West Hartford, Connecticut


  7. In the last 25 years our so-called liberal progressive politicians
    have given away just about every right the people struggled for over 100 years to gain. If people believe the projects are going to survive they are deluding themselves.

    Read the comments and these people are not getting anything

    out of this. Our politicians are getting rich. Does anyone believe
    any of our progressive politicians would earn the salaries and have the benefits they are getting if they were a part of the work force? Please give me a break these people are only good at selling us out. And think the NYCHA board is suppose to be on the people’s side.

    Sad day on the LES-

    Chalk one more up for Bloomberg and his war on the middle-class and below. NYC soon will be only for the rich. Who could have thought?

  8. bloomberg wants to rush this through the say he rushed through his illegal third term, it’s a travesty that he was able to do that this time we can’t let him do this to our community he is really trying to decimate our communities before he is done. Why should we loose the last little bits of green space and recreational areas so that bloomberg’s favored class can have more glass towers?

  9. just because they did it in chelsea does not mean it’s ok for them to do it to us, these are not parking lots this is public space, nice spin you seem like an expert, do you work for bloomberg?

  10. Because it’s always a ruse to eventually displace them. In the past 25 years in nyc I’ve seen it time and again, except this time they are attacking not one private building, but an entire social structure that has served us well. Remember just how badly Manhattan needs low wage service workers. Where do you think they can afford to live? I’m telling you this will end with many people homeless.

  11. Land grab or not, and as many buildings as have already been squeezed into other similar spaces already, it all is just too crowded. The purpose of originally building tall was to have more open space and trees around it. That principal over time seems to have just left invitations for real estate opportunists. A parking lot may take up space, but it’s not tall. Can ALL the windows face away from the NYCHA buildings? Additional use of public transportation and schools comes with real estate development. Any boon has to be given to transportation and the city as well as to NYCHA and the real estate developers.
    Getting rid of a baseball field? Take away an amenity AND add more residents at the same time?
    About LaGuardia in particular, what about that old school building next to the children’s playground on Madison St? Haven’t some been trying to make some community resource out of this place for a while?

  12. Why not sell the air rights with an affordable housing restriction? That way a developer could simply add floors – which is much more cost effective than developing new buildings – and add affordable housing all over the city.

  13. As a former Social Worker,I have been witness to the fact that many of my clients have waited years to get into public housing because of a shortage of available apartments,so why build luxury housing when we still have a large homeless population?These projects have been housing the poor and working class for years.It is reached the point that many of us are now priced out of our own neighborhoods!

  14. Repeal the Brooke Amendment and let tenants vote on capital improvements they want each project would then carry a monthly fee based on apartment square footage till assessment was paid

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