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NYCHA Details Development Plan Impacting LaGuardia Houses

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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.

This parking lot of Rutgers Street is one site NYCHA is targeting.
This parking lot of Rutgers Street is one site NYCHA is targeting.

Two sites are being targeted on the 10 acre, 12 building campus.  The first location, a parking lot next to the Little Flower Playground on Madison Street, could accommodate a 135,000 square foot building. A second parking lot, right around the corner on Rutgers Street could support a 120,000 square foot building.  As previously reported, 80% of the apartments would be market rate rentals; 20% would be classified as “affordable.”  Last night officials said the affordable units would be available to people earning no more than 60% of “area median income (AMI).”  A family of four, for example, couldn’t make more than about $50,000 to qualify.

Most of the presentation focused on the reasons NYCHA is going down this road.   In an appearance last month at the Smith Houses, Lopez declined to offer any specifics about the plan and was sharply criticized by tenants.  Since that time, she and other NYCHA officials have retooled their strategy, and begun explaining the plans in separate briefings at Campos Plaza and Baruch.   Last night, Lopez emphatically told residents the plan should come as no surprise since she has personally been talking about the developing proposal at public meetings for at least six years.

A notice slipped under the door of apartments at the Smith Houses.
A notice slipped under the door of apartments at the Smith Houses.

She urged tenants to disregard rumors.  “Some people have chosen to misinform the people of public housing,” she asserted.  Raising her voice for emphasis, Lopez promised, “we are not going to take away one single unit of public housing… This plan is about making public housing stronger.”  She added, “I want to stop the rumors and the innuendo that Mayor Bloomberg is going to destroy public housing. That is a lie.”

Noting that Washington has failed to fully fund public housing, Lopez said, “everyone has got to wake up about the reality of the situation.”  Part of that reality, officials explained is that the housing agency lacks the billions of dollars required to make critical repairs in its aging buildings (LaGuardia was opened in 1957). It’s estimated that this one complex needs about $80 million in capital funding over the next five years.

NYCHA is hoping the private leasing plan will generate $50 million/year in new revenue. Fred Harris, executive vice president of the agency’s real estate division, emphasized that the parcels would be leased rather than sold outright, meaning that NYCHA could count on new revenue every year to help close it’s budget deficit.  “This is money no one can take away from us,” Lopez added.

Margarita Lopez.
Margarita Lopez.

Some residents were concerned about the loss of parking spaces. The officials said they would create new parking elsewhere at LaGuardia and that anyone “with a legal parking permit” would be accommodated.  They also said it might be necessary to relocate several sculptures in grassy areas to make room for new walkways.  Various facilities, including a senior center, would not be affected by the new construction. As part of the plan, the power supply for the new construction will also serve as auxiliary power for LaGuardia during future hurricanes and other emergencies.   Another resident asked whether NYCHA will conduct thorough environmental reviews to better understand the impact new buildings might have on neighborhoods. Officials said federal and state regulations require the agency to study the potential impact air quality, schools and transportation. NYCHA, they said, has every intention of conducting those reviews.

Previous reports indicated that the housing authority would release an RFP (request for proposals) this month. Last night a NYCHA spokesperson said a public roll out of the plan, including the RFP release, would not come until briefings are held at all impacted public housing developments.

Last month, elected officials sent a letter to NYCHA asking for detailed information about the plan and calling on the agency to suspend the process until affected communities can be properly consulted.  As of today, they have received no response to that letter.


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  1. -Building more housing on sites that exist far from public transportation will insure more cars, more parking lots, more traffic.
    – The LES could use more open space – not less. We are severely under-greenspaced per person.
    – It pressures the entire area with increasing costs for food, goods, etc.
    -Some of this land is in the flood zone.
    -This will impact and strain the infrastructure of the entire LES – not just these housing sites.
    -There is a correlation between a lack of funding for schools, housing, fire houses, infrastructure, etc and the unwillingness to tax the astronomical profits of corporations based here.

  2. To play devil’s advocate regarding each of your points:

    -The two lots discussed for development at LaGuardia are not “far from public transportation.” They’re within a block or two of the nearest subway entrance.

    -The two lots are both currently parking lots, not green space.

    -Adding middle and higher income residents may pressure rents for small businesses, but is likely to improve availability of food and goods, and I don’t see how it would drive up prices for basic necessities, since supply isn’t really limited. Are basic necessities more expensive in Chelsea than Brownsville? I actually wouldn’t be surprised if they’re more expensive in poorer neighborhoods.

    -The two LaGuardia sites are in Zone B on the NYC hurricane evacuation zone map, but are not in any flood zone on FEMA’s newest maps.

    -NYCHA says they are committed to doing the environmental studies necessary to assure that development won’t overburden existing infrastructure.

    -NYC already has some of the highest tax rates in the country for both individuals and corporations. The difficulty of squeezing more blood from the stone doesn’t make it a bad idea to turn highly subsidized parking lots into a new source of revenue to help support quality public housing.

  3. Thank you. I was just about to do the same. Except I wasn’t going to call it, “devil’s advocate”. Just the truth. Especially since the previous writer did not have a clue about the location. Do you really think that the neighborhood won’t actually improve? Both from a safety and shopping perspective? And, I’m sorry, am I supposed to care that people may lose their taxpayer subsidized, $25.00 (oh, I’m sorry some pay $50) per month parking spot? I do not know why they would even agree to keep any of the parking spots considering that it is definitely a perk and not a right. Just wait till a few conservatives find out about parking. I can hear the talk radio shows now.

  4. -re: taxes: NYState has the greatest degree of income inequality of all 50 states, NYC the highest among 25 largest cities in the US. http://www.businessinsider.com/new-york-inequality-2011-1?op=1

    -open space is just that – you can see the sky. Spaces that are in shadow from cramming in more high rises, don’t work. I’d prefer parks to parking lots but the open space a lot provides is better than a high rise.

    -Smith and Campos Plaza are far from subways. LaGaurdia depending on where sited, is also a distance. Baruch, not great but doable.

    -sea levels rise projected to be 13″ by 2050- some of this housing is in the flood plane or in evacuation zones- neither sounds like a good place to build.http://www.climatecentral.org/what-we-do/our-programs/sea-level-rise All are in evacuation zones A, B, or C http://project.wnyc.org/news-maps/hurricane-zones/hurricane-zones.html

    -The hidden costs of gentrification: The Institute for Children and Poverty linked neighborhood change to a spike in homeless families applying for shelter in those areas. http://www.icphusa.org/PDF/reports/ICP%20Report_Pushed%20Out.pdf

  5. Ultimately, they are dismantling public and affordable housing in NYC
    especially in Manhattan, take a look around most of housing spaces and buildings are now being replace with market rate apartments, NYCHA owned building/open spaces are being leased to bankers and private developers, the buildings on Rutgers (Rutgers Houses) right across the street to the La Guardia Housing’s proposed site is currently under the works to be leased to Citigroup, residents
    of Rutgers houses have not been fully informed how this is going to affect them. What happens to those residents once the lease is up???

    Another site a block away has been leased or sold to another private builder in the now closed Pathmark site. And the building adjacent to that site, will also be a part of that lease. The proposed building in La Guardia Houses will be 80% market rate with rent’s in excess of $2500 – $4000 + a month, the proposal does not propose to lose the parking spaces instead proposes to move the parking spots to spaces like sitting areas and walkways that are located by the Elderly Home.

    This will directly affect the elderly they will remove their walkway and sitting areas and a ton of trees. In addition, this proposed High Rise Luxury building as is called (forbidden to be called High Rise Housing)
    will disrupt the only park (Little Flower) that park is heavily utilized by local groups, teams, the elderly, children and residents. The people that this will have a DIRECT impact on are the thousands of families that live in residences and small businesses spaces along Madison St. and the surrounding areas they will be forced out,
    landlords will force them out to make room for higher paying residents/business owners. NYC tax payers will pay millions
    in tax breaks to these builders, not to help the homeless, not to improve the quality of life of the working people, the elderly, the poor or to provide needed school, recreation centers and childcare.
    No it only goes to provide tax credits to wealthy developers.

    As I google NYCHA exposed, NYCHA on Low Down, NY Times, Daily News undertones of The Hunger Games seem to come to mind.

    With all this said La Guardia Houses does not need another market rate property. Just look around most of the surrounding buildings already are!

  6. oh NYCHA says their committed! and that means it’s true? you obviously have never lived in NYCHA housing, but have some pretty well rehearsed talking points, what is your stake in this, do you work for the mayor? The quality of goods does not need improving were perfectly happy with the way it is yet Rhea continues to pound this talking point as if the current residents need wealthy people to ask for organic milk for them because we don’t know any better, we already have organic milk, next!

  7. My only stake is as a neighbor who pays a lot of taxes and wants to see our public resources used efficiently. Public housing is important and residents of public housing deserve to be treated with the same respect as anyone else. If there are ways to help public housing pay for itself without reducing the number of people it serves, then those options should be explored thoughtfully, which means questioning unsupported arguments about overburdened infrastructure/increased costs of food and goods, and avoiding hysteria like the notice the article says was slipped under doors in the Smith Houses (while at the same time making sure that NYCHA follows proper procedures in its environmental assessments and doesn’t adversely impact the quality of living of its residents).

    Meanwhile, availability of goods isn’t about wealthy people asking Fine Fare to stock pseudo-luxuries like organic milk. It’s about having enough disposable income in the neighborhood to support higher volume sales of all kinds of goods. You may be “perfectly happy with the way it is,” but an awful lot of people turned out to protest the closing of Pathmark. Pathmark only existed there because of a sweetheart subsidized deal they got for the land decades ago. And Pathmark wasn’t all that affordable of a store (in my experience, with the exception of items that were on sale, most items were priced above average compared to other grocery stores I go to). But if you bring more people to the neighborhood of more varied income levels, it makes it economically feasible for unsubsidized merchants to carry larger and more varied inventories at more reasonable prices.

    Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t see the evidence that gentrification leads to higher food costs. BoweryGals points to evidence that gentrification can cause an increase in homelessness. That’s a real concern for families living outside of public housing, who can get squeezed out by rising rents. But for residents of public housing, it’s not really relevant.

  8. If you don’t see the evidence that gentrification leads to higher food costs then, you have not lived through having your neighborhood gentrify, simple as that, anyone who has would not ask for evidence of what is apparent, the flyer is not at all hysterical, the tenants are absolutely right that this is only the beginning, for decades ( I have lived here all my life) tenants have raised concerns to NYCHA and to elected officials that eventually real estate interests would want to profit off of the now “waterfront” property, never mind that none of these people would have set foot here in the past, NYCHA has always been dismissive of those concerns, but now they are coming to fruition, of course they are not going to detail how they will force the current tenants out…no one here is born yesterday it has nothing to do with “more disposable income” in the neighborhood. It has to do with bloomberg and his cronies dividing up the profits, at the expense of our public spaces ,it is alot more than parking lots that is just the Murdoch talking point everyone here sees exactly what’s going on.

  9. and yes, being forced out is a real concern for people living in rent stabilized and rent control housing as you admit, they are also hanging on by a thread, the presence of more wealthy people will mean more landlord harassment, more frivolous cases and more displacement, that is a vitally important argument against this land grab. We have already lost enough of our neighbors and don’t need every single inch of the lower east side to be condos and hotels.

  10. The gutting of everything public by starving government. Corporations (and a few individuals) make billions in profits using US markets and infrastructure but avoid taxes by depositing in off-shore accounts. Then offer “broke” cities private/public partnerships to “save the day.” Slow privatization of public ownership. Old song.

  11. Fair enough…”public resources used efficiently”…then maybe you want to look into NYCHA’s hiring a Boston consulting firm (that Rhea used to work for) for 10 million dollars. When the full report was finally released (after a bit of media attention) it “painted an ugly picture of what goes on in the largest public housing agency in the country. It was your typical bureaucratic ..[mess] – backlogs, overcharged items…. it made the agency look like an amateur in comparison to other cities’ housing agencies. “

  12. Most economists would probably say this is an excellent argument for eliminating NYCHA and replacing it with some sort of privatized alternative. I’m not sure I would support that, but the solution to the problems you describe is certainly not to just leave everything the way it is.

  13. I have no doubt that NYCHA, like any number of other city and state agencies, is horribly mismanaged.

    But what concrete measures would you institute to improve management? You call for better management while at the same time criticizing them for spending money on consultants… to improve management. Management of a multi-billion dollar organization doesn’t improve just because people want it to. It takes time and money and hard work to overhaul it. Whether that report was worth $10 million or not I have no idea (maybe it’s just another example of NYCHA waste, or maybe it’s a fair price for a very intensive investigation that gives NYCHA’s leadership insight into how to improve their ailing organization).

  14. you sure like to defend NYCHA and you claim to be just a concerned neighbor, but you still haven’t answered why you are more of an authority than the NYCHA tenant’s.

  15. Where have I suggested that I’m more of an authority on NYCHA than the tenants? I doubt if I am. But does my lack of tenancy disqualify me from engaging in this conversation? It’s called “public” housing because it belongs to the public. NYCHA’s decisions don’t affect me as directly as they affect tenants, but as a taxpayer and a neighbor I’m still affected, and as a Rawlsian who believes in safety nets, I do care about public housing.

    So please stop with the name-calling and conspiracy theories. If something I’ve said is incorrect, please enlighten me. But don’t dismiss me out of hand simply because I haven’t lived here as long as you, or because I live in a different building.

  16. Micah, maybe you need to read up on this issue of the nationwide destruction of public housing. E.g., see the book from Cornell Press called New Deal Ruins which shows how “housing policy since the 1990s has turned to the demolition of public housing in favor of subsidized units in mixed-income communities and the use of tenant-based vouchers rather than direct housing subsidies. While these policies, articulated in the HOPE VI program begun in 1992, aimed to improve the social and economic conditions of urban residents, the results have been quite different. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and there has been a loss of more than 250,000 permanently affordable residential units.” Author Edward G. Goetz offers a critical analysis of the nationwide effort to dismantle public housing by focusing on the impact of policy changes in three cities: Atlanta, Chicago, and New Orleans. He shows how this transformation is related to pressures of gentrification and the enduring influence of race in American cities.

  17. you are totally wrong gentrification brings a spike in price for everything in the area. we now have a duncan dounuts where a pizza shop use to be because of a spike in rents. the slums on madison street are unafordable 3k amonth for a studio. the closing of pathmark which was the most affordable place to do your groceries has caused finefare to raise all their prices. the train staion and the other public transportation modes cannot handle an influx of three of four more high rise luxury towers. even the chinese restaurant raised their prices along with the bodegas. so gentrification causes the poor to pay more than they can afford for the same items that were affordable before all the so called hipsters moved in. not to mention all the bars that have taken over their are more drunks on the bowery now than their were back in the bum heyday.

  18. you have never lived in public housing so you dont know the song and dance. repairs are done by the residents that are lucky enough to have the skills to do it. try dealing with nycha mgmt. it’s like dealing with a donkey. nothing gets done and nothing gets heard all they tell you is your on the list. try to put a daughter or son on your lease good luck they fight you tooth and nail.

  19. If NYCHA managed the money they do get properly this would never have happened. poor management. bottom line.

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