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.”
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.).