NYCHA Nightmare

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Residents of local public housing project are incensed at new plan to lease land for high-rises

The residents at the Frederick Douglass housing projects between 100 and 104th Street have long been complaining to the New York City Housing Authority about broken elevators, windows and a lack of security at the housing complex. But the cash-strapped NYCHA has not completed most of these repairs, according to residents. Despite this, The Daily News leaked documents recently that revealed NYCHA's plans to build luxury high-rises in the "inspaces" or open grounds on several public housing projects across Manhattan, including Frederick Douglass, later this year, although the plans have not been officially announced yet. The plans have left many low-income housing residents confused, angry and questioning NYCHA's motives for such a project.

"They will be removing valuable open space for the residents and community at large," said Nick Prigo the Chair of the Housing Committee of Community Board 7. "Converting more open space into luxury high rises is becoming the sad story of the Upper West Side. The land here is worth a fortune. This is the cheap and dirty way of raising funds."

At a Community Board 7 Housing Committee meeting last week, dozens of angry residents showed up, demanding to know more about the project, and asking why they were not informed of the plans from the beginning. Victor Bach, senior housing policy analyst at Community Service Society, answered residents' questions at the meeting. The issue, he said, is not necessarily the project itself, but the lack of communication. For most Frederick Douglass residents, the Daily News article was the first they had heard about such a plan.

"We want an open process so that everyone can have a voice. Whenever we've talked to NYCHA, we don't just get a negative response, they don't respond, period," said Bach. "Where residents strongly oppose re-development I would hope NYCHA would back down."

Bach stressed that he is not taking an anti-development stance, and stated that the housing would create construction jobs, and would set aside 20 percent of affordable housing, giving preference to Frederick Douglass residents.

So far, NYCHA has put out an RFEI, or request for expressions of interest to developers. They plan to put out Requests for Proposal by the end of April. NYCHA's plans for public housing were revealed in more detail on their website this week.

"This innovative plan to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of value will allow the New York City Housing Authority to re-invest in public housing, where we badly need to make up for the devastating decline in Congressional funding," said a NYCHA representative in an interview. "Since announcing this plan in the fall, we've been closely engaged with residents, community leaders and elected officials. We look forward to continuing that outreach."

At the recent housing meeting, NYCHA representative Brian Honan tried to assure residents that NYCHA is not trying to be unfair or uncommunicative.

"Please keep an open mind; there's been a national attack on public housing over the last 20 years," said Honan. "We have to come up with creative ways to get funding for public housing, otherwise we're not going to be talking about building new buildings, we will be talking about demolishing them."

In 2012, NYCHA had a deficit of $77 million. "PLAN NYCHA," is an initiative that was proposed to increase revenues through methods like converting the bottom floor of housing projects to commercial space, investing in long term maintenance and repair solutions, as well as their plans to lease out "inspaces" to private developers. However, many residents did not believe that this announcement, which can be found on the NYCHA website, was made clear to residents, especially those who do not have Internet access.

"There needs to be more transparency," said Abigail McGloster, secretary of the Frederick Douglass Tenants Association. "They need to let people know step by step instead of having meetings and not inviting NYCHA residents. They claim they put it in the newsletter, but they need to go door to door and make sure people know what's going on."

Madelyn Innocent, a resident of NYCHA and community advocate, said that her issue with NYCHA is a lack of trust.

"Who monitors NYCHA?" she said. "Councilwoman Mark-Viverito gave us $250,000 dollars to update the playgrounds, and fix the repairs. She also gave us money for 3 years, to have new cameras and elevators in our buildings, but no one knows what happened to that money."

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito's office did not respond in time to comment on these alleged lost funds.

But for many residents, the outrage goes beyond a lack of communication, and becomes an issue of quality of life and overcrowding. Madelyn Innocent cited her concern that many residents will become even more resentful of NYCHA if this goes through. In addition, said Housing Chair Nick Prigo, residents are concerned that open spaces such as parking lots and playgrounds will be removed to make room for the luxury buildings. The new buildings, according to Prigo, would also require 80 new education seats on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood that already suffers from overcrowding.

"What we need is for NYCHA to fix up the property as it is now. Sometimes the doors here don't even work," said Abigail McGloster. "We should be upgraded. Let's do something instead to enhance the neighborhood."

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