The stark difference in the outcomes of real estate development plans in low-income neighborhoods versus high-income neighborhoods of New York City reminds us, sadly, of the reigning power of those who have over those who have not. Today, tenants of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and their friends stand deeply concerned about the proposed plans for sitting luxury apartments on land that has been dedicated for public housing.
NYCHA Chairman John Rhea and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have asked developers to build luxury apartment buildings in public housing parking lots and open spaces. They have said that NYCHA would channel the resulting stream of income to pay for repairs and infrastructure maintenance in NYCHA residential buildings.
Rhea’s proposal, he and many in the Bloomberg Administration believe, could possibly alleviate the chronic pain of annual federal and city budget cuts to public housing that always seem to hurt low-income and working class women, children and families before anyone else. However, NYCHA put out this proposal with little to no input from its residents living in the public housing projects targeted for development. This attempt to sidestep the inclusion of resident critique and concerns required under regulations by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development evidences an administration too far removed from the needs of those it serves.
When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey raised the idea of developing luxury towers just south of the Brooklyn Bridge some years ago, Brooklyn Heights residents spoke out against the proposal, which would block their highly-prized view of New York Harbor.
Brooklyn Heights residents shut down the project, and in the bargain they struck with the City, they got a 1.3 mile waterfront park lined with volleyball courts, running and bicycle paths, a boat launch, an old-fashioned carousel, a dog run and a variety of restaurants.
Many recall when, in 2000, NYCHA uprooted 1,500 tenants from their homes in the Prospect Plaza Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn under the guise that they would return by 2005 to renovated and improved units. Since the residents were moved from their homes, only one building has been torn down. The others are boarded up, and one-time residents are scattered among developments across the city. Today, nearly 14 years later, NYCHA plans to raze residents’ parks, courtyards, parking lots and playgrounds to build luxury housing that will consist of less than 100 public housing units. The rest will be considered “affordable housing,” the monthly rent of which will be too expensive for public housing residents.
Some anti-poverty organizations have called for a halt to the NYCHA infill plan, citing the unnecessary haste with which the plans were developed. The organizations advise NYCHA to start again and go back to the drawing board with a strong understanding of what these communities desire and deserve.
While NYCHA is holding its plan out as the white horse that will save public housing, tenants and others have good reason to believe that it will only effectively showcase and contribute to the economic segregation that plagues our city. We ask that City Hall and NYCHA listen to the concerns of tenant leaders, neighboring business improvement districts and local community groups, and that they are given the same opportunity to be heard as residents in more affluent New York City zip codes are given.
Austin is CEO and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, and Wright is the Assemblyman for the 70th District of Harlem as well as the chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee.