Reuven Blau and Candace Pedraza, The City
In early 2019, police ordered the closure of a playground inside a Bronx public housing complex citing drug dealing in the area.
The playground at the Morrisania Air Rights towers has been padlocked ever since — and there’s no scheduled reopening date.
It is just one of 98 New York City Housing Authority playgrounds currently shuttered due to unsafe conditions. NYCHA has for years failed to renovate or repair decades old play equipment.
On the campaign trail last summer, then-candidate Eric Adams decried the condition of public housing playgrounds highlighted by THE CITY. After a year of lockdown due to the pandemic “families need safe outdoor spaces to reclaim a sense of normalcy,” he tweeted on July 19 with a link to THE CITY’s coverage.
“But in NYCHA complexes, delayed repairs & dilapidated playground equipment have made that all but impossible,” the tweet continued. “Our city must prioritize these repairs.”
As mayor, however, the number of closed playgrounds has actually gone up under Adams — from 89 last year to 98, according to NYCHA. His administration has also not added any additional funds for repairs so far, according to budget records.
“There’s so much drug use, there are needles discarded in the playground,” said Danny Barber, chairperson of the Citywide Presidents, NYCHA’s tenant leadership panel, referring to the Morrisania playground near 161st Street.
The Housing Authority also removed playground equipment at another spot in the complex near 158th St. years ago after a damaged slide was “cutting kids,” he added.
“That’s unacceptable,” he said.
‘Who’s the Idiot Who Decided This?’
At the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side, two playgrounds remain closed as fixes from Superstorm Sandy are still underway a decade later.
Some residents, including several seniors who used to sit on benches at the playground, said they were totally in the dark about what was being done and why it was taking so long.
“No meetings, nothing,” said Beverly, who declined to give her last name, as she walked past one of the closed playgrounds. “Who was the idiot who decided this?”
The Baruch Houses playground closure is one of 47 throughout the city shuttered for “Sandy Recovery and Resiliency work,” according to NYCHA.
Another 20 spots are closed for renovations, and 30 are shut due to fixes in nearby buildings or areas. A spokesperson for Adams deferred all comments to NYCHA.
Finding New Funding
Adams has pushed to revamp overall funding structure for the cash-strapped NYCHA.
In June, the state legislature approved a measure that would allow the city’s Housing Authority to create a public trust that could potentially raise billions of dollars for upgrades.
Adams supported the bill, which was based on a proposal by NYCHA Chairperson Gregory Russ.
The trust will float bonds to raise funds NYCHA could use to upgrade apartments — and could ultimately unlock $10 billion in additional funding, according to the Adams administration. But it was only approved by state lawmakers as a pilot program for 25,000 apartments.
Five years ago, NYCHA released a 20-year “Physical Needs Assessment” for all of its playgrounds, which estimated it would cost $63 million to tackle the needed fixes throughout the system.
But just $16.9 million for renovations or repairs has been set aside, according to NYCHA spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt. The money is a mix of city and state discretionary grants from elected officials, internal funding, and a relatively small amount in private and nonprofit investment.
NYCHA officials point out that 66 of the playgrounds that were closed last year have since been reopened.The number is higher this year because another 75 playgrounds have since shut down, according to the NYCHA breakdown given to THE CITY.
And 16 of the sites currently shuttered don’t even have a scheduled reopening date or estimated cost for repairs, according to the roster obtained by THE CITY.
At the Morrisania towers in The Bronx, Omar Doumbia, a 37-year-old cryptocurrency trader said he has to walk 30-minutes from 170th street all the way to 161st for an open playground for his four children.
“We just take it slow. I just want a park with a bathroom!” he said.
Daivon Bodrick, 35, said it’s “wild” how many parks and playgrounds are closed for repairs — and remembered having more access to green spaces when he was younger.
“You could go to damn-near any park and camp [and] play,” he lamented as he used the running track. “They’re taking everything away from us.”
The playground is estimated to be reopened in 30 to 45 days “if there is no recurrence of drug activity,” Goldblatt said on Monday.
The housing agency is working with resident leaders to tamp down on crime in the area, she added.
“But if drug activity reoccurs, we might have to re-close the park for safety measures,” Goldblatt said, noting the other playground at the complex has been repaired, painted and reopened for resident use.
The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.
There are four other play areas at the complex, NYCHA noted: One is closed because of a sinkhole but is set to open within the next three weeks. Another reopened on May 27 after it was closed because of unsafe conditions, and two playgrounds are open and operational, albeit with old, and painted over equipment.
State Sen. Louis Sepulveda said he has been in touch with NYCHA officials about the closed playgrounds.
“Leadership promises they will take measures to improve and open it,” he said. “With redistricting I won’t be representing that area anymore. However, I’ll continue to pursue it and make sure kids get that playground.”
Critics of Adams said his administration’s lack of attention to the playground issue goes against what he promised on the campaign trail.
“The mayor campaigned on a promise to really represent communities of color and low income folks struggling with crime and the only thing he has delivered on in the budget is protecting the Police Department,” said Alex Vitale, the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and author of “The End of Policing.”
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