News | Upper West Side

2012-13 in review: Locals decry private development at Frederick Douglass Houses

  • David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer
    HOUSING HAVOC | Rebecca Finlan and Fred Harris of NYCHA listen as resident Carmen Quinones assails the agency.
  • Luke Henderson / Senior Staff Photographer
    HOUSING HAVOC | NYCHA plans to privatize housing in the Frederick Douglass Houses.
  • David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer
    HOUSING HAVOC | NYCHA board member Margarita Lopez listens to angry residents.
  • David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer
    HOUSING HAVOC | City Council candidate Zead Ramadan speaks.

This article is part of a special issue looking back at the 2012-13 academic year. Read the rest of the issue here.

The New York City Housing Authority’s plan to build private market-rate housing in an Upper West Side affordable housing complex has sparked widespread opposition among residents and local politicians over the last few months.

The plan, announced in early February, is part of a citywide effort to reduce NYCHA’s budget shortfall. Officials want to construct 14 apartment buildings in eight affordable housing complexes, including three towers in between the Frederick Douglass Houses, which span 100th to 104th streets from Amsterdam to Manhattan avenues.

NYCHA is currently underfunded by $876 million, and officials anticipate receiving between $30 million and $50 million from the development.

“This innovative plan to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of value will allow us to reinvest in NYCHA, where we badly need to make up for the devastating decline in Congressional funding,” the housing authority said in a statement when it first announced the plan.

The plan does not need to go through a city review process­; it will need approval only from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A NYCHA representative told Spectator last month that it would release a request for development proposals by the end of April, but the request still has not been released. A NYCHA spokesperson said in a statement last week that there is now no timeframe for the proposal to be released.

Meanwhile, locals are up in arms about the idea of private development in the complex, as well as what they say is a lack of transparency from NYCHA.

Community Board 7 unanimously passed a resolution last week calling for a moratorium on the developments until more outreach has been done and urging NYCHA to find other ways to gain revenue.

CB7 housing committee chair Nick Prigo said the board’s concerns about the proposal include the effects increased population density would have on schools and transit as well as construction safety issues.

Prigo said the agency has acted in an underhanded way, and described the RFP as a “looming threat.”

“People do not trust NYCHA,” Prigo said.

“NYCHA hasn’t been transparent at all,” CB7 member Madelyn Innocent, a Frederick Douglass Houses resident, said.

Innocent traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak directly to HUD officials about the proposals and what she felt was the rushed timing of the RFP.

Public meetings about the issue throughout the past few months have often been rowdy. At a meeting in March, over 200 people showed up to the jam-packed venue. Police were called in to intervene after repeated banging on the doors and escorted a woman out who refused to stop yelling.

A long line of Frederick Douglass residents assailed NYCHA leadership.

“Have you seen the parking lots? They are jammed in,” between the buildings, Philip Larrier, 40, who has lived in the houses his whole life, said. “Who wants to pay top dollar to live between the projects?”

Bobby Forestal, another lifelong Frederick Douglass resident, said at the meeting that he worried about reductions in parking.

“They should have already mapped out beforehand the alternative places for people to park,” he said. Lopez said NYCHA would resolve the lack of parking before construction.

Frederick Douglass Houses Tenants’ Association president Jane Wisdom said NYCHA’s treatment of the issue is indicative of the way it usually operates with residents.

“This wasn’t good,” Wisdom said. “I am tired of them telling us what we have got to do.”

At a packed CB7 housing committee meeting last month, Frederick Douglass residents and locals expressed frustration that the agency would build private housing while the existing public buildings face facilities and infrastructure issues.

“You guys need to fix the problem before you start another problem,” Carmen Quinones, a longtime Frederick Douglass resident, told Brian Honan, NYCHA’s director of city and state legislative affairs. She alluded to an oft-repeated claim by residents at the meeting that asbestos and other unsafe living conditions are causing health problems in the buildings.

The pleas have continued to fall on deaf ears, though—NYCHA representatives have repeatedly professed that the development is the only way to fix the deficit.

“This project is maybe not the Housing Authority’s first choice,” Honan said. But, he stressed, “We have to get funding. Otherwise, we won’t be talking about building new developments. We will be talking about knocking them down,” he said.

news@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ColumbiaSpec

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