New York Daily News EXCLUSIVE: NYCHA tenants fear de Blasio's plan for pricey rentals on their grounds will eventually force them out by Greg B. Smith
On his way out of City Hall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried but failed to raise money for cash-strapped NYCHA by building luxury apartments on public land.
Tenants feared they would be displaced. Elected officials filed suit to stop it. The entire proposal collapsed. Last week, Mayor de Blasio put forth his version of the same idea – build hundreds of apartments at two city Housing Authority developments, Wyckoff Houses in Brooklyn and Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side – half of them at market rates no NYCHA resident could afford.
His proposal cut the number of luxury units from 80% to 50%, but he's already running into the same blowback Bloomberg experienced: Tenants and elected officials are blasting the plan as being poorly explained and badly executed.
“How are you going to have people here paying $200, $300 rent, then you’ve got tenants in a brand new building paying $1,500, $2,000?” said one tenant at Wyckoff Gardens last week. “I think they’re trying to force us out.”
De Blasio's plan grants long-term leases to developers to build more than 1,000 apartments on "underutilized" NYCHA parking lots, playgrounds and green space at the two developments.
That's stage one. Ultimately he wants 3,500 "market rate" apartments built on "high value" NYCHA land to raise $600 million over 10 years.
Rent generated by the luxury apartments would help trim NYCHA's budget gap, which will be $98 million this year. Wyckoff and Holmes were picked first because they're in high-rent neighborhoods.
"This is an area where we could realize significant revenue to the authority," NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye told the Daily News.
At Wyckoff, where a hand-painted sign reads, "All is Well," NYCHA plans up to 650 units on two "underutilized" parking lots. This would more than double the size of the 550-unit development.
With 300 market-rate apartments, that's a gold mine in a neighborhood where two-bedrooms go for $3,000-a-month or more.
At Holmes Towers, where a 400-unit high-rise is planned for a NYCHA playground on E. 92nd St., market-rate two bedrooms rent for $5,000 down the street.
The mayor promised to fully explain his proposal to tenants, neighbors and elected officials. Bloomberg was attacked for failing to consult the community.
But residents and elected officials are once again feeling shut out.
Last Wednesday, before the plan was publicly released, residents at Wyckoff and Holmes got robo-calls from Olatoye stating that NYCHA "will have the opportunity to build new housing that will bring additional revenue for repairs and capital improvements in your development."
There was no reference to the hundreds of apartments going up next door, or that half the apartments would rent at sky-high rates.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the vague call only confused and frightened tenants who fear NYCHA secretly wants to sell the land out from under them.
"You can't do robo-calls on a plan nobody understands," Brewer said.
Valerie Bell, 56, who's lived at Wyckoff for 50 years, got the robo-call around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. All it did was make her mad.
"She just said there was going to be a meeting but she didn't give a date," Bell said. "It wasn't like what the newspaper said," holding up a copy of the Daily News which spelled out the numbers of units.
Some tenants also fear all those new market-rate tenants will drive up the price of everything in their already expensive neighborhoods.
Across from Wyckoff Gardens is a bodega that's been there for years. A block away is Brooklyn Circus, where they sell $110 tee-shirts and "varsity" jackets for nearly $300.
"With the market rate income, what's going to be happening to a neighborhood that's already stressed?" asked Beverly Corbin, 61, a longtime Wyckoff resident. "The people who are high income, they're not going to be shopping at the local bodega. We already lost a Chinese restaurant and a laundromat."
On the Upper East Side, Rose Bergin, district chair of the Manhattan South Council of NYCHA Tenant Association Presidents, questioned how NYCHA will shoe-horn all those units into such a tight slot.
"They're nuts. They're absolutely insane," she said. "We're on top of each other as it is."
Councilman Ben Kallos, whose district includes Holmes, said de Blasio promised to meet personally with residents next month, though Kallos still thinks the plan is wrong.
"This is going to demoralize residents seeing that their light and air and playgrounds have no value and the city is just going to wall them in," he said.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) fired off a letter to NYCHA questioning how it could justify "taking light, air and playground space from residents of Holmes Towers in order to balance its budget."
Public Housing Committee Chairman Ritchie Torres praised the plan for raising money, but worried about new market-rate apartments going up next to NYCHA apartments that still need repairs.
He suggested NYCHA make sure revenue generated by this plan is steered first to repair the affected developments.
"The city should invest in extensive rehabilitation," he said. "It would be wrong to develop market rate housing without rehabilitating the units that are there."