Outrage over infill scheme at seniors housing complex

Photo by Paul Bufano Meltzer Tower residents Issac Quinerly, left, and Shirley Jackson talking to each other in the outdoor seating area where the new “80/20” development would go. 

Photo by Paul Bufano
Meltzer Tower residents Issac Quinerly, left, and Shirley Jackson talking to each other in the outdoor seating area where the new “80/20” development would go.

BY PAUL BUFANO  |  Seniors living in one East Village apartment building rely on its park to get fresh air and to enjoy playing chess in the shade, but the green space may soon be replaced by a seven-story development with a 99-year ground lease.

The New York City Housing Authority is moving forward with a plan to allow private “infill development” on eight of its Manhattan sites, including one at Meltzer Tower, a 20-story building exclusively for seniors at 94 E. First St.

The buildings would be rentals, with a mix of 80 percent market-rate units and 20 percent affordable units. At Meltzer, an outdoor seating area with trees and benches now used by the complex’s senior residents would be replaced by a 121,500-square-foot, 97-unit building with additional space for retail stores on the ground floor.

NYCHA is set to release a request for proposals (R.F.P.) for interested developers near the end of this month, but many local residents and politicians are calling for a slowdown in the process and for greater transparency.

Issac Quinerly, 71, a Meltzer tenant and Manhattan resident since 1984, said he feels NYCHA has misled him about the details of the development.

“I went to the meetings and wasn’t impressed by what I seen,” Quinerly said. “They were talking about how they were going to save our building, so I guess that just means no more outside time for us. They’re leasing the land to a private developer for 99 years? What kind of lease is that? By the time it’s up we will all be dead!”

Karen Brown has lived in a privately owned apartment building behind the park at 105 E. Second St. for 33 years. She is a member of Friends of Meltzer, a group of local residents fighting to preserve the park for the seniors and the neighborhood.

“We are very uncomfortable with the way NYCHA is handling the project,” Brown said. “We understand that there is a deficit, and that the development will bring in money, but does it really require taking away a park for senior citizens? Meltzer has a parking lot that could be made into a profitable one. There just doesn’t seem to be any digging down for creative ideas to create revenue.”

Fred Harris, executive vice president for Development at NYCHA, said that he wants every resident to understand what’s going on, and why it’s happening.

“We have set up multiple meetings because we want to get feedback from residents, and then get back to them with helpful answers and actions,” Harris said. Referring to the meeting for the Meltzer residents, he said, “We know that not everyone speaks English, so at the meeting we had a simultaneous translation through headsets in Russian, Chinese and Spanish to ensure that everyone could follow along.”

Harris said that his primary concern is addressing the impact of the development on Meltzer residents and on the community.

“We have been looking into alternatives to taking away the park, but so far we haven’t found any,” Harris said. “It’s certainly very possible to leave a portion of the seating area, and we can do some reconfiguring, but it wouldn’t be too much smaller at this point. We understand residents enjoy it, so the plan isn’t to have the buildings right up against each other.”

Councilmember Rosie Mendez chairs the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing, which will hold a hearing on the plan at City Hall on Fri., April 5, at 10 a.m. She said she is asking NYCHA for additional meetings with meaningful input from the community to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

“The development has disadvantages just as it has benefits, so you really have to take everything into account,” Mendez said. “While Meltzer wasn’t flooded by Hurricane Sandy, it lost power for five days. With these buildings, developers will include generators so that in the event of a blackout, [the whole complex] can stay powered up, which is crucial for a senior population.”

A significant portion of the money generated from the new buildings will go toward repairs and maintenance, including fixing roofs, elevators and lobbies and upgrading security systems in the existing complexes where the new projects are sited.

NYCHA reports that Meltzer Tower needs $10.5 million in capital building improvements over the next five years.

Harris said the new tower would help pay for the necessary work. He estimated it would generate around $970,000 annually — based on the projected 97 apartments providing an average of about $10,000 per year.

“Aside from rent revenue, the new development would also create many temporary construction jobs, and then permanent employment opportunities in the retail stores on the ground floor,” he added. “There’s no doubt that it will stimulate the economy in the area.”

Quinerly said that despite the project’s alleged benefits for Meltzer, he was still skeptical any good will come from it.

“I love the area and don’t ever want to leave, but if a community is going to be ignored and overlooked, what other choice do I have?” Quinerly asked. “The sad thing is not many other people here have that option to leave like me. I really hope these officials don’t take my words lightly because a lot of lives could be impacted, and not necessarily in the best of ways.”

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7 Responses to Outrage over infill scheme at seniors housing complex

  1. If you think that the money raised from taking away people's light and air is going to be used to fix their rotting homes in these projects, then I got a bridge I'd like to sell you. The City does not want these apartments fixed up, because that might encourage people to stay there. The goal is to get people out of public housing, force them to work for a living and become tax payers, not tax takers. The City has no financial reason to repair these apartments, and just like the lottery-for-education scheme, money added by the new developments only means that current funds will be diverted elsewhere. You're a fool if you think this scam is going to fix up the projects.

  2. Unless I'm mistaken, Fred Harris was the former head of development for AvalonBay, the large REIT that brought us the outside behemoth known as the "Avalon" on both sides of Houston Street between 2nd Avenue and The Bowery. There's additional information about the hiring of Mr. Harris here: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120201/REA…. I find it difficult to believe that, given his track record, Mr. Harris would want to do anything but build the largest possible building on the site. Park? What park?

  3. Meltzer Park has been an oasis of greenery for over forty years, with two dozen leafy trees, and many bushes and plants. It provides light and clean air not only to Meltzer's residents but to our entire community. The idea of destroying this little oasis for yet another hogh rise luxury development defies belief. Let's not let them do it!

  4. "NYCHA reports that Meltzer Tower needs $10.5 million in capital building improvements…" Is it just me, or do others find it a bit ironic that NYCHA spent 10 million (yes million) dollars on a "report" from the Boston Consulting Group (the same "consultant" who brought Philly their public school system privatization plan). The people I know who interface with HUD on a regular basis have told me that the "report" was boilerplate- full of nice platitudes but nothing that an "in-house" strategic plan couldn't have done – better, with more precise knowledge, and much much cheaper.

  5. So far there has been no meeting with the community surrounding the Meltzer Tower to understand or assess impact of the proposed building so Fred Harris' statement is a case of the emperor wearing no clothes. This 'process' is frightening because there is no process. It is a one sided effort to force this down the throats of NYCHA residents, neighborhoods and community boards. Citizens Beware! We need to fight back through every possible channel and medium at the very least to expose the lack of process.

  6. Firstly, the City does not own NYCHA or its properties. The City and State provides NYCHA with zero funding and in the last 10 years the Federal government has consistently cut funding to NYCHA. NYCHA is a State chartered federally funded organization who's sole purpose is to preserve, operate and maintain public housing for New Yorkers.

    As for Meltzer Park, it is definetly not an oasis unless you like concrete. I just recently attended a roundtable discussion with the residents of Meltzer Houses. The majority of the residents complained that the park was not safe and drug dealers and homeless people were frequently in the park. All agreed that a smaller, secure and improved sitting area was preferable than what is there now. If the future of public housing relies on the building of a few mixed income buildings, then so be it.

    There are many people that suddenly claim to be friends of the Meltzer residents; however, it is obvious that they are more interested in protecting there views than championing the preservation of public housing.

  7. Housing for low-income people has been politically and systematically (and some would say deliberately) impoverished starting with the 80's. Enter the private sector saviors. But it's the old story: where low-priority people used to live- sits newly valuable land ripe for development.
    The Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) followed up their pricey profit-minded consultant's advice by tearing down housing for the poor. They promised to rebuild mixed income housing and to welcome back former tenants. But these"renewal" mixed income projects displaced a record number of poor families. Restrictions were created to make having been poor itself almost a guarantee of being refused re-entry. Because of these restrictions and the need for more units for upper income tenants "…only a tenth of the original residents ever returned". The AHA paid outside PR firms large sums of money to manufacture press- possibly even creating a fake (good) news site. The developers, the highly paid AHA officials and the lucky few accepted tenants may have been pleased but a lot of other people lost their homes (albeit dilapedated ones) and hope.
    The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, applauded the AHA effort and released it's own suggestions for how NYCHA could follow their lead. With open approval of the removal of low-income housing. "NYCHA could experiment by starting with those well-located projects for which developers would pay top dollar. Or it could instead designate projects—like some of the old, deteriorating, state-financed ones…"
    How does this all pan out for tenants?
    On one blistering hot day in 2010 in Atlanta, 30,000 working poor, along with other desperate hopefuls, lined up to get an application for one of 62 vouchers available. Some feel this public housing "fix" has failed – starkly. And has resulted in removing most low-income tenants out of sight into new and more isolated pockets of lousy housing.

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