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BY HEATHER DUBIN | Councilmember Rosie Mendez walked into the New York City Housing Authority’s annual public hearing to loud applause from the crowd of hundreds of people packed into Pace University’s Schimmel Hall to protest a plan for new luxury apartments on NYCHA’s land.
Many of the public housing residents at the July 24 hearing expressed outrage at NYCHA’s proposed “infill plan,” which would lease 14 sites at eight Manhattan public housing projects to developers to build high-rise towers for a total of 4,000 new units, with 80 percent at market-rate rent and 20 percent for affordable housing.
The anticipated revenue for NYCHA from the plan is $50 million annually. Construction would take place on what are currently parks, playgrounds and parking lots on NYCHA grounds.
The majority of the sites are in the East Village and Lower East Side, including Baruch Houses, Campos Plaza, Smith Houses, Meltzer Tower and LaGuardia Houses.
About a dozen police officers stood outside the auditorium as people lined the street waiting to get in. Nearby, others held signs with sayings like, “Bloomberg Hands Off Public Housing,” and yelled slogans from across the street.
NYCHA Chairperson John Rhea and the other members of the authority’s board were booed when introduced. However, Housing Bureau Police Chief Joanne Jaffe, who was also seated with the board members, received applause. The NYCHA board was not allowed to speak, but were there to listen to the many people who wanted to voice their opinions. Residents, activists and local politicians were each given three minutes to speak; a nearby clock kept track, and the microphone cut off when the time was up. Translators were available in four languages.
“Public housing is in absolute crisis,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Walter Mosley.
He blasted the infill scheme as a classic “tale of two cities,” and said it would undermine public housing.
“Luxury housing is the last thing our city needs more of. This is about private developers,” he declared.
He was followed by Ruby Kitchen, a resident of the King Towers housing development, who was irate at someone’s having claimed that public housing tenants would be pushed out by the plan in the next five years. She was indignant, saying residents did not have any input into the idea.
“You can’t get your money from HUD without tagging us along,” she said, referring to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We demand respect. We need you to know: We are human beings. Treat us as human beings.”
Three councilmembers, Mendez, Margaret Chin and Melissa Mark-Viverito, spoke together against the plan. They pointed out in a written statement that when NYCHA consulted with residents, they said “No” as well.
The trio of councilmembers urged the authority to “recover $100 million in operating revenues — in the form of extraordinary N.Y.P.D. and PILOT payments [payments in lieu of taxes],” and to reinvest these funds “in frontline repairs and critical upgrades at developments all over the city that will positively contribute to the quality of life of residents and preserve hundreds of thousands of affordable public housing units.”
NYCHA currently must pay the Police Department tens of millions of dollars annually to patrol its grounds and buildings.
“Public housing is a public good!” Mendez shouted as the group departed from the microphone.
The day before the hearing, mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner had seen a second major sexting scandal involving him erupt in the media. When Weiner initially took the mic to speak at the Pace public hearing, the audience booed.
Weiner spoke of his recent overnight stay at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem with other candidates for mayor. He slammed the deplorable conditions there, such as scaffolding that had not been removed in more than 20 years, dark black mold all around the edges of the floor in one apartment, and holes behind a stove, from which an odor was wafting.
“It’s going on hundred and thousands of times,” Weiner said. “We need to change how we do things.”
He listed several ideas to overhaul NYCHA that he would do if elected. After plugging his bid, a noticeable shift had occurred in the audience, and Weiner exited the room to raucous applause.
Numerous speakers accused NYCHA of misusing funds. The agency’s budget report projects a deficit of $87.1 million for 2014.