Gothamist Upper East Side NYCHA Residents Fight To Save Their Playground From Private Development by Gaby Del Valle

Gothamist
Gothamist
Upper East Side NYCHA Residents Fight To Save Their Playground From Private Development
Gaby Del Valle
09/19/2016

091916NYCHA.jpeg
(Andriy Prokopenko / Flickr)

Residents of an Upper East Side NYCHA development fear the City's plan to construct a luxury building on Housing Authority property will leave local kids without a place to play.

The Holmes Towers, located at 92nd and 93rd Streets between First Avenue and York Avenue, are one of the development sites for NextGen Neighborhoods, Mayor de Blasio's 10-year plan to save the cash-strapped Housing Authority. As part of NextGen, which is similar to a plan Mayor Bloomberg introduced in 2013, NYCHA can either lease or sell unused lands to private developers in an effort to reduce its multi-billion dollar deficit. But locals are worried because the proposed Holmes development site isn't an unused lot—it's the location of their local playground—and claim that the Housing Authority chose the site without properly consulting with them.

In a letter delivered to NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye on September 1st, the Holmes Stakeholder Committee—which includes City Council Member Ben Kallos, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Holmes Tower residents—outlined their concerns with the selected site.

Of three proposed sites, the stakeholders claim, the playground was chosen "amid widespread resistance from the community to development that would take away the park from the children."

"The entirety of the Stakeholder Committee is not in favor [of the site], so there are a lot of questions about whether it really represents what residents chose," Paul Westrick, Kallos's Legislative Director, told Gothamist. Westrick added that although NYCHA held community engagement meetings this past February, they "were not well attended, and the public outreach they did wasn't really extensive." Because of a lack of community engagement, the stakeholders are requesting that the agency extend the proposal deadline from September 30th to November 30th.

As part of the Holmes development plan, NYCHA will be able to provide 60-year leases to private developers. The proposed development's RFP requires developers to build luxury apartments, with 50 percent of units meeting affordability requirements for households earning 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), approximately $48,960 annually for a family of three. The RFP also requires developers to include a replacement play area or "a comparable community benefit."

"The reason we have a playground is so people living in the NYCHA building have light and air," Council Member Kallos told Gothamist. "What [NYCHA is] planning on doing is taking the place that provides light and air and putting a building on it, which would block the airflow coming into those [existing] units."

Kallos says the current playground site is the only one that makes sense for the Holmes development. "If they were to turn the existing parking lot into a playground, the children would literally sit there inhaling fumes from the FDR and looking at the garbage dump that's being built near there."

Kallos is also urging NYCHA to require the development to go through the city's standard rezoning process [pdf], although a rezoning is not technically required at the development site. Since NextGen would allow for market-rate housing to be built on City land, Kallos thinks a rezoning is needed.

"Affordability is a word that covers a lot, which can vary from 20% of the AMI to as high as 165% of the AMI—so a family earning over six figures can still qualify for affordable housing in the city," Kallos said. "It's a sad state of affairs when a family making 6 figures not only has affordable housing available, but also needs affordable housing. There's a difference between building 100% affordable housing on city land and building luxury housing on city land."

But NYCHA officials insist they have made every effort to consult with the community. "Engaging residents and the community has been at the core of the NextGen Neighborhoods program," a NYCHA spokesperson told Gothamist. "We are reviewing the issues raised in this letter and will continue to make partnership central in this process."

According to a Kallos staffer, NYCHA has yet to respond to the Stakeholder Committee's requests. Brewer, the borough president, did not respond to our request for comment.

Issue: 
Affordable Housing