Authority says it will lease property to private developer
The main parking lot at one of Mott Haven’s biggest public housing complexes is the new flashpoint in tensions between NYCHA residents and the housing authority.
A triangular lot with 83 parking spaces at the corner of East 137th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue will be leased to a private developer in the near future to build 120 units of affordable housing for seniors, a NYCHA official told a roomful of agitated residents at Millbrook Houses at an April 28 meeting in the complex’s community center. After hearing details of the plan, residents questioned whether their own needs are on the authority’s radar at all.
NYCHA’s vice president for development, William Crawley, told the residents that the project is part of the NextGeneration plan, through which the authority hopes to dig out of a nearly $100 million debt that is expected to keep climbing.
“We’re under tremendous fiscal challenges,” Crawley told the gathering. “We’re trying to ensure NYCHA will be around next generation. NYCHA has to find ways to diversify its revenue.”
But residents responded that housing officials should focus on repairing their broken-down apartments instead of looking to make money they suspect won’t be used to benefit them. They expressed more concern over what they feared NYCHA’s longterm plans are than over lost parking.
“There’s a lot of senior citizens in here,” said Gail Jackson-Kelly. “My rent went up $45. That leaves me $45 short to wash my body and to wash my clothes.”
“Why you don’t fix stuff up where we’re living?” another tenant said. “Fix us up first. It’s not fair, sir.”
Although Millbrook seniors would be given preference for apartments in the planned 120-unit development, Crawley said, he added there would be no set-asides for them. That notion didn’t sit well with Millbrook’s tenant president, Princella Jamerson.
“Because you’re taking something away they don’t want you to take, you’ve got to give something back,” she said.
But, Crawley insisted, residents stand to benefit from the new project in a number of ways. Revenue generated from the new building would be reinvested into Millbrook through repairs on apartments, construction jobs for residents and a medical services unit for seniors on the new building’s ground floor.
Despite his assurances, however, many residents said they’d heard similar promises before.
“What are you going to do about our quality of life?” asked resident Brenda Wynn, complaining that the surrounding streets are in desperate need of public investment. Basic amenities such as recycling bins and bus shelters are woefully inadequate within a few blocks of the complex, she complained.
An application NYCHA has submitted for a $300 million federal grant under the Choice Neighborhood initiative would help alleviate some of the concerns residents are most vocal about, Crawley said.
“Instead of doing things on a piecemeal basis, we’re trying to do it on a comprehensive basis. Does the affordable housing solve all the problems? No, but it will help to the good,” he said.
A tenant leader from Davidson Houses in Morrisania, Eric Crawford, advised residents to remain leery of NYCHA’s motives, but added there will be advantages.
“Money will come in to fix your plastering, your peeling paint,” from revenue generated by the new building, he said.
But rapid change is well underway in the neighborhood, he said, and Millbrook’s leaders should be wary of attempts by housing administrators and developers to dupe them.
“Just look what’s happening at the Hub,” he said, referring to massive new development projects in and around the heart of Mott Haven. “Resident leadership needs to be strong.”
“That is not your new home over there,” he said, pointing across the street to the parking lot.
Judith Goldiner, a Legal Aid lawyer who attended the meeting at the request of resident leaders, said the tenants are right to be concerned. She recalled that when a Millbrook resident at the meeting asked how many NYCHA residents now live in the 6,000 affordable housing units private developers have built on NYCHA property, the administrator had no answer.
“The people who most need affordable housing are the people in public housing,” she said, questioning why there are no set-asides for NYCHA tenants in the newly planned developments, as part of NextGeneration. “They’re in apartments that are falling apart.”