An architect's rendering of Mill Brook Terraces.

Planned development riles NYCHA residents

Residents of Mill Brook Houses packed their community center on Monday night to confront developers who plan to construct new housing for seniors on the site of a NYCHA parking lot, over their objections.

An architect's rendering of Mill Brook Terraces.
An architect’s rendering of Mill Brook Terraces.

Mill Brook tenants criticize sale of parking lot to developer

Residents of Mill Brook Houses packed their community center on Monday night to confront developers who plan to construct new housing for seniors on the site of a NYCHA parking lot, over the objections of some.

Housing Authority officials and representatives from the Manhattan-based West Side Federation of Senior and Supportive Housing, a non-profit development group, told an agitated crowd that Mill Brook Terrace will consist of 156 units of 100 percent affordable housing for seniors, with amenities such as a community space, a senior center, terraced gardens and 24-hour security, and will be accessible for Mill Brook residents.

The plan is part of the city’s NextGeneration NYCHA push to lease parking lots and other spaces it considers underused to developers. The Authority says those sales are necessary to help inject desperately needed funds into public housing in the face of deep federal budget cuts, which officials say could exceed $400 million by 2025 unless quick action is taken. It estimates that selling off the underused spaces on its property to developers would generate up to $200 million over the next decade.

Residents expressed their anger at the plans for a glittering new complex while they continue to live in housing that a representative for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said was nightmarish. Diana Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s chief of staff, called living conditions at Mill Brook, “some of the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“The elevators are always broken, and you have to walk up the dirty, dark stairs,” said Nya Janes, 31, a resident of Mill Brook Houses since 2010. “There are filthy walls, the paint is chipping,” she added. Another tenant, who declined to giver her name, said the broken elevators mean she and her young daughter regularly walk up and down 16 flights of stairs.

Janes cited “gunshots and gang activity,” as well as broken doors and the lack of security cameras, echoing a chorus of residents who said they feel unsafe at the complex.

Others were concerned that their little bit of parking and open space would be taken away. Although NYCHA officials tried to reassure them that any disabled or elderly Mill Brook tenant with a parking permit for Lot 4 would be granted a new space as close to their front door as they have now, residents were skeptical. The development team and housing officials added that a quarter of the new apartments would be slated for Mill Brook residents—but tenants said that’s not enough.

Some were hostile to the idea of anything at all being constructed on the space. Though the developers said the new building would be “equally as attractive from both sides,” Gail Jackson-Kelly, 69, a resident of Mill Brook for more than 40 years, bristled at the idea a new building would be going up outside her window. “So all the beautiful breeze I get will be cut off?” she said.

Throughout the meeting, residents said the city is betraying them by selling off pieces of the complex many of them have called home for most of their lives, while giving them little in return.

“If they’re not doing anything for the existing community, why do it at all? We’re important too,” said Shanequa Johnson, 43, who has lived in Mill Brook’s Building One her whole life. “If you’re late with rent, they take you to court, but they’re not fixing anything.”

NYCHA officials say they will continue addressing residents’ questions and concerns at future tenant association meetings. The choice to build a new complex entirely for seniors stemmed from an idea generated by Mill Brook residents, following past planning meetings between the tenants and Housing officials.

The project will be West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing’s fourth property in the borough, including Borinquen Court in Mott Haven.

Units in the new building will be rented out via lottery, and are only eligible to senior citizens who qualify for a Section 8 voucher. Those making less than 50 percent of the area median income will pay a third of their income towards rent, while Section 8 picks up the remainder. A quarter of the units are slated to be reserved for Mill Brook residents, and another quarter for residents of other NYCHA complexes.

Groundbreaking for Mill Brook Terrace is anticipated for next spring.

The story was updated on June 23 to correct an error. The New York City Housing Authority will lease and retain rights to the land developed on all of its properties involved in the NextGeneration NYC initiative.