Politico: City quietly pauses plans for private development at Brooklyn NYCHA site

By Sally Goldenberg
May 6, 2019

This article posted here with permission from Politico NY, copyright Politico LLC 2019.

The de Blasio administration has postponed plans to develop private apartment buildings on a public housing site in East Williamsburg, signaling another challenge in the city’s quest to generate revenue for the struggling New York City Housing Authority.

Several people involved in NYCHA’s 2017 proposal to lease an underused parking lot at the site of Cooper Park Houses for private construction said City Hall quietly shelved it amid backlash from politicians and residents.

The City Council member representing the 11-building complex, Antonio Reynoso, said he won’t support the project unless it raises adequate money for the site, which needs about $120 million in the next five years for repairs.

“We need to make sure that whatever we do related to development, we gotta get the bang for our buck,” he said in a recent interview. “Whatever we do on these projects, we can’t just give away land and do infill if we’re not going to make a dent in the capital needs.”

“Infill” refers to a proposal floated at the end of the Bloomberg administration to lease underutilized land at NYCHA developments to private builders to raise money for the agency’s capital needs, which near $32 billion over five years.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he retooled Bloomberg’s plan so most of that private housing — 21 of 25 proposed developments — would be entirely devoted to his affordable housing plan. The other four would be a 50-50 split of market-rate and low-income housing.

“I think this is the kind of change we have needed for a long time, and it does respond to the many things that there were concerns raised about over the last years that were missing in the previous plan,” he said in announcing it in May of 2015.

But several years later, after his idea yielded virtually no revenue for the housing authority, de Blasio announced last fall the deals would include much more market-rate housing.

In December, he and former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen presented a plan to generate $24 billion over 10 years for the housing authority, in part by allowing developers to rent 70 percent of the new apartments built on NYCHA land at market rates. The remaining 30 percent would be reserved for low- and middle-income renters.

Cooper Park, where the city envisioned about 250 new apartments, had been one of the sites originally slated for half market-rate rentals. But the administration has yet to release a solicitation for developers and the project is officially listed as in “preliminary resident engagement,” according to NYCHA.

At the December press conference, Glen called the 50-50 plan a “failure.”

Reynoso said he would only support the Cooper Park development if the ground lease netted NYCHA at least $60 million to cover half of the site’s five-year repair price tag.

“There’s no way a project this small is going to get us to $60 million,” he added. “And if it does, we gotta get into real estate.”

He said interim NYCHA chair Kathryn Garcia basically agreed with his assessment.

“She also said that if there’s not a significant return, the project isn’t worth it. She won’t push it,” he said, recounting a recent conversation.

Reynoso proposed an alternative to Garcia: Private housing for low-income seniors who live in multi-bedroom NYCHA apartments that could be freed for larger families without displacing senior citizens.

But the city has been slow to move on separate plans to create more housing for elderly people on restricted incomes on NYCHA land.

“She said the money is not there for the senior housing at this moment, so she’s operating under the belief that it doesn’t exist,” Reynoso said of Garcia.

The city said it is still pursuing development plans at Cooper Park, but didn’t provide further details.

“We are not walking away from our commitment to deliver critical repairs for Cooper Park residents,” mayoral spokesperson Olivia Lapeyrolerie said. “We are simply doing our due diligence by engaging all the relevant stakeholders. While it is critical to get feedback, these conversations with elected officials and residents should not be interpreted as a change of course.”

Two sources with knowledge of the plans said the Cooper Park proposal is stalled. While Reynoso’s support isn’t necessary, they said the administration is uninclined to battle him and residents.

During a meeting at the office of Assemblyman Joseph Lentol last June, tenants voiced concerns to NYCHA officials and Lynne Patton, who heads the regional office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They also detailed those concerns — loss of parking space, inadequate sunlight from the shadow of a tall building, strain on sewers, schools and transportation — in an 11-page letter to city officials last May.

“Again, while we support the construction and preservation of ‘affordable’ housing in our community, we believe that this proposal is not one that will benefit but definitely have a negative effect on this community,” they wrote.

NYCHA responded several months later, assuring residents lost parking spots would be replaced and the impact of new construction would be carefully studied once the city selected a developer.

Three elected officials, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Lentol and former state Sen. Martin Dilan, signed a letter to Patton last September joining the chorus of concerns about the city’s proposal and requesting more opportunity for public input.

Meanwhile the residents have retained a lawyer, Paula Segal of the Community Development Project’s equitable neighborhoods practice, who says the housing authority must conduct an environmental review of the impact of private development before reaching out to builders, not after.

Cooper Park residents have formed a coalition with tenants in other NYCHA developments to organize against the city’s current proposals.

“We will stand with the rest of our neighbors,” Karen Leader of the Cooper Park Residents Council said in a recent interview. “Our fight doesn’t begin and end with Cooper Park only. … NYCHA really needs to go back to the table and rethink these plans.”

This article is from Politico.