Anger over a plan to build private developments in the Frederick Douglass Houses boiled over at a crowded and chaotic meeting Thursday night.
Over 200 residents of the Upper West Side public housing complex voiced their complaints about the plan, which the New York City Housing Authority says would create a much-needed source of revenue. Proceedings became so rowdy that police intervened.
Despite about 200 chairs set up for the meeting at the Children’s Aid Society gymnasium on Columbus Avenue and 104th Street, people stood lining the walls and streaming out the door.
“This is a disgrace, that you are doing this to low income people,” Frederick Douglass resident Madelyn Innocent told the NYCHA officials at the meeting.
Police were called about half an hour into the meeting in response to persistent banging on the doors. Officers circled the room, approaching residents who refused to give up the microphone during the question-and-answer session and escorting out of the room one woman who did not stop shouting.
In between interruptions, the NYCHA representatives released more specifics about the plan, which would add 794 apartments to the complex, between 100th and 104th streets and between Amsterdam and Manhattan avenues.
Three apartment buildings would be built, one on 104th Street, another on 100th Street, and the third on Manhattan Avenue. All three towers would be built on current parking lots, with the 100th Street building also taking over an existing resident garden. Eighty percent of the units would be set at market-rate prices, and 20 percent will be reserved for low-income tenants.
“This plan is about making public housing available for many generations to come,” Margarita Lopez, a NYCHA board member and former City Council member. “We need one thing for the preservation: revenue.”
According to Lopez and the several other NYCHA representatives, the agency is currently underfunded by $876 million, in part due to cuts in federal assistance. NYCHA anticipates gaining anywhere between $30 and $50 million in revenue from the Frederick Douglass developments, with more from similar projects around the city.
Lopez said there will be no demolitions of existing Frederick Douglass buildings and rents will not be raised. No one will be asked to vacate an apartment, no land will be sold, and no facilities employees would suffer job losses or have additional work, she said emphatically.
Moreover, all revenue from the plan would first go entirely to repairs and facilities improvements in the Frederick Douglass houses.
The plan would “preserve public housing, restore financial stability, transform the way we do things and improve services,” Lopez said.
But residents were not convinced, with some heckling the representatives from across the room.
Philip Larrier, 40, who has lived in the houses his whole life, said the project didn’t make sense.
“Have you seen the parking lots? They are jammed in,” in between the buildings, he said. “Who wants to pay top dollar to live between the projects?”
Bobby Forestal, another lifelong Frederick Douglass resident, said he worried about reductions in parking.
“They should have already mapped out beforehand the alternative places for people to park,” he said. Lopez said NYCHA would resolve the lack of parking before construction.
City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district includes the complex, said the plan was bad for Frederick Douglass.
“We know that what is happening is something that concerns all the surrounding neighborhood,” she said.
After the meeting, Frederick Douglass Houses Tenants Association President Jane Wisdom also expressed dissatisfaction with the process.
“This wasn’t good,” Wisdom said. "I am tired of them telling us what we have got to do."
Wisdom said she plans to organize a forum on the plan in the future, and State Senator Bill Perkins said he will be having a meeting for residents at his office on 125th Street on Saturday morning.
Mark Levine, a Democratic district leader and candidate for City Council, said that while residents’ turnout and energy were encouraging, he thought it was “an extraordinarily unproductive meeting.”
Nick Prigo, co-chair of Community Board 7’s housing committee, said in a tweet that the meeting was “one long filibuster preventing community engagement.”