New York City Housing Authority representatives released new details about the timeline for development in the Frederick Douglass Houses at a meeting Wednesday night, as opponents vowed to pursue a class action lawsuit.
The meeting, at West Side High School, was the second held by NYCHA to explain the development plan, which involves constructing three private apartment buildings in the middle of the Upper West Side public housing complex, between 100th and 104th streets and between Amsterdam and Manhattan avenues.
While NYCHA representatives mostly discussed already-released information about the plan, they also detailed the project’s approval process. First, a request for proposals will go out by the end of April, Lynn Godfrey, chief communications officer for NYCHA, told Spectator—a detail that was not included in the public presentation. “It goes out to potential developers, and it will be open for public review,” Godfrey said.
Fred Harris, NYCHA’s executive vice president for development, told attendees that before any construction can begin, there must be a formal review process with an environmental review, formal community engagement involving a more detailed presentation about the plan, and approval from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Then, “if everything were to go off without a hitch,” Harris said, the submission of an application to HUD “might occur near the end of next year.”
He added that construction was not likely to begin until 2016. Opponents, however, are hoping to derail that process.
Frederick Douglass Tenant Association President Jane Wisdom said residents would take NYCHA to court. “We are going to do a class action suit,” she said. Wisdom said the lawsuit already has the support of tenants’ associations at Smith Houses and Amsterdam Houses. She also said that she is working with “two lawyers, and I’m getting ready to hire a third.”
About 300 people attended the meeting, which was generally less rowdy than the first meeting last month, when many attendees were shut out and police had to be called to keep things under control. Harris acknowledged the chaos of that meeting. “To the extent in which any of you were inconvenienced, I apologize,” he said Wednesday.
Because of the more spacious accommodations Wednesday, opposition was less fierce—but attendees still chastised the agency. Madelyn Innocent, a Frederick Douglass resident and newly appointed Community Board 7 member said that NYCHA had not been transparent at many of the roundtable discussions that agency employees regularly cite as resident outreach. “We said nothing about luxury buildings” at the roundtables, Innocent said. She warned that “they say they’re not going to privatize it, not now.”
Political candidates also railed against the plan. “This is a land grab,” Zead Ramadan, who is running for the City Council seat that includes the houses, said. “Do not allow them to start the process.”
“We need to fight this. We need to stop this,” said CB7 member Mel Wymore, who is running for a different Upper West Side City Council seat. “This is a public process that is non-existent. This is not going to improve the community.”
Democratic District Leader Mark Levine, who is running against Ramadan for City Council, also attended the meeting. But instead of speaking, he handed out campaign material in the back of the room, eliciting jeers from attendees at one point.
NYCHA representatives tried to assuage some concerns and said the development is necessary to restore financial security to the cash-strapped agency. “We, like you, want to save not only Douglass houses, but all of the other public houses,” NYCHA Vice President of Community Operations Deidra Gilliard said.
Harris explained that NYCHA would own the land on which the private developments were built, but the developers would run the buildings. “NYCHA remains owner of all public housing,” he said.
Many attendees left the hearing halfway through to discuss the development at a CB7 meeting happening simultaneously at Red Oak Apartments on 106th Street and Columbus Avenue. “As a community board, we should act now,” Wymore, who introduced a resolution to delay the request for proposals, said at the CB7 meeting.
While that resolution was tabled for a later meeting, board members and attendees were solidly against the developments. Rebecca Godlewicz, a representative for Borough President Scott Stringer, said Stringer wanted NYCHA to use the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, an approval process that would require more oversight from locals and elected officials.
“The best thing would be a moratorium,” Democratic District Leader Cynthia Doty said, but she said the agency needed to improve engagement with the public no matter the case.
Avantika Kumar contributed reporting.