City officials are moving forward with their controversial plan to build private apartment towers in an Upper West Side public housing complex.
The New York City Housing Authority invited developers to submit preliminary proposals for the Frederick Douglass Houses and seven other complexes around the city last month.
The infill plan, an attempt to reverse the agency’s long-standing budget shortfall, proposes to build 14 new mixed-use apartments containing both market-rate and affordable housing, as well as possibly community facilities, retail, or commercial space. Residents and local officials have criticized the plan, arguing that the developments may overburden the sites and that NYCHA has not done enough resident outreach.
Now, developers have until Nov. 18 to respond to the agency’s Request for Expressions of Interest. That will postpone the decision to choose a developer until after the Nov. 5 mayoral election—and all of the major Democratic candidates have said that they plan to scrap the infill plan entirely if elected.
But if the plan goes on, the agency said that the proposals submitted in response to the RFEI would go through another round of vetting, known as a Request For Proposals.
Having both an RFEI and an RFP would allow for more community engagement, the agency said in a statement.
“The RFEI was informed by extensive outreach to NYCHA residents, affected Community Boards and local elected officials,” the statement read. “NYCHA extended the release date of the request several months to continue to engage residents and revise the RFEI to reflect their input.”
However, the agency left itself a loophole, noting in the RFEI that the second round of vetting might be skipped—if a candidate’s plan is “exceptional,” NYCHA could bypass the RFP step and select a final plan immediately. Theoretically, a final developer could be selected before the next mayor was sworn in on Jan. 1, leaving the new mayoral administration bound to the project.
NYCHA said that the final plan would have to reflect the goal of improving the availability and quality of affordable public housing and that it would use revenue generated from the project to bring the eight developments to a state of good repair.
The statement also said that NYCHA planned to engage residents both before and after developers are selected, and that seven of the eight proposed developments—including the Frederick Douglass Houses—will likely have to undergo the city’s Uniform Land Use and Review Procedure, which may require a ground level of retail or commercial space as per community members’ suggestion. All eight developments will have to undergo review by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Yet local community board members feel that true resident engagement is still needed—and that the planned infill development remains problematic.
Nick Prigo, Community Board 7 housing committee chair, said the release of an RFEI is likely good news for residents because it means the “decision is being pushed off to the next mayor.”
Because the likeliest candidates for mayor oppose the project entirely, Prigo said that the development was unlikely to happen.
Still, he said he was dismayed. “NYCHA’s still pushing forward, even if it is in the form of an RFEI,” he said.
Moreover, he said, the agency is still not committed to listening to locals.
“I would say that the resident engagement continues to be superficial at best,” Prigo said, adding that NYCHA’s way of engaging Frederick Douglass residents has consisted more of telling them what would happen, instead of asking them their opinions.
CB7 chair Mark Diller, CC ’80, called the RFEI “a tiny step in the right direction,” given that it leaves the proposal open to alternative ways of raising revenue, such as retail. The board has called for alternative remedies for the shortfall.
But Diller said that NYCHA has continued not to take community consultation into account and instead offered “top-down” proposals.
At the same time, he said that the budget shortfall itself remains a pressing concern.
“The issue itself is real,” Diller said. “We absolutely have to find a solution to fund public housing and make it work.”