The City Council and a group of tenants have filed a lawsuit against the Bloomberg administration over the New York City Housing Authority’s plan to build market-rate apartments in public housing complexes, the New York Times reported.
The controversial plan, which represents NYCHA’s attempt to address a long-standing budget deficit, would build 14 apartment buildings spread out over eight public housing developments, including Frederick Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side.
It has sparked controversy and a series of angry public meetings at Frederick Douglass Houses, between Manhattan and Amsterdam avenues and between 100th and 104th streets.
The lawsuit asks that NYCHA rescind the Request for Expressions of Interest it filed in August, which called for developers to submit ideas by Nov. 18. The plaintiffs say the lawsuit aims to forestall any deals that could be reached during Bloomberg’s term so that the new administration will not be bound to the infill plan.
“The city has the ability to designate a developer and tie the hands of the incoming administration,” Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the tenants, told the New York Times. “The new administration would be without remedy.”
NYCHA told the Times in a statement that it has received interest from developers and looks forward to receiving proposals.
“It’s unfortunate that the City Council is attempting to block a proposal that would generate significant revenue for the New York City Housing Authority—money that would go directly into developments and repairs for residents,” the statement said.
But Nick Prigo, Community Board 7 housing committee co-chair, said in an email that given widespread opposition to the plan, the lawsuit was “a very positive step.”
“Since NYCHA announced this plan earlier this year there has been a nearly universal outcry against the way they have been trying to ram this plan through without any real community consultation,” Prigo said.
Prigo said that the likelihood that mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio, SIPA ’87, will be elected meant that “it may just be a matter of time before this plan gets either abandoned or drastically modified.” De Blasio opposes the development plan.
While Prigo said the lawsuit makes it unlikely that the plan will go through before a new mayor is sworn in, he pointed out that a clause in the RFEI allows an “exceptional” submission to go through a fast-tracked process.
“Should that clause be exercised by NYCHA we would then have to revisit how that would change the timetable of approvals and how that would limit the options of the next Mayor,” Prigo said.
CB7 chair Mark Diller, CC ’80, said that as he understood it, the purpose of the lawsuit is to “question whether NYCHA has the statutory and regulatory authority to bind the city of New York to deal with a particular chosen developer”—and to assert that this action should require City Council approval.
“What they’re seeking to do is to hold up any definitive action that might, in effect, tie the city’s hands” until a judge can rule on whether NYCHA has the right to lease the land, Diller said.
“I think the subtext is that there’s feeling among many folks—myself included—that this is a decision that, if it’s made at all, should be made by the next mayor, not the current one,” he said.
Diller added that there was a real possibility that NYCHA could award a developer a contract in a way that would require the next administration to work with the developer, a concern that he said should definitely be addressed.
“Once that right has matured, it’s hard to pull back,” he said.