Tale of 2 cities? Plan for market-rate apartments next to public housing sparks controversy

Posted at 7:00 PM, Mar 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-15 19:02:19-04

New York City Housing Authority chairman John Rhea all but hit the panic button as he told State Assembly Housing Committee members Friday his agency cannot afford to miss an opportunity to build market rate housing — in the shadows of its existing public housing developments.

“The time to act is now. This plan presents NYCHA’s single largest identifiable opportunity to generate millions of dollars to reinvest in public housing,” Rhea told the committee.

Last month Committee Chairman Keith Wright told Pix11 he believed the proposal would “create a tale of two cities.”

And while the blueprint has been successful outside of New York, it’s clear Wright is still skeptical about the viability of Rhea’s plan, and its impact on the Big Apple’s public housing tenants.

“Public housing is more than just numbers. We’re talking about people, their neighborhoods, their communities, people that go to work, they go to school? What is the benefit beside the bottom line, ” asked Assemblyman Wright.

The agency commonly referred to as NYCHA will begin taking private developer proposals next month for new market rate rental units at eight Manhattan housing developments.

Most of the designated sites are parking lots.

But one seniors only housing development in East Harlem would lose – at least temporarily – its community center.

Two others, including the Smith Houses in Lower Manhattan, would lose playgrounds.

“This is probably the most important proposal to hit this city in years, because we’re talking about stabilization of neighborhoods – we’re talking about keeping people from being gentrified out of their communities”, said Wright.

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh zeroed in on another potential stumbling block…which NYCHA officials had no choice but to concede.

Although the agency says 20-percent of the new rental units will include  quote “affordable housing” accessible to existing public housing tenants…the maximum allowable income limit for a family of four…will be set – by law – at 54-thousand dollars a year.

The average NYCHA family currently earns less than half that amount.

“There’s not going to be any likelihood that that tenant can move in. Most of those tenants, if we tell them there will be affordable housing, and they’ll have a shot at it –  the short answer is it ain’t affordable for them”, said Assemblyman Kavanagh.

NYCHA official say they will not force private developers to charge a minimum rent, but will choose developers based on the quality of their proposals…and that means a business plan that takes into account their need to make money – without freezing out low income tenants.