For the past four decades, as cities faced financial pressures, high-rise public housing met its decline. Cities throughout the country demolished public housing that was failing financially and socially, like Chicago's Cabrini-Green Housing Project whose demolition was completed in 2011, to make way for mixed use developments that encouraged economic and social diversity by way of the HOPE VI Program. This strategy resulted in the uprooting and relocation of former residents who faced uncertainty throughout the process.
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) stands out among housing authorities in the United States due to its size - 179,000 units in 2,600 buildings across the city - and the fact that the buildings are relatively well maintained. NYCHA has avoided resorting to demolitions to deal with its issues, instead resorting to special police services that costs NYCHA a purported $70 million a year. Over the past decade NYCHA has been underfunded by approximately $750 million causing backlogs in necessary repairs.
To address the mounting costs of public housing, New York City's Mayor Bloomberg has proposed an infill strategy that would attract developers onto NYCHA land and create a new layer of commercial space and residential units in public housing developments. The goal over the next five years is to develop methods of preservation for the housing development and promote mixed-use and mixed-income developments to generate income for NYCHA.
More on the plan after the break.
Public Housing is notoriously insular. There are few opportunities on NYCHA development sites where groceries, and other daily amenities are easily accessible. These campuses of public housing have usable open space that has been developed into playgrounds and community centers, but can also benefit greatly from having access to a greater variety of services that can be shared by other members of the surrounding community. The new source of funding that will come through the leasing program will certainly help ensure financial stability and address maintenance issues and repairs. Incorporating mixed-use and mixed-income development can also serve as a social strategy to de-stigmatize the negative perceptions of public housing by incorporating it into the public and commercial sphere.
But current residents are wary of this plan to lease land within NYCHA's housing projects for 99-years to private development. As Rosanne Haggerty of Shelterforce Magazine writes:
The skepticism is warranted and NYC's government has attempted to quell these fears by emphasizing the value that these lease agreements will have for current residents - After all, this is a Public Housing Preservation strategy. the plan will generate $30 million - $50 million dollars and generate approximately 8000 low-income housing units. The land on which NYCHA is currently developed will not be privatized, buildings will not be demolished, residents and NYCHA personnel will not be displaced, and this program will not increase rent.
The plan focuses on eight lease sits, all located in Manhattan, most of which are concentrated below 14th street on the east side. The lease plans are available on NYCHA's website and indicate the components of the developments: buildings, open space, community facilities and playgrounds. In the Campos Plaza and Carver Houses developments, for example, the spaces that are listed for leasing are the parking lot and bulk container/compactor area. It is notable that this strategy does not sacrifice the open space available for community use throughout other parts of the development.
The residents from these housing projects stands firmly against the plan. Community groups fear that NYCHA is moving too quickly without addressing tenants' concerns or following appropriate procedures to redevelop or lease the land. Requests for Proposals that were scheduled to be sent out this month may be delayed until May as residents fight against NYC's proposal.