The New York City Housing Authority’s proposal to off-set budget shortfalls by leasing public housing land to private developers drew protests from local public housing residents and elected officials during an agency-sponsored roundtable meeting on June 24 at the Ingersoll Community Center.
Earlier this spring, NYCHA released details about its Infill Plan to lease land in eight public housing locations in Manhattan to private developers to build luxury apartment buildings, with the requirement that at least 20 percent of apartments be set aside for low-income residents. Residents will not be displaced or see an increase in rent, according to NYCHA.
On Sunday, Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council reached an agreement on the 2014 city budget, allocating $58 million to NYCHA. While the deal prevented the threatened closure of community and senior centers and the lay-off of 300 NYCHA workers, the agency still faces a loss of $205 million in federal funding due to the sequester, and a projected doubling of its capital expenses to $13.4 billion in the next five years.
The sequester has also caused a shortfall in the federally funded Section 8 rental subsidy program administered by NYCHA; up to 9,600 families may see a 20 percent rent increase and 1,200 families may lose housing vouchers. Families with Section 8 vouchers currently pay 30 percent of their income to rent private residences.
NYCHA, which has seen its capital funding decline by 35 percent since 2001, says that its land lease proposal will generate a budget-bolstering $30 to $50 million a year.
While there are no plans as yet to develop public housing land in Brooklyn, local residents said they had doubts about the lease program.
“Once you begin to privatize public space, we know once it starts, it’s not going to stop,” said Dominique Bryant, president of the Ingersoll Houses’ resident association.
Members of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, which held a rally before the meeting to protest the budget cuts and the land lease program, said they were concerned about a lack of transparency and resident input from NYCHA. “They don’t ask the residents their input and it’s their homes that are at stake,” said Deedra Cheetham, a Queens resident who grew up in Gowanus public housing.
State Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley said he was “unequivocally” against the plan and called for greater budget transparency from NYCHA. Mosley also said he had doubts about the 80/20 split between market-price and low-income apartments. “We’re going to open up a Pandora’s box,” Mosley said. “We only have once chance to do this right.”
Diane Cromwell, who lives in the Farragut Houses, echoed Mosley’s concerns. “Let’s say I’m making $195,000. Am I going to want to live next to someone making $9,000 a year? We have to live with pitbulls, urine, gunshots. Have you thought this out?”
“We need to be looking at alternative funding scheme, not an unproven scheme,” said James Vogel, a representative for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery.