The Urban Justice Center and NY Environmental Law and Justice Project, together with tenants’ rights groups and resident associations, filed a lawsuit today in NYS Supreme Court to prevent the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) from accepting any bids to construct luxury high rise developments in five NYCHA sites targeted for the Land Lease Program (Infill). The lawsuit compels NYCHA to perform environmental reviews in its housing developments where it is planning to lease public lands to private developers.
NYCHA is seeking to raise revenue for necessary repairs to its housing developments by leasing public land, such as parks and community gardens, within housing sites throughout the city. Five of the public housing developments are on the Lower East Side – Baruch Houses, Campos Plaza, LaGuardia Houses, Meltzer Tower, and Smith Houses. Two of the developments are on the Upper East Side – Carver Houses and Washington Houses. And one, Douglass Houses, is on the Upper West Side.
In August 2013, NYCHA issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) to procure services for the construction of luxury high-rise towers on 14 existing NYCHA sites, including 5 on parkland, within the eight developments.
The lawsuit claims that NYCHA violated state and federal laws by failing to conduct environmental reviews and floodplain analyses, which determine possibilities for inundation, before issuing the RFEI to developers. It also claims that NYCHA violated the Public Trust Doctrine by failing to obtain the necessary legislative approval before targeting parkland sites for non-parkland use and therefore cannot move forward with its land lease program.
“It is clear that NYCHA decided to forego necessary environmental reviews in order to speed up its land lease program. In the process, it violated state and federal laws by issuing a Request for Expressions of Interest to luxury developers and therefore should not be allowed to move forward with leasing land at public housing sites,” said Harvey Epstein, Director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.
“Without a proper environmental review process, NYCHA is trying to shoehorn in deals with luxury housing developers before the window closes on the Bloomberg administration. It is especially irresponsible—not to mention unlawful—to rush into a bidding process for large-scale construction at NYCHA developments that are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, and where FEMA’s best available data shows the greatest flood hazards in lower Manhattan,” said Joel Kupferman, Director of the NY Environmental Law and Justice Project.
“Infill is a flawed initiative that discounts the well-being of the very residents NYCHA purports to serve. Long after Bloomberg returns to the financial sector, NYCHA residents will be stuck with the damaging effects of this plan. Residents will lose their community center, parks and recreational spaces so that wealthy New Yorkers have more luxury apartments to chose from,” said Denise Miranda, Managing Director of the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center.
Residents at the housing developments have expressed opposition to NYCHA’s land lease plan since its announcement in March.
“Based on what happened in my development after Sandy, I’m shocked that NYCHA has not thought about the environmental impacts the land lease program could have on my building as well as my community,” said Derese Huff, President of Campos Plaza Resident Association.
“NYCHA is going to tear down our community center that provides after school programs for youth, meals for the elderly and healthcare services in order to build luxury housing. Infill won’t help NYCHA residents. It will destroy the few resources that people in our community can enjoy and afford,” said Domingo Munoz, VP, George Washington Houses Resident Association.
“The purpose of this lawsuit is to bring justice to all public housing residents and save our homes. NYCHA’s land lease program will destroy affordable housing for low-income families truly making this a tale of two cities,” said Aixa Torres, President of Smith Houses.
“In Washington Houses, NYCHA is destroying and taking away our community center which serves thousands of families and children in our development and community, to build luxury housing for the rich with their own separate entrances. They are literally creating a tale of two cities. We refuse to lie down and will fight to take back our homes!” said Marietta Palmer, Washington Houses Resident and a leader at Community Voices Heard.
“I have lived in the Carver Houses for 50 years; I raised my family here. Now, NYCHA wants to tear down our community centers and parks to create luxury housing. If NYCHA is really concerned about saving public housing, it should work with the residents to create a plan that strengthens our developments, not one that demolishes community gardens and senior centers,” said Patricia White, Secretary, George Washington Carver Houses Resident Association
In the RFEI, NYCHA has set a deadline of November 18th for bids by developers to build, operate and manage luxury developments on these NYCHA properties.