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NYC Mayor Wants To Develop Public Housing Land

debTucked inside New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sweeping affordable housing proposal is an echo of an idea from the Michael Bloomberg era: to use vacant public housing property to build new housing units.

Last year, Bloomberg’s plan to lease out New York City Housing Authority land and allow developers to build market-rate apartment buildings on it stalled after low-income residents of the projects revolted. Now, after condemning his predecessor’s plan, de Blasio also wants to use that land for development, albeit of a different kind — to build affordable housing units, not luxury ones, and possibly a few supermarkets and retail stores.

Bloomberg wanted to build on vacant space currently occupied by basketball courts, parking lots and outdoor plazas. It’s unclear which vacant space de Blasio would focus on. The mayor’s office stressed that any proposals would focus on improving residents’ quality of life.

“This is a community process that’s going to center around the needs of NYCHA residents,” Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said in an emailed statement. “We have a lot of listening and engaging with NYCHA residents ahead of us — they’ll be the ones identifying priorities and articulating how they want to proceed.”

De Blasio’s housing plan states the city will work with the Housing Authority and residents in coming months to assess the potential “for underused NYCHA land and development rights to benefit existing residents, increase affordable housing, produce local retail, and community facilities.”

De Blasio has said that his plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade doesn’t include building traditional public housing projects. Rather, it would work with nonprofit and private developers to provide incentives to include a greater percentage of affordable housing in new buildings, he said. He’s pushing a split in which 50 percent are market rate, 30 percent are made available to moderate-income households and 20 percent are for lower-income residents.

The 200,000 units of affordable housing would not be contingent on development of NYCHA sites, the mayor’s office said. It’s unclear what the word “affordable” would mean for any new buildings erected on public housing property. Possible development could include supermarkets, after-school community spaces and supportive housing for senior residents, the mayor’s office said.

“It’s vague but very careful,” said Matthew Lasner, who teaches urban planning at Hunter College and has studied the plan. “It says, ‘We want to make sure we engage in specific dialogue with communities about this.’ I think there will also be a much greater emphasis on affordable housing.”

A new supermarket with lower-priced groceries would be a welcome addition to the complex that would benefit the community, said Dereese Huff, tenant association president at Campos Plaza in Alphabet City, a pair of brick towers near the East River that were among the complexes selected for development by Bloomberg.

“If it’s going to keep NYCHA going and functional and getting our repairs done, hey, I’m all for it,” Huff said. “If that’s what it’s going to do. But we have to see.”

Bloomberg’s plan estimated that about $50 million per year generated by the market-rate developments would pay for repairs to aging public housing buildings, though de Blasio’s housing plan makes no mention of money generated for repairs.

When asked about development of public housing land in February at the appointment of new Housing Authority Chairwoman Shola Olatoye, de Blasio said: “The only way we’re going to consider development is with the tenants, and one of the things Shola will focus on is repairing the relationship with the tenants. And if we can find a way to create a responsible path forward with tenants that’s transparent, where there’s real guarantees of what the benefits will be to tenants in the immediate area_that’s a very worthy proposal to discuss.”


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