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Public Housing Will Host Private Development In East Williamsburg

The Cooper Park Houses in East Williamsburg.
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The Cooper Park Houses in East Williamsburg. Google Maps

A parking lot at the NYCHA-run Cooper Park Houses in East Williamsburg will be razed and developed into a mix of 250 market rate and below-market rate apartments, City Hall announced Monday.

The city will start accepting bids next spring for the latest installment of NextGeneration Neighborhoods, the controversial plan launched in 2015 that entails selling off chunks of NYCHA land to private developers in order to put a dent in the authority's multi-billion dollar deficits.

According to City Hall, half of the new apartments at the Cooper Park Houses will be below-market rate, while the rest will be market rate.

A 68 percent cut in HUD's capital budget, which is still pending congressional approval, would result in a $216 million budget cut for NYCHA, according to the agency's CEO Shola Olatoye. NYCHA already has a backlog of approximately $17 billion in unmet capital needs, and has historically received about $300 million annually from the federal government. Trump's proposal would cut that funding by approximately two thirds, an agency spokeswoman said.

Critics say they are deeply troubled by the idea of turning to private developers to save a public asset, especially under a Trump administration that heavily favors privatization.

"With so much uncertainty from Washington, the debate on whether or not to build on public housing land as a revenue source should be over," Olatoye testified during a NYCHA budget hearing this spring.

NextGen is intended to cut $4.6 billion off of NYCHA's $17.1 billion in unmet capital need city-wide, through private development as well as increased rent collection, administrative staff cuts, and commercial leases on NYCHA property.

At Cooper Park Houses, according to NYCHA, there is currently $59 million in unmet capital needs.

"NextGen Neighborhoods raises desperately needed money for NYCHA and creates affordable housing for the City," Olatoye said in a statement Monday. "Residents at Cooper Park Houses will benefit from overdue repairs and new community resources to improve their quality of life."

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(courtesy NYCHA)

The privatization approach has been met with pushback from housing advocates and NYCHA residents at some of the first sites slotted for development: parking lots at Wyckoff Gardens in Boerum Hill and a playground at Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side. Residents have predicted that an influx of wealthier residents will drive affordable amenities out of their neighborhoods, and possibly drive NYCHA tenants out altogether.

Of the proposed 13,500 below-market rate NextGen units planned city-wide, 25 percent will be set aside for NYCHA residents, according to the city. The developer at Cooper Park Houses will be required to train and hire NYCHA residents to construct the property, and NYCHA has promised an "unprecedented" community engagement process between now and next spring, when the Request for Proposals will be released.

"NYCHA will be knocking on resident doors, holding lobby meetings and general community meetings and making every effort possible to reach each resident to ensure NYCHA has their input," the authority assured. Cooper Park residents with parking permits on the lot will be "relocated elsewhere" on the site.

To date, residents have only heard "some buzz" about the development plan, according to Julia Foster, president of the Cooper Park Houses tenant association and resident of the complex for 40 years.

Foster, 62, declined to speak for the tenant association as a whole on Monday morning, but ticked off her personal reservations.

"I'm not happy," she said. "'Affordable.' And what's that other word they use? 'Market price.' It's all the same to me because they are never affordable for people who want to move out of NYCHA."

"It will be in my back yard," Foster added. "You are bringing more people to this development, which is a quiet development."

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