By SANDRA ALMONTE
Two advocacy groups along with just over 400 residents from five of the eight city Housing Authority developments targeted for the construction of luxury high-rise buildings have filed suit to stop plans for building on the projects’ grounds.
The suit, filed last month, at State Supreme Court in Manhattan was targeted at the Housing Authority’s Land Lease Program. According to the Housing Authority’s website, the agency would offer several available parcels of land on public housing sites for long-term ground leases to developers, who would build a mix of low-income and market-rate apartments on this land. The long-term ground leasing agreement aims to immediately bring tens of millions of dollars of new capital to NYCHA every year.
“What we brought out is a lawsuit saying that NYCHA, when it made its plans to build these luxury towers on these open spaces, failed to consider key environmental questions,” said Karen Smith, a former judge who has worked on the case.
The five NYCHA developments are Campos Plaza, Meltzer Towers, and Smith Houses, which are located in the Lower East Side, and Washington Houses and Carver Houses in East Harlem.
The suit charges NYCHA with violating state and federal laws by failing to conduct environmental reviews and a floodplain analysis before soliciting bids from private developers. The Housing Authority declined to comment.
“Some of those developments were hit badly during Sandy, and yet there was no analysis of the effect of any of those buildings, or any of the other environmental concerns,” Smith said.
“I have never seen anything like Hurricane Sandy in my life!” said Dereese Huff, Tenant Association president of Campos Plaza. “Campos Plaza is never going to look the same again.”
Huff, a resident of Campos since 1979, recalled the damage left by Sandy. “We were under six feet of water,” Huff said. “We saw that. We lived it. We actually thought we were going to die.”
“I have many developments in my district, adidas neo especially Smith Houses who were severely impacted by super storm Sandy,” City Council member Margaret Chin said during a news conference on the steps of City Hall on Nov. 12.
There are also allegations that NYCHA failed to obtain the necessary legislative approval before attempting to use parkland sites for non-parkland use.
“Five of the sites are on public parks that people have had for as much as 60 years,” Smith said. “You cannot take away a park without expressed authority of the state legislature and NYCHA did not do that.”
The land lease sites for Washington Houses, located at East 99th Street, are new used for parking spaces and park area, as well as a Union Settlement Community Center and Centerlight Health Care Center. Although NYCHA has said it will relocate current occupants, residents were shocked and have opposed to the infill plan.
“How can NYCHA create a plan that will demolish our community center, our gardens?” said Christine Glover, Tenant Association president for Washington Houses, and resident there for 20 years.
Joel Kupferman, from The New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, has fought over environmental issues from 9/11 to pesticide spraying.
“We’re under a mayor that talked about planting a million trees while tearing them out of public housing, has proudly poured millions into the Highline Park while taking away the parks of public housing residents,” Kupferman said.
“I care deeply about preserving public housing, however infill is not the way to save NYCHA,” Glover said.
Aixa Torres, Tenant Association president of Alfred E. Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, and her family have resided in Smith for 55 years. She sent a letter to President Barack Obama to complain about Sean Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea. “The Resident Association has been in a constant disagreement with the NYCHA administration over resident participation and input,” she wrote.
Torres is confident that this lawsuit will stall the infill plan until Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio takes office on Jan. 1. “I have all the faith in the world that this will work,” she said.
“We have to preserve the most precious resource that we have in our city, and that is our public housing,” Chin said.
Photo: A girl plays at the playground in Alfred E. Smith Houses. (Sandra Almonte)