Housing Authority Reveals Plan to Lease Campos Plaza Lot to Developer

SAM_0290Lila SelimMargarita Lopez addresses the crowd.

The New York City Housing Authority unveiled details of its controversial plan to lease part of Campos Plaza to a private developer at a meeting with tenants Tuesday.

Under the proposed plan, 26,000 square feet of land, currently being used for two parking lots and a basketball court, would be leased for 99 years.

The parking lot is one of 13 parcels of land across eight citywide sites where private developers would be invited to build housing consisting of 80 percent market-rate units and 20 percent permanent low-income housing. Under the plan for Campos, East Village residents would get first crack at what could be 16 to 21 new affordable-housing units, and the revenue generated by the lease agreement would be used to subsidize long-called-for improvements to the aging highrises on East 13th Street, between Avenues B and C.

Tuesday, Margarita Lopez, a member of the authority’s board, fiercely defended the proposal to about 100 tenants, stressing that the agency was in dire need of revenue. “If you have a proposal for where to get the money, let me go get it with you,” she said, addressing the proposal’s critics. “If you don’t, then shut up.”

SAM_0246Lila Selim The parking lot.

In two public letters addressed to Mayor Bloomberg and housing authority chairman John Rhea, more than 30 elected officials and community leaders have asked the authority not to solicit development proposals until a thorough process for public engagement has been completed. Neither Mr. Rhea nor Mr. Bloomberg have addressed this request, but last night’s forum was the first of what Ms. Lopez said would be a series of meetings with tenants at each proposed development site.

At the meeting, Rebecca Finlan, a housing authority staffer in charge of capital projects, assured tenants that revenue from the plan would be used for major repairs and improvements like replacing boilers and windows, redoing roofs, and upgrading elevators.

Over the next five years, the housing authority will need to raise $13.4 billion for these big-ticket projects, and $27.2 million for Campos specifically. Should the plan go into effect, repairs at the site of the development would be given first priority, and over time the money would become available for public housing buildings across the city.

That’s exactly what Dereese Huff, president of the Campos Plaza Tenant Association, wants to see happen. Days before the meeting, she led The Local on a tour of Campos. “A lot of people get sick here because there’s no storm windows and the heat shuts off at 10 p.m,” said Ms. Huff, who has lived in the complex since it opened in 1979. In addition to new windows, she wants the leaky roof redone, and the whole building painted and retiled.

SAM_0227Lila Selim Dereese Huff

But what would become of the 64 parking spaces and basketball court? Tim McManus, an urban planner for the housing authority, assured tenants that those who have parking permits would be guaranteed a place in other lots on premises. The complex’s underutilized courtyard, he said, would be redesigned to include basketball courts, as well as better playgrounds and adult recreation areas.

Ms. Lopez dismissed the notion that federal funding might be reduced once the authority starts seeing revenues from the leases and stressed that the authority’s full control over the leases would make the agency less vulnerable to the sort of funding cuts it has seen over the last ten years.

“If we do not get that money, things will continue to deteriorate,” she said. “I don’t want to lose one unit of public housing, because if one goes, they will all go.”

Addressing the question of what comes next, she said, “This is a long process. It’s not going to be done in one year. Don’t think it’s a done deal – it’s not. The federal government has to approve this. We’ve been in conversation with them.”

According to Ms. Lopez, the housing authority has already spent years developing the proposal and choosing the sites. Referring to Plan NYCHA she said that “thousands” of public housing tenants from across the city were involved in the proposal, and collectively decided that the land was their biggest exploitable asset. “I want right now to stop the misinformation that we have not been communicating with you because it is a lie,” she said.

SAM_0249Lila Selim

In the run-up to the meeting, elected officials demanded more transparency from the housing authority. Assembly member Brian Kavanagh, who was among those who signed the letter to Mayor Bloomberg, told The Local that a notice informing residents about the meeting was “inexplicably vague, and [didn’t] even make it clear that new construction is proposed within Campos.” He called on the housing authority to restart the outreach process.

In the days before the meeting, The Local spoke to many Campos Plaza tenants who were unaware of the plan and the meeting. During the question-and-answer session Tuesday, rumors abounded: tenants asked questions indicating they’d heard that their buildings would be sold, torn down entirely to make way for new private buildings, or that some residents would be forced out to make way for market-rate tenants.

“I am not selling. I am not giving away. I am not privatizing,” insisted Ms. Lopez. “We need to stop the misinformation.”