Smile, You’re On Camera: $800K Security Upgrade at Smith Houses

DSC00745Kavitha Surana

It’s official: security cameras are now trained on all 12 buildings of the Alfred E. Smith Houses. The New York City Public Housing authority announced today that it had added 78 new cameras across seven buildings, bringing full coverage to the Lower East Side housing development.

“It already changed the pissing in the elevators, I’m not going to lie,” said William Green, a 60-year resident of the complex.

Members of the Smith Houses tenants association, politicians, and housing authority officials celebrated the long sought-after security upgrade today, coming together in a rare show of unity during a time of walkouts and boycotts over the agency’s hotly contested land-lease infill proposal.

According to housing authority’s chairman, John B. Rhea, three people have been arrested in the past week because of the cameras. One incident involved vandalism, another was an apparent assault, and the third involved someone trying unsuccessfully to break the cameras in the lobby, a spokesperson for the housing authority later told The Local.

DSC00741Kavitha Surana Aixa Torres speaks alongside Margaret Chin
John B. Rhea, and tenant association members.

Silvia Torres, a tenant of Smith Houses, said the cameras help guard against common crimes like the breaking of doors or muggings of elderly residents. “The hoodlums aren’t around as much,” she noted. The installation of interior and exterior closed-circuit cameras started in September of last year and was mostly completed last month.

Mr. Rhea praised City Council Member Margaret Chin’s work in earmarking $800,000 for the project and thanked resident leaders for sharing their “valued experience” in the process.

Aixa Torres has had harsh words for housing authority officials in the past few months, but today she called the security upgrades “a real collaboration” between the agency and the tenants association that she leads. “The reason that we actually have the 12 buildings covered is that everyone sat down as equals and gave their opinion,” she said. “We didn’t always agree, but at the end of the day we all had the priority that there would be cameras in every building and that the residents would be safe.”

After the press conference, Aixa Torres was overheard alluding to the land-lease deal in a conversation with Mr. Rhea. “If we did this in other things, we wouldn’t have the issues we have,” she said.

“We should aspire to that,” responded Mr. Rhea.