What’s Really Going on at the Ingersoll Houses?

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While there was lots of interesting information about some of the more upscale developments in the borough at yesterday’s quarterly luncheon for real estate bigwigs at the Brooklyn Historical Society, we were most struck by a comment made in passing about the future of the Ingersoll and Whitman Houses, the massive housing projects between Park and Myrtle in Fort Greene. There have been rumors for a few years about the low-income residents being pushed out to clear the way for conversion of the buildings into co-ops. (Check out the comment from March 22, 2006, 4:53 p.m. here). In a Q&A segment at yesterday’s luncheon, Ron Hershco of United Homes, which is developing the Oro and another adjacent 40-story tower on Gold and Tech Place (so he’s incentivized both to have done his homework on the matter and to be perpetuating rumors that would benefit his properties, take your pick), said that it was his understanding that the Ingersoll/Whitman Houses were now 60 percent vacant and were going to be converted to middle-income housing (see Hershco’s statement this morning at the bottom of the post). That’s the first time we’ve heard anyone say anything like that in a public setting. Another source with close ties to politicians and developers offered a less sinister explanation of what he thought was going on: He suspects that there’s no such explicit policy in place but that, given the increased popularity of the area and the increased scrutiny that affordable housing applicants are now put under, there is bound to be a noticeable change in the composition of the new residents that move in post-renovation, i.e. more law-abiding and higher-earning people.

While the New York City Housing Authority has certainly never publicly declared (as far as we know) any intentions to ratchet up the income profile of residents, the $100 million renovation it is undertaking has resulted in the displacement of many long-time residents as the apartments are upgraded and, in some cases, combined. The NYCHA website describes the capital improvement plan:

The Walt Whitman and Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses in Ft. Greene in Brooklyn will undergo major renovations to bring apartments to current standards and to ensure that units are in optimum condition for future generations. NYCHA is investing more than $100 million on comprehensive improvements including bringing elevator service to every floor, enlarging apartments, creating separate and/or upgraded kitchen areas in every apartment, and upgrading the heating and electrical systems in all buildings.

The upgrade is long overdue, as the buildings have been out of compliance with the buildings code ever since they were transferred by the U.S. Navy to the city. Did you catch that? The city has been running the complex for decades under conditions that it would never allow a private owner to. The shortcomings include everything from a lack of real kitchens in some units to insufficient light and air levels.

Here’s the next interesting part of the story: Who did the city turn to to design the $100 million renovation project? None other than Robert Scarano. Here’s what the embattled architect says about the project on his website along with a rendering of his plan:

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Our investigation of the existing buildings reveals that the twenty-seven (27) six-story buildings will only require a cosmetic renovation of the existing facilities. However, the eight (8) high-rise buildings will require a more substantial renovation, which will result in the net loss of as many as 75 units in those buildings. In order to compensate for this loss of apartments, a vertical expansion of all existing buildings is proposed as outlined in the Design Proposal. A summary structural analysis revealed that the 6-story and 13-story buildings would be capable of supporting only one more floor each. The 11-story buildings will support two more floors. These additional floors will be constructed from lightweight steel framing and have a stucco exterior finish. Pitched roofs are proposed because the New York City Building Code does not require roof access in buildings that have a roof pitch of 20° or more. So, for the 31 buildings that will have only one additional floor, the existing stairs to the current roof may be used without alteration. Furthermore, a pitched metal roof has a significantly longer and less maintenance intensive lifespan than low slope roof systems.

Obviously the city hired Scarano before he became the poster-child for building abuses but we’re unaware of any steps it has taken to distance itself since his recent record has come to light. Does anyone know if he is still the architect on the project? More importantly, what is happening to the people who are getting forced out of their apartments? Where are they getting relocated to?

Update: Here’s some more info from a 2005 article in City Limits:

The 1,526 families whose apartments are slated for overhaul were given three options: They could move to other apartments in their developments, move to other NYCHA complexes, or leave public housing entirely. The Housing Authority set up an onsite Relocation Assistance Unit and offers grants to cover moving expenses. Many tenants, however, still describe the process as chaotic and disruptive.

The article also notes that the relocations began as far back as 2003.

Another Update: We just received the following statement from Ron Hershco’s attorney. “Ron answered the question based on what he had been told by Bob Scarano a couple of years ago. He has no current information regarding the Housing Authority’s plan. We apologize for any confusion.”

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0 Comment

  • Here’s what was happening a couple of years ago, when the relocation started:

    http://citylimits.org/content/articles/viewarticle.cfm?article_id=3175

  • I live nearby in a Co-op building and was told by my Super that they are re-locating the tenants to other NYCHA projects on Staten Island. Not sure if this is hear-say or truth. Anyone else aware of where these folks are relocating?

  • The additional floor(s) by Scarano will not be going ahead – dropped due to nycha budget constraints.

  • There is a HUGE rumor mill about anything regarding these projects (or any projects). A real estate broker trying to sell a desperately overpriced building across from projects told a friend that “it was ok to speculate because the Jews had bought the projects and everyone was going to be moved out”. This is a freaking QUOTE.

    17 years ago when my daughter was born, my hospital roomate lived in the Whitman houses and she told me – in all seriousness – that Chase was buying out tenants but they were trying to force people out and she knew people who refused to move whose windows had been shot out by the bank.

    Another friend, who lives in projects out in Coney Island repeated the same rumor – almost word for word – several years later about the buildings she resides in.

    I think our best source on ANY information about publicly owned buildings would be Tish James or other official sources.

    It’s a scary rumor mill anywhere else.

  • “A summary structural analysis revealed that the 6-story and 13-story buildings would be capable of supporting only one more floor each.”

    Only one more floor each?

    Wait! Don’t fret, anyone, ’cause the silver lining with Scarano is – you get the option of adding 2 addditional mezzanine levels per added storey after the DOB signs off on the project. (so to speak.)

  • Any enterprising reporters out there ever think of checking out which NYC politicians have received campaign contributions from Scarano? Considering his record of violations–not to mention the fact that he’s not a “minority” or woman-owned firm–it’s amazing that he could land such a juicy city contract. As they say, follow the money!

  • Low bid wins the contract. Cheap is cheap. What’s the mystery here?

  • Any redesign should involve a wrecking ball.

  • Hey! Ingersoll’s a landmark. It’s the home of “the Real 50 Cent”.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=SBUu3OlyMWM

  • NYCHA has stated repeatedly, as in over-and-over-and-over-again, that it is not privatizing any of its properties. Not Ingersoll, not Whitman, not the Robert Fulton Houses in Chelsea — none, period. This rumor needs to be stamped out like a pernicious weed.

  • That’s too bad. I’d be very happy if Ingersoll went middle income.

    The current tenant mix is disgusting.

  • yep i’m with Grandpa.

  • I believe there was a small Village Voice story a few weeks ago about this; passing mention was also made of the AMAZING, and ** extremely ** weird situation happening over at Prospect Plaza in Ocean Hill. For those of ya’ll interested in the realities of even well-intended efforts to improve things for public housing residents & the communities around them, it’s a truly fascinating– & maddening– tale.

    here’s a story from 2001:

    http://www.citylimits.org/content/articles/viewarticle.cfm?article_id=2150

    here’s a photo from a month ago:

    http://tinyurl.com/22afav

    While they’re different situations, almost anything could happen over at Ingersoll & I wouldn’t be… shocked.

    wwib

  • why are so many other cities….baltimore, chicago, etc. doing so much to take down these low income high rises in favor of low rise townhouses neighborhoods that foster more a sense of community do you think?

    stricly space issues?

    i mean, i get that but i think it’s been proven that these high rise situations just don’t work.

  • ah crap, my apologies, that shorter link thing didn’t work. this one should–

    http://tinyurl.com/2656ro

  • slopehead, it is not true that high rises inherently don’t work. It’s just not that deterministic. I almost noted in my earlier post that not only is NYCHA not privatizing any developments, it is also one of the few housing authorities to not use the HOPE VI program to tear down high rises to construct townhouse-style projects. NYCHA doesn’t want the net loss of apartments that results.

    Come on, you’ve seen the pictures from New Orleans; low scale affordable housing and it was more dysfunctional than anything here in New York. So it’s not about building typology. Which is (part of) why some housing authorities are encouraging “income diversity.” But, that’s not the same as privatization.

  • Anti-semitism runs deep. I recall an incident from 1990, when I was a social worker for a foster care agency. A woman who was adopting a child on my caseload claimed that “the Jews” had purchased the Marcy Houses and would soon be “getting rid” of all black tenants.

    I agree with 12:14 – these and all other projects will remain as such.

  • I think that anon 12:55′s point is one worth repeating – when other cities use the HOPE VI program to replace high-rise housing projects with low-rise project, they almost always lose units in the process. With the price of housing in this city at the level that it is, I think that it would be a huge problem to lose NYCHA units. Not that NYCHA has any plans to eliminate units – they don’t!

  • I can’t believe lending more credence to foolish rumor and urban legend.
    Quit picking on the housing projects and the majority of good people that live in them.
    Be happy for yourself that you have more housing options but reality is that in this city more and more do not have those options.
    It is beyond the scope of your privileged upbringing and surroundings and perspective to imagine the squalor and conditions that preceeded the building of NYCHA props. Millions of NewYorkers have been able to live in decent housing that ‘the market’ would never ever provide.
    Take a visit to the Tenement Museum on LES – and imagine block after block after block of that type of housing throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan.

  • nice post, Pete. I’d also like to add that NYCHA is– while imperfect– by consensus the best public housing system in the U.S. i think there ARE questions that need to be addressed with high-rise residential living, period, but those are social-aesthetic issues that apply to the projects AND any new “luxury” ghetto you’d care to name.

    re: HOPE VI, I’m pleased to see that crop up here & while others might know more than I, please NOTE:

    Prospect Plaza, an NYCHA property, ** is ** a HOPE IV project. In addition to the links I gave above, see:

    http://www.hud.gov/local/ny/news/2005-06-27.cfm

    http://www.michaelsdevelopmentcompany.com/portprospect.html

    nice, huh? So far, of course, J. is 100% correct about the net loss of apartments.

    wwib

  • This is all silly rumor.
    First of all, I could not imagine why, if you went to the effort of relocating the existing tenants, you wouldn’t just tear down these awful buildings and start from scratch. The idea that these POS could be scrubbed up and rehabbed into middle class apartments is ridiculous. It would not be worth it.

  • The “majority of good people”?

    There are good, decent, hardworking people who live in the Ingersoll, Farragut, etc, projects, but they are, unfortunately, the minority.

  • very good point, 3:20.

    i also think that if the intention was to turn these into middle income (or certainly co-ops) the smartest thing to do would be to start over.

    good thinkin…

  • Well, if privatization isnt going to happen, then I’m all for income diversity as something to try. Something must be done. As it stands, those projects are dumps. It must be hell for the decent folks that live there.

  • whar lucky neighborhood or suburb ill be the proud recipients of the debris?

  • is it really so unrealistic to get an official comment on the situation from an nycha official. if there are indeed no plans to privatize i cannot imagine that the nycha would be afraid to say so. but if privatization is truly being considered, that’s when i think that there would be some hemming and hawing.

  • Can we get an honset discussion going here about the future of public housing? I mean why can we not consider creating a limited equity co op and converting these all into tenant owned units. Give them some limits ie: can not resell for 10-15 years and let them then reap the rewards of home ownership long term!

  • Can we get an honset discussion going here about the future of public housing? I mean why can we not consider creating a limited equity co op and converting these all into tenant owned units. Give them some limits ie: can not resell for 10-15 years and let them then reap the rewards of home ownership long term!

  • history has shown that people with money are willing to live in privatized projects

    2 examples off the top of my head:

    1) Stuyvesant Town
    2) Peter Cooper Village
    3) Clinton Hill Co-Ops on Clinton Avenue

  • That being said, there would be no reason to spend the massive amount of money necessary to start from scratch.

  • Where are they going to get the equity in those units when they don’t have money to pay the rent right now?

  • 1) Stuyvesant Town
    2) Peter Cooper Village
    3) Clinton Hill Co-Ops on Clinton Avenue

    Um. None of these was built as projects. Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were built as middle income apartments, and the Navy Yard houses – ie, the Clinton Hill Co-ops – were built as officer’s housing for the Navy Yard (thus the dolphins and so forth decorating the entries).

    While these HAVE been privatized, none of these were public housing, which is what I assume you mean when you call them “projects”.

  • Whitman/Ingersoll were built to house Navy Yard workers and their families-they were not mean to be housing stock for the poor. My grandparents, aunts and uncles all had apts. on Navy Walk in the early 1950s and they weren’t bad apts. The deterioration of those buildings have a lot more to do with social policy than the type of buildings there were designed to be.

  • A reliable source am I…

    The Brooklyn Bridge is for sale;
    there are full grown gators in the sewers;
    Barbra Streisand is buying a townhouse in Brooklyn Heights; and
    Whitman and Ingersol are going private.

    I invite more Brooklyn legends.

  • The bad or sad thing of Brownstoner throwing out these unsubstantiated info is that this item got picked up by several other blogs… and think of now how many more people out there will repeat and believe it to be true.

  • Tish James spoke at a meeting last year and said these continued rumors are really just that. There has been a longstanding problem with the length of time it takes for NYCHA to renovate apartments in their buildings. So they drag that out forever and the apts. remain vacant while the work is endlessly going on. But this is a constant with NYCHA renovations and a sign of a big, inept government agency that doesn’t have the ability/concern to speed things up to help the people they are supposed to help. My guess is that these never ending rumors are just the sad byproducts of a stressed out population that has no control of their future really. And so when you hear these rumors think about how desperate these people really are for affordable housing and how scary this crazy real estate market must be to people who really are living in poverty…not just freaking out because they didn’t buy before FG was “hot.”

  • I live across the street and have been to a meeting to show support for changing that section of Carlton Ave back to a one way street (it was suddenly made two way overnight by the DOT to many block residents dismay and surprise).

    I learned there are over 500 people/apts currently vacant at Walt Whitman/Ingersoll due to ongoing “renovations” –which will certainly add to parking woes when they return.

    I can tell you right now that you are looking at a Brooklyn version of a “A Park Runs Through It” in a short time–probably right around the time Ratner gets his way with Atlantic Yards.

  • I didn’t read the comments so maybe someone said this already. The elevators in the small buildings don’t go up to the top floor. They are making space on the roof so the elevator hardware can go there instead in the top floor elevator shaft space.

  • I grew up in The Ingersoll Houses as a Child I’m 55y.y. & I must say sorry to say it, But something had to Happen there for the face of the Project changed there Decades ago,. I just hope & Pray that residents on Fixed incomes are not going to become the new face of Homelessness in N.Y.C. Thanks to privitazation or whatever they are going to call it…
    The Ingersoll Houses was a very respectable project with respectable people of various races & cultures as well as Jobs…
    Back in the Day Nurses, Teachers, & residents of many different job titles resided there, even Police Officers such as P.B.U.H. Officer Bolden, IMPORTANT Please Post! Who was gunned Down in the Bar at Flatbush Ave Ext. In 1971 To this day the Killer Is Free & there Is A Large Reward for any info that that case…
    I am happy that Ingersoll Houses is getting a face lift but I hope it does not cost many people with Fixed income as myself Homelessness.
    A concerned Project Citizen…

    P.S. Do you all think this will Be completed By Dec 21, 2012