East Williamsburg Residents Protest Plan to Build Market-Rate Housing on NYCHA Parking Lot

Karen Leader speaks in front of the NYCHA town hall

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Karen Leader stood among a group of about 30 of her neighbors in front of the St. Francis de Paula Church, holding a megaphone.

“We are overcrowded,” she told the small crowd. “We don’t need another apartment building.”

The group had gathered outside the East Williamsburg church Tuesday night an hour before a NYCHA town hall meeting concerning a plan to lease a lot at the edge of the Cooper Park Houses property to a private developer to build a 50-50 market rate and affordable housing complex with around 200 to 250 subsidized units.

affordable housing cooper park houses 60 kingsland avenue east williamsburg

Cooper Park Houses in 2012. Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

Half of the funds will go directly toward critical repair and maintenance issues at the Cooper Park Houses, located at 60 Kingsland Avenue, that need to be addressed, said NYCHA officials.

While few disagree with the idea that more affordable housing is needed in Brooklyn, many present said they feel these 250 units are not needed, given plans to redevelop the nearby Greenpoint Hospital at 288 Jackson Street and create 500 affordable units — especially if it will mean the removal of coveted parking lots at Cooper Park Houses. There’s also another parking lot across the street owned by HPD that could be a building site, according to residents.

Residents gather in St. Francis de Paula Church. Photo by Craig Hubert

Residents gather in St. Francis de Paula Church

The plan is part of a larger push by Mayor de Blasio to raise funds for NYCHA repairs by utilizing parking lots and green space on NYCHA property throughout the city.

A similar plan in Boerum Hill to bring in half-market-rate housing generated controversy because residents felt that the city was trying to force them out over time with tenants paying higher rents nearby.

NYCHA also said back in 2014 it plans to sell an interest in its senior housing on Saratoga Avenue in Ocean Hill to a private developer to fund repairs.

Greenpoint Hospital. Courtesy of  Department of Housing Preservation and Development

Greenpoint Hospital. Photo by Department of Housing Preservation and Development

Inside the meeting, Assemblymember Joseph Lentol and New York City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso opened up the discussion by stressing their support of the tenants.

During their presentation, NYCHA offered what little details they could provide. They made a point of acknowledging a few key facts: Public housing will not be demolished and residents will not be removed from their homes; the existing buildings will not be privatized; NYCHA is leasing, not selling, the land, and the building will be funded completely by their partner.

Council member Antonio Reynoso addresses the crowd. Photo by Craig Hubert

Council member Antonio Reynoso addresses the crowd

Who that partner will be is still not determined.

“We don’t have a developer, we don’t have a design,” Deborah Goddard, NYCHA’s Executive Vice President for Capital Projects, told the crowd. “All of that is to come.”

What Goddard could say is that 50 percent of the new units are for families earning below 60 percent of the Average Median Income and that the parking lot will be replaced.

But like many of the details in the presentation, this was unclear to many in the audience who worried that the promise of a new parking lot is not possible in their neighborhood.

And much to the chagrin of the audience, the proposed building would probably be 14 to 15 stories to accommodate the planned 200 to 250 units, Goddard said.

A local resident voices her concern. Photo by Craig Hubert

A local resident voices her concern

Karen Leader, sitting front and center, attempted to sum up the simmering tensions in the room.

“My concern is that this space is too small to build on,” she said. “We will be peeping toms if another building is placed there. We won’t be able to open our windows.”

Part of their concern is that an answer needs to arrive soon. NYCHA reps said they expect to release the RFP this spring, evaluate the proposals this summer, select a developer in the fall and begin construction by 2020.

A local resident asks a question. Photo by Craig Hubert

A local resident asks a question

The expedited process left many residents feeling like they have been left out of the engagement NYCHA officials continued to reiterate they sought. A common question during the meeting was why NYCHA did not reach out in a more extensive way to the community regarding their plans.

Many heard about the new building secondhand or through social media.

“Are you proposing something to us? Or have you already made up your mind?” a local woman told the NYCHA representatives. “Because we do not want this in our neighborhood.”

[Photos by Craig Hubert unless indicated otherwise]

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