Posts tagged with "NYCHA":

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The hidden power of community gardens

As a follow-up to my conversation with Commissioner Silver, I contacted Deborah Marton to speak with her about the New York Restoration Project’s work with under-served communities in New York. The group's mission states:
New York Restoration Project (NYRP) is a non-profit organization driven by the conviction that all New Yorkers deserve beautiful, high-quality public space within ready walking distance of their homes. Since our founding in 1995 by Bette Midler, NYRP has planted trees, renovated gardens, restored parks, and transformed open space for communities throughout New York City’s five boroughs. As New York’s only citywide conservancy, we bring private resources to spaces that lack adequate municipal support, fortifying the City’s aging infrastructure and creating a healthier environment for those who live in the most densely populated and least green neighborhoods.
Their work with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was the focus of the discussion. The Architect's Newspaper: What is New York Restoration Project doing to address borders? Deborah Marton: Borders we deal with are perceptual.  Systems of management can impose socioeconomic borders on space. An example from our experience is that some people in certain groups don’t go to Central Park because they don’t feel comfortable there. These are people who live within walking distance of the park but don’t feel that it belongs to them as public space. AN: Can you tell me more about NYRP’s work on public housing sites in New York? DM: Public housing with the Corbusian tower in the park model is a failed paradigm in its insistence that the green space be green poche. These spaces became a no-man’s land that invited crime. New York City, New York State codified the standard of having fences everywhere making green space unusable and inaccessible. Fences were not just about maintenance. They presented an idea of control and policing. AN: How did NYRP get involved with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)? DM: NYRP got involved with NYCHA beginning in 2008 because of the Bloomberg administration ‘Million Trees Initiative’. The Department of Parks and Recreation can only plant trees in parks and along streets. They cannot plant trees in space that is not parkland. The Bloomberg Administration invited NYRP to be its private sector partner because they could work across jurisdictions, including on NYCHA property where there is more open space for planting trees. AN: Can you explain how your involvement with NYCHA evolved? DM: Residents of NYCHA started applying to our program “Garden in the City.” The program provides resources to groups in high need areas who apply for support to make public gardens. NYRP supports groups that show the organizational capacity with stewardship and funding for their efforts. As we received more and more requests, the program led to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NYCHA and NYRP to do more projects. We are currently working on 50 or 60 NYCHA sites mostly to develop urban agriculture. AN: How did you engage the larger community? DM: We hold workshops that are open to the public where we provide education about how to develop, maintain, and manage community gardens. The gardens are also self-governing, managed outside of city structure. People in the neighborhoods around NYCHA projects as well as within can participate. AN: Beyond breaking down the visual and physical space, how did this change the community? DM: There are few spaces where people of different socio-economic and racial backgrounds can merge and collaborate. Community gardens create these kinds of places. Community gardens on NYCHA land have a geographic catchment beyond NYCHA property extending to broader neighborhood. We are working not only on gardens in NYCHA property but also have 52 gardens that we developed independently. Latest social science thinking suggests that social isolation is an ongoing contributing factor in lack of social mobility and advancement, poverty, mental health problems, and violence. Expanding community gardens is one of the most effective and least expensive poverty measures, reducing crime, improving public health. In a 2011 study the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and University of Pennsylvania Medical School conducted a study about the reuse of vacant lots in Philadelphia. One was control where they did nothing, a second looked group, they cleaned the trash, and in a third they added a simple lawn and fence and maybe a tree. They studied the area from 2011-14 and found that crime went down in groups 2 and 3 with the biggest impact on group 3 where people in the neighborhood reported a reduces feeling of helplessness and depression. You can read more about the project in a Fast Company article that came out earlier this summer entitled The case for building $1,500 parks. AN: How does NYRP work in New York City compare to the work in Philadelphia? DM: NYRP has been doing similar work for over 20 years and understood the value qualitatively which is now proven by more quantitative studies. Among the places where NYRP has made significant investment, East Harlem has experienced 150 less felonies/40,000 residents. Crime has dropped in general on the blocks where we built gardens. The community has stronger ties to the garden and to each other. Social capital and presence led to drops in crime.
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NYCHA orgy rounds out disastrous summer for the public housing agency

New York City papers reported this week that employees for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) have been having regular orgies in a Bronx public housing complex. The bombshell is a bizarre cap on a summer of horrible news for the agency. New York Daily News reported on Monday that at least two supervisors were pressuring staff at Throggs Neck Houses to participate in alcohol-fueled sex parties in the property's offices. The parties happened on multiple occasions, and staff even counted time at the events as overtime so that they would be paid for participating. The entire Throggs Neck staff has since been reassigned to other properties, but no one has been fired. The greatest penalties have apparently fallen on two ringleaders who were suspended without pay for 30 days while the organization conducts an investigation. One of those people, Brianne Pawson, was the supervisor of grounds at the property and is the daughter of Charles Pawson, NYCHA director, the Daily News reported. Outrage from residents and city council members over the scandal and subsequent lack of disciplinary action only add to the heat NYCHA has felt this summer, as dangerous flaws in its operation have been exposed. Residents in East Harlem have reported that they frequently don't have running water; playgrounds have collapsed while children played on them; drinking water tanks have contained dead animals and human excrement; hundreds of children have suffered lead poisoning after living in apartments with toxic paint. And that's just this year. Reports have uncovered a litany of other complaints and failures, all apparently stemming from gross mismanagement and underinvestment by the authority. Vito Mustaciuolo was named general manager for the organization this summer on the heels of Shola Olatoye's departure from her position as chair of the authority. Earlier this year Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, declared a state of emergency for the organization after several properties lost heat during the winter, and a recent lawsuit targets Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, for his responsibility in a lead poisoning scandal. NYCHA is the country's largest housing authority and shelters over 400,000 New Yorkers. Its leader is appointed by the city's mayor, but it operates as an independent corporation. This year Congress approved an increase in federal funding for the authority after the Trump administration initially proposed cutting support.
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An exclusive look at Studio Libeskind’s first New York City building

Daniel Libeskind has been a New York City resident since his teenage years, but, as has been noted, the acclaimed architect has yet to realize a ground-up project there. That may be about to change, as Studio Libeskind has released renderings of its geometric Sumner Houses Senior Building, set to rise in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The collaboration between Libeskind and the city is part of the broader Housing New York 2.0’s “Seniors First” program, a commitment to build affordable senior housing on land owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The move was first announced in a January press release where NYCHA, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) jointly announced four new partnerships under its 100% Affordable Housing program, its NextGen Neighborhoods program, and its FHA Vacant Homes program. Libeskind has been tapped to design senior housing on the western “site 2” parcel of the Sumner Houses superblock, a NYCHA-owned plot on the northern edge of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The 10-story, 129,928-square-foot apartment building will hold 197 permanently affordable units, along with over 10,000-square feet of ground-level community space for residents along Marcus Garvey Boulevard. “I am extremely grateful and inspired by this opportunity to contribute to the Bed-Stuy community,” said Libeskind in a statement sent to AN. “I believe I can speak for our entire team that our goal is to serve the senior community by creating homes that give a sense of civic pride and create more much needed affordable housing in New York City.” The firm’s design is a definite break from the boxy brick buildings commonly seen in affordable housing throughout the neighborhood. Libeskind has taken a more geometric approach, twisting and cutting away at the typical rectangular form to create an almost crystalline structure. According to Libeskind, the alternating open and solid elements and series of lifts and cuts are meant to create a lively interaction with the street and surrounding area. The building’s mass twists and lifts as it rises, and the double-height, glazed entrance lobby should give expansive views of the surrounding Sumner Houses block. Inside, corridor sightlines have been aligned to look inward on a central public courtyard. Construction on the Sumner Houses Senior Building should be complete in 2020. A comprehensive fact sheet on the building's affordability breakdown can be found here.
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NY state budget declares Penn Station area an “unreasonable” public risk, and other shakeups

After a tumultuous series of negotiations over New York State’s 2018-19 budget that came down to the wire, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on a finalized $168 billion bill late last Friday. While a congestion pricing plan and the removal of density caps for NYC residential developments failed to pass, sweeping changes that could preclude a state seizure of the Penn Station area have made it through. The finalized budget provides a bevy of changes and funding initiatives that will affect New York-based architects and planners. In a move to stabilize city’s deteriorating subway system, $836 million was authorized for the MTA’s Subway Action Plan–with the requirement that the city government would have to foot half of the bill. As AN has previously reported, the money would go towards stabilizing the subway system by beefing up track work, replacing 1,300 troublesome signals, tracking leaks, and initiating a public awareness campaign to reduce littering. At the time of writing, the de Blasio administration which has repeatedly claimed that the city already pays more than its fair share, has agreed to contribute their $418 million portion. Congestion pricing, proposed by Governor Cuomo’s own transportation panel, failed to make it into the final legislation. The plan would both reduce traffic on Manhattan’s streets and could potentially raise up to $1.5 billion for subway repairs, but couldn’t muster enough support to pass. Instead, a surcharge on for-hire cars will be enacted below 96th Street in Manhattan; $2.75 for for-hire cars, $2.50 for yellow cabs, and $0.75 for every pooled trip. The terminally underfunded New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will also be getting a boost, as Cuomo has pledged $250 million for repairs across the agency’s housing stock. However, the boost is somewhat undercut by the federal government’s recent decision to restrict NYCHA’s access to federal funds as a result of the lead paint scandal rattling the agency. To save time and money, the budget has implemented design-build practices–where the designer and contractor operate as one streamlined team–for future NYCHA projects, the forthcoming Rikers Island transformation, and the delayed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway restoration. While one controversial plan to remove Floor Area Ratio caps in future New York City residential developments didn’t make it into the final draft, another even more contentious proposal did. According to language in the final budget, the area around Penn Station has been deemed an “unreasonable risk to the public". This formal declaration could be used in future negotiations between the state and Madison Square Garden as leverage, or even as a pretext for eventually seizing the area via eminent domain. The budget, which the New York Times described as a broadside against Mayor de Blasio, ultimately exerts greater state intervention across a swath of local issues, from education to urban planning. More information on the final 2018-19 budget can be found here.
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Massive post-Sandy roof restoration begins at Red Hook Houses

On Tuesday morning, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) broke ground on the first of several FEMA-funded renovations to Red Hook Houses, devastated by Hurricane Sandy five years ago. The first step is a total replacement of the roofs, with completion projected for the end of 2021. 2,785 of the almost 3,000 apartment units in Red Hook Houses East and West fall under the total $3 billion FEMA post-Sandy restoration funds for public housing complexes across the city, and the total replacement of its roofs is just the first step. Tenants have spoken out about ongoing leaks, power outages, and mold for years after the storm. "Their plaster is falling because of moisture that came from Sandy," Frances Brown, president of the Tenants Association, told BKLYNER. "A lot of times you plug in something and all your power goes out." NYCHA's entire resilience plan for the Houses, including commissions from KPF, OLIN, and Arup, also includes sidewalk resurfacing; generator installation; utilities and hardware restoration; rebuilt playgrounds; and flood-proofing basements. There are also new sustainability measures incorporated by the firms: rooftop solar panels, raised "utility pods" providing heat and electricity as well as public green space, a raised "lily pad" flood barrier system, and more. Meanwhile, Brown called out New York State Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, whose district includes the development, for helping tenants with immediate practical concerns like replacing fridges and stoves in apartments severely impacted by the storm. As the nation watches superstorms like Harvey and now Irma impact our coastal cities, U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez remarked at the groundbreaking that it's more important than ever to ensure that "the rebuilding we do is built to last"—even if its implementation begins five years on.
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President Trump taps his son’s wedding planner to run N.Y. and N.J. federal housing programs

A longtime Trump family associate will soon be responsible for administering billions of dollars in federal housing funds. Lynne Patton organized the wedding of President's son, Eric Trump, coordinated Trump golf course tournaments, served as the Eric Trump Foundation's vice president, and is a senior aide to the Trump family. News broke today that—starting July 5—she'll be leading U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Region II, which includes New York and New Jersey. According to the New York Daily News, Patton has a long-running relationship with the Trumps that goes back to 2009 when she started as their "event planner." However, questions have immediately arisen regarding her qualifications for her new role at HUD. Her LinkedIn page lists a J.D. from Quinnipiac University but includes a "N/A"; Yale University is also listed but with no additional information. The New York Attorney General also began "looking into" The Eric Trump Foundation after a report from Forbes appeared to expose practices that broke state laws. Patton's directorship at HUD will include block grants and rental vouchers that go toward senior citizen programs and housing inspections; The New York Daily News reports that HUD funds 100 percent of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)'s capital repair budget and 70 percent of its operational budget. The role Patton is filling has been vacant since January 20.
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NYCHA’s new guidelines for rehabilitation of public housing push for sustainability and preservation

Who knew the launch of a document about putting new rooftops on old buildings, raising boilers above flood levels, and updating kitchens and bathrooms in municipal housing would be the East Coast elite’s hottest ticket in town? The release of New York City Public Housing Authority’s Design Guidelines for Rehabilitation of Residential Buildings had to turn away dozens of attendees to its January 12th panel packing three stories at the AIA’s Center for Architecture.

Part of the reason for the overflow crowd may be the sheer number of partners, collaborators, and offices involved. Led by the agency’s Office of Design, the Design Guidelines implicated its Capital Projects and Energy & Sustainability divisions, affordable housing developer Enterprise Community Partners (ECP), the AIA’s Design for Aging and Housing Committees, participants in NYCHA’s Design Excellence program, including Andrew Bernheimer, Domingo Gonzalez, and Claire Weisz, and dozens of maintenance staff members and residents.

Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow Jae Shin served as embedded coordinator of many of these conversations within the agency and co-edited the guidelines. “She really helped facilitate a lot of the internal discussions that we had with our various groups at NYCHA as well as external partners,” said Bruce Eisenberg, deputy director of NYCHA’s Office of Design, who spearheaded the project. “We really wanted to make it a very interactive process.”

Produced in collaboration with ECP and supported by a $100,000 grant from Deutsche Bank, the Design Guidelines belong to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s NextGeneration NYCHA, a 10-year agenda to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of America’s largest and most successful public housing agency.

“This will impact all of our capital projects,” Eisenberg said. “We have a five-year plan of scheduled projects, and so we really wanted to raise the bar of design in how we execute them. This is a roadmap to enable us to do that.” It has implications for a vast and practically unending scope of work. If fully funded, renovation of NYCHA projects, which comprise 2,500 acres in 328 complexes containing 125,000 units and serving more than 400,000 residents, would require $17 billion in current capital costs. Allocations over the next three years amount to $784.4 million from the city’s budget.

In some parts, the Design Guidelines formalize the standards employed in recent capital projects, such as the exterior lighting installed at Castle Hill and Butler Houses in the Bronx, which replaces the dim yellow light of old with nearly 1,000 bright and energy-efficient LED fixtures to improve public safety. In other outdoor areas, the guidelines aim to reduce metal fencing around grass and add amenities to create more active and healthy spaces. They take cues from the guidelines set forth by the Center For Active Design, while encouraging visual sight lines. In-progress projects like KPF and Olin’s landscapes for Red Hook Houses—funded as part of the post-Sandy $3 billion FEMA recovery grant—indicate a High Line–like attention to detail.

“We’re starting to be more aspirational in that area,” Eisenberg said. “We’re looking to make our open spaces more attractive and useful to our residents and the community at large.”

NYCHA’s push toward environmental sustainability nudges projects to install subsurface infiltration systems, sidewalk bioswales, and porous pavers rather than asphalt to limit stormwater overflow and heat sinks. Pilot projects in Bronx River Houses, Hope Gardens, and Seth Low Houses will slow stormwater, while the Edenwald Houses in the Bronx will contain the city’s largest green infrastructure installation. For other areas vulnerable to stormwater rise, the guidelines recommend concrete retaining walls to double as seating, like the floodwalls as wood-clad benches by Nelligan White Architects in Baruch Houses below the Williamsburg Bridge.

At Sotomayor Houses, NYCHA will begin installing the new standards for kitchens and bathrooms later this year, expanding cabinet space and adding accessible grab bars and sinks. That is, after the roofing is done: Mayor de Blasio has dedicated $100 million annually to roofs alone for the next two years, recently supplemented by another $1 billion over 10 years. Upgrading the troublesome low- or no-slope roofs of its modern-era buildings is NYCHA’s biggest capital projects burden.

The Design Guidelines’ release landed on the same day as nomination hearings for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, adding a collective spirit of defiance to talk of preserving the country’s largest public housing agency. The De Blasio administration vows to press on, regardless of the new administration’s priorities, which appear to involve gutting all federal agencies the President’s cronies cannot use for profiteering.

“We have a 10-year strategic plan NextGeneration NYCHA that’s not a kitchen sink plan; it’s very specific, and we’re moving forward,” said Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, director of NYCHA’s Office for Public/Private Partnerships and president of newly formed Fund for Public Housing nonprofit, which coordinated privatesector grants for the guidelines. “We don’t know what the policy priorities will be, but we know what New Yorkers’ priorities are, so we are moving forward with that plan, because it’s the best investment in public housing in New York City.”

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Large raised earth “Lily Pads” by KPF will help stop future floods at NYC’s Red Hook Houses

Kohn Pederson Fox's (KPF) New York office has had their planned coterie of dwellings in Red Hook, Brooklyn, recognized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA)'s 2017 Design Awards. The project was commissioned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and was a recipient of the Merit distinction in the Urban Design category; the New York chapter of the AIA identified KPF's work as an "outstanding design." Collaborating with Philadelphia-based landscape architects OLIN, KPF worked out a master plan that will serve as part of a contingency plan in response to the devastation Red Hook faced after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. After conducting community research, including surveys, workshops, forums, KPF now aims to install 14 "utility pods" that would provide heat and electricity to each building as well as doubling-up as a gathering place for public programs. In addition to this, a "Lily Pad" design will act as a flood barrier, using raised earth in the middle of internal courtyards, aided by an active flood wall with passive barriers. As renders depict, these spaces will become mounds where people can sit and relax. All in all, KPF's scheme will span 60 acres and service 2,873 residences. "These elements transform the experience of residents and guests by providing vibrant, social spaces in conjunction with the area’s infrastructural needs," said the architects. Last year, NYCHA reached out to developers to “finance, design, construct, and operate a campus-scale heat, hot water, and electricity generation and delivery network” that will supply 28 buildings housing 6,000 residents in the area. To aid the effort, the micro-grid will let the NYCHA produce its own energy and link up with the Red Hook Community Microgrid scheme. Projects recognized by the AIANY Awards will be on show at an exhibition at the Center for Architecture from April 21 through June 20, 2017.
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Denied access to Trump Tower public space, protestors still hold affordable housing teach-in

This morning, some fifty people gathered outside Trump Tower's fifth-floor public terrace to protest proposals from New York Governor Cuomo and President Trump that would affect affordable and public housing in New York. The event was organized by Alliance for Tenant Power and Real Rent Reform, two grassroots coalition groups that draw support from a range of New York City tenant organizations, labor unions, not-for-profits, and advocacy groups. The teach-in started at 11:30 a.m. as protestors arrived just outside the terrace entrance, located on the top floor of the Tower's large central atrium. Prior to the election, Trump Tower's two tucked-away public terraces seemed to exemplify the slight-of-hand developers can use to leverage extra development rights without meaningfully giving back to the public. Recently, they've become a venue for protestors to gather at the heart of President Trump's most prominent development. This time, however, the fifth-floor terrace was closed due to reported icy conditions. To this reporter's eyes, it was a plainly flimsy excuse. (The four-floor terrace is still closed due to construction, according to a sign outside its entrance.) Civil rights attorney Samuel B. Cohen was on hand to speak to Trump Tower staff and inquire about the space's closure. Just like a sidewalk or any other public space, he told the crowd, Trump Tower has an obligation to clear the space for public use. Regardless, the teach-in continued, as the NYPD did not express safety concerns about the crowd. Over the course of approximately 45 minutes, protestors spoke out against Governor Cuomo's proposed renewal of the 421-a tax break, which is designed to spur the development of multi-unit buildings on vacant land. Tom Waters, housing policy analyst from the Community Service Society, said 421-a was a product of the 1970s, an era when the city was in dire straits. "Those times are over," he said, adding that 421-a would create far more value for developers than for the public. Waters also spoke out against a new provision in the bill that extends 100 percent tax-exempt status for certain new affordable developments from 25 to 35 years, a move which could generate further profits for developers.  Waters also explained that Trump Tower itself was a product of 421-a tax exemptions when it was built; according to The New York Times the project received "an extraordinary 40-year tax break that has cost New York City $360 million to date in forgiven, or uncollected, taxes, with four years still to run, on a property that cost only $120 million to build in 1980." After being initially denied 421-a exemptions for Trump Tower, Trump successfully sued the city, and he later won 421-a exemptions for his Trump World Tower under the Guiliani and Bloomberg administrations in a similar fashion. Massive cuts to federal housing programs were an equal source of ire: According to a press release issued by Alliance for Tenant Power and Real Rent Reform, President Trump's proposed budget reduces federal housing funds by 13 percent. Those cuts "are expected to strain public housing programs and axe $75 million in federal funding from the New York City Housing Authority, the agency that manages public housing in NYC," the groups said. The Community Service Society estimates that Governor Cuomo's proposed 421-a program would "cost NYC taxpayers $2.4 billion annually and yield minimal affordable housing units in return." In the face of federal cuts, Jawanza Williams of VOCAL NY urged New York State to take a more aggressive stance to fill in the gaps and create its own robust health care and public housing systems; he also argued that 421-a would "only exacerbate gentrification." Claudia Perez of advocacy group Community Voices Heard added her thoughts in a question to those assembled: "Will you help me fight against the developer-in-chief? Now more than ever, New York must protect NYCHA." "We're calling on Cuomo to realize these $2 billion in cuts are more Trumponian than Trump," said New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams at the protest. "So if [Cuomo] wants to run for president, if he wants to be a champion of saying what New York City is going to do to push back against these Trumponian cuts, 421-a is not it."
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Feds to cut $35 million in funding for New York City public housing

New York City's perennially in-the-red public housing authority is set to lose millions in funding from the federal government.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is facing a $35 million funding cut, the largest in five years and the first cuts New York has received under the Trump administration. That figure breaks down to $7.7 million in housing voucher funding (Section 8) and $27.7 million in operating funds.

NYCHA units are home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers, so the funding decrease is sure to have a negative impact on some of the city's most vulnerable residents. Even though the agency ended last year with a $21 million surplus, it now confronts a $14 million—or greater—deficit.

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent pledge of $1 billion to shore up faulty roofs, NYCHA faces an estimated $17.1 billion shortfall in capital repairs that consign residents to live with mold, lead paint, vermin, and, in low-lying complexes, Hurricane Sandy damage. The WSJ reported that up to $150 million in cuts to the agency are possible, and those cuts would reverse any recent improvements NYCHA has made.

"The direction we're moving in is one where public housing is drastically different or doesn't exist," NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye told the WSJ. "The progress we have made over the course of the last three years—it's not that it's at risk. It evaporates."

NYCHA is looking for money in all the places it can, but some fear that revenue-building initiatives like the city's plan to build infill housing and sell housing authority property could compromise the agency's mission.

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NYC connects low-income communities to the worldwide web with digital vans

In its latest effort to expand internet access within public housing communities, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has hopped on the Pokémon Go craze.

Nestled in the heart of the LaGuardia Houses on Madison Street next to a mushroom-tiled sculpture—which is, itself, a Poké Stop recognized in the game—NYCHA invited Pokémon trainers to catch some Pokémon and tour its digital van, which was unveiled toward the end of the summer. The van, NYCHA’s third, offers access to free wi-fi and computers for low-income residents, as well as instructions for those less familiar with technology.

On September 21, with Pokémon trainers assembled, NYCHA chair and CEO Shola Olatoye described the vans as “an effort to better connect our residents to the city and the resources it has to offer,” and recognized Pokémon Go as a “great way to drive foot traffic to the digital van.”

In addition to free wi-fi, NYCHA’s digital vans are equipped with eight laptops, two tablets, scanners, printers, staplers, pencils, rulers, and calculators—anything you would need in a standard workplace environment.

“Basically I’m a mobile office,” Kim Maxwell, the digital van instructor, said with a grin.

According to Maxwell, most people utilizing the van’s resources are young people doing research for school, or creating resumes to apply for jobs.

“In 2016 you have to have a digital resume,” Maxwell said. “The days of asking, ‘Are you hiring?’ or ‘Can I give you my resume?’ are over. And not only do you have to present your resume online, you also have to take an assessment. You need a computer to do that.”

And the vans aren’t just serving young people on the job hunt. The second largest segment of users, according to Maxwell, is the elderly in the communities, who seek him out for more than just computer help. With regard to his engagements with the elderly during his visits, Maxwell said he gets a lot of repeat customers.

“They’ll come at first because they want to use their phone better, and they end up chit-chatting,” Maxwell said. “I’ve become a familiar face in their residence—it’s very rewarding that way.”

The digital vans are funded through a city grant, with partners at the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications. Since the first van launched in 2014, they’ve won several awards for municipal innovation. Earlier this summer, the city won a competition by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to participate in ConnectHome, an initiative by President Barack Obama to expand broadband access and digital literacy programs for low-income communities.

Nydia Vasquez, a senior resident and member of the executive board at the nearby Smith Houses, said she saw the van for the first time as she was walking home. When asked about her initial thoughts, Vasquez immediately perceived the vans as “a great advantage.”

“It’s excellent for the older people who need to talk to their families far away, get their emails, or make their medical appointments,” Vasquez said. “I hope they get more money so they can do it in every housing development.”

Each of the three digital vans cost about $175,000, with a $200,000 yearly operating budget, and visits between 18 and 25 developments over the course of a two-week rotation—still only a fraction of the 334 developments citywide.

When asked about the possibility of more vans, the NYCHA chair suggested that continued collaboration could make it a reality, citing close collaboration with the city government.

“We’d very much like to see this replicated,” Olatoye said.

As for Vasquez, she plans to spread the word among residents in her building and to inquire about getting the vans over at the Smith Houses at her next meeting with NYCHA.

“My complex is big—we need one on the left and one on the right,” she said. “And I don’t know about this Poké-stuff, but I’m going to find out today!”

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Red Hook housing development will feature its own sustainable, resilient microgrid

The New York City Housing Authority (NCYHA) is on the hunt for a developer to back a sustainable heat and power generation complex for Brooklyn's biggest housing complex to be. NCYHA says the developer would "finance, design, construct, and operate a campus-scale heat, hot water, and electricity generation and delivery network" that will serve the 28 buildings housing 6,000 residents in Red Hook. Officially known as the "The Red Hook Houses District Energy System," the project will comprise two energy plants located at each end of the complex that will form a micro-grid that supplies the housing network. Additionally, as part of a post-Sandy contingency plan, the micro-grid would let the NYCHA to produce its own energy and link up with the Red Hook Community Microgrid scheme. "NYCHA believes that the distributed energy component of this project has the potential to be a self-sustaining enterprise, and the RFP provides an opportunity to raise dedicated funds for that," said NYCHA spokeswoman Zodet Negron. “As part of NYCHA’s Sandy Recovery program, we are working to build back stronger and more resilient than ever before,” added NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye. As of last week, the NYCHA has released its "Request for Proposals" which calls for a two part submission process due on July 22 and September 9. Developers will work alongside New York firm KPF, who have produced a selection of renders, for the scheme. Nilda Mesa, director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability also mentioned how the scheme will combat greenhouse gas emissions. “NYCHA will be harnessing the energy produced in multiple ways, and eliminating individual building systems, which is a smart way to set up a system that will be better to maintain and control." In terms of funds for the project, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has set aside $438 million for repairs on NYCHA buildings damaged by Sandy. "FEMA funds can pay for cogeneration/microgrid components that are consistent with the restoration and resiliency of electrical and heating systems that were damaged by Sandy," a spokeswoman said.