Posts tagged with "New York City Housing Authority":

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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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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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Design Trust For Public Space Announces Winners of its Public Space Competition

Last night, AN was over at the National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan, to hear the Design Trust for Public Space announce the winners of  Energetic City: Connectivity in the Public Realm—its open call for proposals to reimagine the city's public space. Out of over 90 submissions that came from individuals, city agencies, and community groups, the jury selected four winning plans that should collectively include programming in all five boroughs. In a statement, the trust said the proposals "will develop new ways of connecting diverse people, systems, and built, natural and digital environment of New York City. Each project, which will receive seed funding to begin immediately, will respond to the needs and aspirations of community users." Here's some information on each project all courtesy of the Design Trust for Public Space: Design Guidelines for Neighborhood Retail (
The New York City Department of Housing, Preservation & Development) The NYC Department of Housing, Preservation & Development needs design guidelines to achieve successful mixed-use developments that include high-performing ground-floor spaces. The resulting manual will generate immediate changes to HPD’s development process for mixed-use projects, but also for other entities focused on creating vibrant local economies through design. FMCP Creative / Reconnect the Park
 (Queens Museum and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation) Queens Museum and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation will investigate new ways of connecting public parks to communities through a pilot study that will analyze Flushing Meadows Corona Park (FMCP). Envisioned as an active learning framework for park users, the project will support community participants in developing proposals to improve FMCP’s connectivity with surrounding neighborhoods, focusing on the park entrances, wayfinding system, and new uses for the World’s Fair infrastructure. Future Culture: Connecting Staten Island’s Waterfront Staten Island Arts (Staten Island Arts) Staten Island Arts seeks to establish a replicable model of inclusive development through public art to link neighborhoods, starting with Staten Island's North Shore. The project will provide planning and policy recommendations to stabilize the cultural assets of neighborhoods. Opening the Edge
 (Jane Greengold with the support of New York City Housing Authority) Brooklyn artist Jane Greengold aims to activate underused public spaces surrounding public housing developments with the residents. The project will develop new ideas and a prototype to transform inaccessible landscapes around NYCHA developments into lively places to gather for residents and visitors alike.
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NYCHA to Lease Parcels of Land within Eight Public Housing Developments

After much speculation, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has officially announced its plan to lease parcels of land right in the middle of eight public housing developments in Manhattan to private developers. For several months, NYCHA officials have held meetings at the proposed sites, but the plans have been met with criticism from residents and local government representatives. Chairman John B. Rhea told members of the State Assembly last Friday that the over-extended agency must “ find innovative ways to chart our own path” and make up for its significant loss of state and federal funding. Rhea told the Committee that the agency has lost over 2.3 billion in the last decade and now is “met with 6 billion dollars in unmet capital needs.” NYCHA would lease a total of 14 parcels of lands to developers who would then be responsible for constructing and operating the buildings. The income, estimated to be between $30 and $50 million, from these new developments would then be invested back into public housing improvements. It is a lucrative deal for developers who will land a 99-year ground lease plus tax breaks. NYCHA will soon issue an Request for Proposal (RFP) this Spring for the development of these 14 parcels located throughout the city from Lower Eastside up to Harlem.
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NYCHA Ticks Off 73,000 Work Orders from Its Backlog

NYCHA Maintenance & Repair Action Plan (Courtesy of NYCHA) The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is starting to make a dent in its epically long backlog of repairs. The agency just announced that that it has completed 73,000 work orders, which leaves them with 349,479 to go. Mayor Bloomberg and NYCHA launched an action plan back in January to reduce the backlog, and with $10 million from City Council, the agency has be able to hire 176 workers to specifically help with maintenance and repairs. [Image: Courtesy NYCHA]
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NYCHA’s Green Thumb: New Affordable Housing Complex Opens With Rooftop Farm

It has been a rocky few months for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), but the battered agency finally has some good news to report. State officials announced the opening of the Arbor House, a 124-unit affordable housing complex, located in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, that is not only LEED Platinum certified, but also features a hydroponic farm on the roof that supplies residents and the surrounding community with fresh produce. Built from local and recycled materials, the 8-story building was designed by New York-based ABS Architecture and includes a living green wall installation in the lobby, air-filtration systems, and indoor and outdoor exercise areas. This $37.7 million housing development came out of a collaboration between city agencies and Blue Sea Development, and according to The New York Observer, is part of a larger initiative by Mayor Bloomberg, which “pairs dilapidated and vacant NYCHA land with private developers to create affordable housing.” The apartments are reserved for low-income households that earn less than 60 percent of the city's median income. Residents will start moving in within the next month.
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NYCHA Chairman Fesses Up, Discusses Hurricane Sandy Response Shortcomings

After much silence, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chairman John Rhea revealed at a panel on Tuesday that the cash-strapped agency failed to adequately prepare for Hurricane Sandy. The super storm left 80,000 tenants without heat or power for several weeks, exposing the weak infrastructure and fragility of over 250 buildings, and also the agency’s disorganization. Crain's reported that Rhea outlined the three main lessons from the disaster, which boiled down to recognizing the magnitude of future storms and natural disasters, taking proper measures to protect vulnerable buildings, and accepting the reality that many residents will refuse to evacuate. Rhea admitted that NYCHA is under-staffed as a result of budget cuts over the years, which likely contributed to the agency’s poor response to the storm. On the upside, Mayor Bloomberg announced last week that the city will allocate $120 million to NYCHA to help in the recovery efforts. But Rhea said that will barely cover the  $785 million in damage from Sandy. The agency is exploring other less conventional, and somewhat prickly, funding options such as leasing playgrounds and community centers in the middle of housing developments to private developers to build luxury high rises. Yesterday Rhea went in front of the City Council for the first time. According to NY1, he had to explain why NYCHA’s emergency response went awry.  NYCHA is expected to present an action plan by next month.
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Luxury High Rises Could Sprout Among New York’s Public Housing Towers

Luxury high rises could soon crop up right next to public housing. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), saddled with a $60 million deficit and a backlog of 420,000 repairs, is in quite a fix and has come up with one possible, and potentially controversial, solution to raise the money. According to a recent story in The Daily News, the over-extended agency is planning on leasing playgrounds, parks, and community centers within public housing complexes to private developers who would be allowed to build a total of 4,330 apartments. The eight potential high rises would be built in prime real estate locations such as the East Village, Upper West Side, and Lower Manhattan. The prospect would certainly be an attractive opportunity for developers: NYCHA will provide a 99-year lease with the payments frozen for first 35 years. The only requirement is that 20 percent of the developments must be affordable housing for families that earn under $50,000. Some residents are not happy about the new plan, but there is little they can do change or prevent these developments from being built. While this proposal is primarily motivated by the need for cash, it also has far greater implications in terms of class and economic diversity in a city that has become increasingly segregated by an influx of wealth. In the last few years, urban planners and housing advocates have reimagined public housing. Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions, proposed transforming Brownsville’s isolated housing block into a more integrated grid layout with through-traffic streets, retail, and urban farms. The famed hotelier Ian Schrager has even set his sights on a former community garden that belonged to an adjacent privately-owned low-income housing tower at 10 Stanton Street in the Lower East Side. He purchased the site from tenants and the tower owner and plans to build a 25-story boutique hotel and residential tower. Between the demand for luxury housing in Manhattan and NYCHA’s shortage of cash, public housing in the city is about to undergo significant changes.
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A Win for NYC Tenants: A New Bill Holds Landlords Accountable

It will now be increasingly difficult and costly for New York landlords to flip properties by making quick fixes to buildings that require major structural repairs and improvements. The New York City Council passed a bill yesterday that will allow the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to clamp down on landlords who don’t “repair underlying conditions that lead to repeat violations” stated the City Council in a press release. These violations could include leaks or damaged roofs that lead to mold, which could have a deleterious effect on a tenants “quality of life, health, and safety.” The new legislation will give the owner a four-month period to take the proper measures to fix the problem and provide proof of their compliance. Landlords could face penalties of $1,000 per unit or a minimum of $5,000 if they fail to comply with the order by deadline. While private landlords will be reprimanded for failing to comply with orders by HPD, the question is whether the New York City Housing Authority will also be held accountable and required to pay the same penalties if repairs aren't made. NYCHA claims that there were no “serious structural issues” caused by Hurricane Sandy, but tenants disagree and say the storm revealed a plethora of problems such as cracks, leaks, and loss of hot water. This summer, the Daily News reported that NYCHA board chairman John B. Rhea revealed a “backlog of 338,000 maintenance orders.” City council conducted a report with help of the Boston Consulting Group, which disclosed a study that kids in public housing are "three times more likely to develop asthma as those in private homes." NYCHA might not admit that the repairs constitute major structural issues, but the evidence of these health issues certainly contradicts this claim. Tenants with repeat mold problems have filed a suit against NYCHA for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act citing asthma as a disability. We’ll see if this new bill will compel NYCHA to expedite these maintenance orders.