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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Now that Congress has passed the $51 billion emergency aid package, Mayor Bloomberg is forging ahead with the recovery plans. The City will set aside $1.77 billion in federal funds dedicated to rebuilding homes, businesses, public housing and infrastructure that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Bloomberg did, however, warn that it could likely take a few months for the programs “to be approved and implemented.” Since the storm, the city, in conjunction with FEMA, has helped homeowners in New York through its Rapid Repairs Program. In a press conference last week, Bloomberg announced that the city will create a $350 grant program to help owners of single-family homes rebuild residences that bore the brunt of the storm, and another $250 million dedicated to “enhance the resiliency” of multi-family housing units. New York City’s public housing sustained considerable damage during the storm, which resulted in up to $785 million in damage to 257 buildings in 32 housing developments. NYCHA will receive $120 million in aid to repair and prepare buildings for future storms by taking measures such as purchasing permanent emergency generators. The city will also provide $100 million in grants to over 1,000 businesses affected by the storm. Businesses will be able to obtain loans of up to $150,000 and grants as large as $60,000. An additional $140 million will be spent on efforts to help build infrastructure for utilities and to jumpstart economic activity in the five business zones that are located in vulnerable areas.
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.
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.
When is a Center really a center? Well first of all it’s got to have a center, don’t you think? The Betances Community Center has a splendid gym holding strong in the middle of the plan, full of warm, white light modulated by the south-facing glass block wall and monitor side walls of Kalwall. Originally intended to house a boxing ring and bright orange bleacher seating, the space is now multi-purpose with the bleachers accordioned to the walls; the famous boxing program moved elsewhere. Even without the ring, the architecture packs a wallop of clarity, modesty, attention to detail, and programmatic resolution. So much transparency is rare for community center projects, says architect Stephen Yablon, AIA, principal of Stephen Yablon Architect. He credits David Burney, FAIA, his then client at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for establishing the clear statement of values and goals for the center. Built in an area challenged by crime, the large areas of glass would seem to invite the errant brick. Quite the contrary: the very high quality of the design has engendered unusual respect for the facility. This is a community center with a community that has found identity in the architectural expression of its public amenity. Now filled with after school programs, performing arts, art classes, and fitness, the Betances Center has had only one broken pane, and that one was inside. It’s all proof positive of the power of architecture to bring out the best in us. Click here for tour info on tomorrow's Building of the Day: New York Public Library Francis Martin Branch. Each “Building of the Day” has received a Design Award from the AIA New York Chapter. For the rest of the month—Archtober—we will write here a personal account about the architectural ideas, the urban contexts, programs, clients, technical innovations, and architects that make these buildings noteworthy. Daily posts will track highlights of New York’s new architecture. Read more at www.archtober.org/blog.