Posts tagged with "public housing":
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.”
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.
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!”
A new book explores the fight—past, present, and future—to realize NYC’s public and affordable housing
I can trace my interest in New York City’s public housing to a very specific moment back in 2005. New to the city, on a visit to the Queens Museum of Art, I marveled at the “Panorama of the City of New York,” the great model of the city built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair. While taking it all in—the Manhattan grid and Central Park, the bridges and piersand waterfront, the city’s terrific expanse—I wondered about the many clusters of red towers cropping up all over the five boroughs. “What are those?” I asked a friend. “The projects,” he answered. “What do you mean the projects?” I asked. “Public housing,” he said—“It’s where the poor live.” I blushed.
Affordable housing, its state, and most pressingly, the lack of it, has been a concern in New York City for more than a century. Most recently Mayor Bill de Blasio has made it a central focus of his administration, promising to create and preserve 200,000 affordable units over ten years. That’s a monumental goal. In 2015, as we learn in the introduction to Affordable Housing in New York, a wonderful new book edited by Nicholas Dagen Bloom and Matthew Gordon Lasner, 8 percent of the city’s rental apartments (some 178,000 units) were still in government-owned and -operated public housing developments, with hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers living in complexes like Co-op City, privately-owned, below-market buildings developed with governmental aid and subsidies.
Bloom and Lasner, and the exquisite group of contributors they assembled for this volume, look into the first hundred years of projects, programs, policies, communities, and individuals that brought to life this one-of-a-kind housing stock. They focus on what they call “below-market subsidized housing,” noting that “affordable housing,” a term that is in wide use today and one that they use in the book’s title, is “a comparative term that can be stretched to include many kinds of housing”—much of what today is called “affordable,” in fact, can hardly be afforded by working-class families, let alone the poor. Anyone who tries to understand how below-market subsidized housing works in New York City is faced with a mind-boggling tangle of terms and myriad city, state, and federal programs, laws, subsidies, stimuli, grants, tax credits, and abatements, not to mention rent regulations and alternative ownership models. This book offers a way to untangle and understand these terms and their histories.
The volume begins at the turn of the 20th century, when housing the urban poor was essentially a private, philanthropic endeavor. In 1926, in response to mounting pressure due to the abysmal nature and magnitude of the problem, Governor Alfred E. Smith opened the way for governmental involvement in housing with the Limited Dividend Housing Companies Act, the nation’s first law to offer tax exemptions to developers of affordable housing and, most important, to allow the use of eminent domain for site assembly. Organized in six chapters that trace a roughly chronological trajectory, the book offers critical overviews of different waves of housing development as well as a series of essays that analyze case studies of representative communities and short sketches of key figures and programs. Most interestingly, the book tackles this history with what the editors call a “humanistic, longitudinal, large-scale approach,” training “a humanistic lens on discussions usually dominated by designers, social scientists, and policy analysts.” By analyzing about three dozen housing projects of different eras in their social and historical context, the book sheds new light on this multifaceted history without falling into the trap of becoming an obscure laundry list of housing policies.
The housing supplied over this troubled century, as the country was being radically transformed by two world wars, several immigration waves, and the Great Depression all the way to the Great Recession, never seems to meet the demand. Displacement, racial segregation, and the stigma of poverty were (and remain) persistent problems. It is especially frustrating to realize how far behind we are lagging as a society when one considers that, to this day, we cannot meet a goal set 80 years ago by Langdon Post, a housing activist appointed by then-mayor Fiorello La Guardia to head the newly created New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), who claimed that the First Houses, a public housing complex built in 1936 in the Lower East Side, were “the first dwellings which are predicated upon the philosophy that sunshine, space, and air are minimum housing requirements to which every American is entitled.”
Many of the people that advocated and fought for public housing were larger-than-life personalities. Their battles, as well as their successes and failures, were big, and we live to this day with the legacy of their work. (The stories of New York City housing activists told in this book could well be optioned for a movie.) Women, in particular, were central for bringing about the much-needed changes in housing policy in New York City and beyond. In addition to an essay on the writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs, a revealing essay is dedicated to Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch (1867–1951), a housing activist who played a key role in “transforming the Progressive Era movement for settlement houses and tenement regulation into a local and national movement for tenement destruction and public housing construction.” Developing her ideas on housing management based on the work of another important woman, the 19th-century London social reformer Octavia Hill, Simkhovitch became “the force behind maternal systems of tenant management.” She also worked with the housing reformer Edith Elmer Wood and with Catherine Bauer Wurster, a leading public housing advocate and author of the influential 1934 book Modern Housing, with whom Simkhovitch drafted many of the provisions for the United States Housing Act of 1937. Closer to us, we read about Yolanda Garcia’s work as the leader of the Bronx coalition Nos Quedamos and about Rosanne Haggerty’s innovative approach to “supportive housing” with the organization Common Ground.
Bloom and Lasner argue that, despite many setbacks and shortcomings, New York City’s efforts are ultimately a success story: There are lessons to be learned from the complex process of building and preserving, physically and socially, publicly subsidized housing. If the book is a historical study of the city’s first century of below-market housing, its larger aim, the editors write, is that of “securing more resources for a second.”
One of the book’s happiest merits is that it tries to put a face to the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the projects—with a powerful photographic essay by David Schalliol. Affordable Housing in New York also lets us hear some of the voices of public housing residents. A revealing essay is dedicated to “Hip Hop and Subsidized Housing.” Hip-hop’s genesis can be traced to a 1973 party in General Sedgwick House, a Mitchell-Lama rental complex built in 1969 in the Bronx. In the words of Jay Z, who grew up at the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, “Housing projects are … these huge islands built mostly in the middle of nowhere, designed to warehouse lives. People are still people, though, so we turned the projects into real communities, poor or not.” Meanwhile, he continued, “even when we could shake off the full weight of those buildings and just try to live, the truth of our lives and struggle was still invisible to the larger country.”
Affordable Housing in New York is a worthy step toward lifting this veil of invisibility.
Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City Nicholas Dagen Bloom and Matthew Gordon Lasner Princeton University Press, $39.95