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2013-10-17 / Telling It Like It Is

Telling It Like It Is

Living In “Luxury” With NYCHA? I DON’T Think So!
By Dara Mormile

How many people who live in New York City Public Housing are proud to call their digs “home”? With millions of dollars in improvements still needed across the board, and crime rates occurring in and around NYCHA buildings making the news every week, do you think of the word “luxury” when you think of the projects?

NYCHA representatives – along with Mayor Bloomberg - want you to think that there's a positive side to leasing project buildings where there will be “luxury” apartment buildings. However, the city council is looking to sue to stop NYCHA from leasing land to luxury apartment buildings. According to the Daily News, the plan will reportedly help generate $50 million and that 860 of the apartments would go to lower-income tenants.

Over the years, I've lived in two NYCHA buildings – Glenwood Houses and then Breukelen Houses. I've never really felt secure walking on either housing grounds, simply because I always saw police patrolling and there were always odd characters hanging around the hallways smoking pot or tenants yelling to each other from the streets so everyone could get in their business.

Is this living in “luxury”?

Many NYCHA buildings have been taken over by private agencies and many units are already available as co-ops. NYCHA trying to get an increasing rate of “higher-income” residents to occupy their apartments is one way to try to make these buildings more attractive and improve finances. Unfortunately, I'm just not buying this notion that leasing luxury developments will save NYCHA's reputation or get them out of their financial bind. Forget about the facts - that the city's commitment to providing low-income housing has proved fruitless for many residents. I've seen apartments in Bayview and Breukelen that are in deplorable condition - conditions that people in public shelters might not even have to contend with.

Are the “luxury” units on NYCHA's land going to be given the royal treatment before remodeling is done on the buildings which already exist? There are decades-old apartments with leaks, mold, drainage problems and chipping paint (did I mention they use the cheapest, smelliest paint they could get?). Are residents who live in the “luxury” units going to be tended to first when the front door of their building is broken? Forget about the bureaucratic tape that Bloomberg and NYCHA Chairman John Rhea are strapping to this plan. Forget about the politics behind “improving” the appearance of low-income housing by bringing in big shots. Is anyone convinced that life will be better in and around the projects if “luxury” units are made available?

Let's get real! There's violence all over the city - but when a shooting happens in the projects, like it did last weekend when a 26-year-old was allegedly killed during a shootout, it leaves another stain on that part of the community. Attacks and rapes in the hallways or roofs...groups of kids fighting in the courts... Right before I finished this column, there was another shooting at Glenwood Houses - the second in only a week. How many were there in a year? How many were publicized? While residents' rent is based on their income, living in and around the projects is far from living in “luxury.” I'm sure I've left out dozens of incidents that have ruined tenants' quality of life. Add on NYCHA's overall incompetence and you DON'T have the potential for a “luxury” apartment! If NYCHA head honchos are trying to convince the city council that things will get better once a private company comes in with their big bucks, they haven't seen the current state or conditions of their buildings and the people who occupy them.

Last year, Rhea proudly unveiled security cameras that were installed at Bayview Houses. Proudly? I was at the press conference where he thanked politicians for contributing funds towards the cameras, which would “improve quality of life” for NYCHA residents. But what's there to be proud of? If you need security cameras to be installed so that you can catch a possible criminal or make residents feel “safer,” how proud can you be?

Also, there are more complaints about NYCHA's apartments than most privately owned buildings...broken elevators, amenities that rarely get replaced and maintenance tickets that close 24 hours after they're called in. Got a problem with drainage? NYCHA assumes that their tenants aren't working-class citizens, so who cares if they show up tomorrow or the next day? How will tenants in these “luxury” apartments be treated? Will building “luxury” apartments in the midst of the projects change the characters that peruse the grounds? Do they think crime will decrease if they bring moderate- to highincome residents into the development?

Part of me wonders what's the real motivation behind leasing public land - making more money or saving their reputation as operating some of the most dangerous apartments in the city.

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