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Mayor public-housing raze-and-rebuild plan

BY GABE HERMAN | Chelsea’s Robert Fulton Houses may become less public under a proposal by the mayor that would let a private developer build on the site.

Under the plan, a private developer would build a new residential tower on a parking lot in the Fulton Houses. Seventy percent of the building’s units would be market rate, and 30 percent, affordable.

Residents of two existing low-rise buildings at the Fulton Houses, with 36 units each, would move into the new tower, before those buildings would be demolished and replaced by two other new buildings, state Senator Brad Hoylman told this paper.

Mayor de Blasio is proposing to demolish two of Robert Fulton Houses’ 11 buildings to allow a new tower to be constructed that would be 70 percent market rate. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Fulton Houses has 11 buildings located between Ninth and 10th Aves., stretching from 16th to 19th Sts. The complex has three 25-story towers, while the other eight buildings are six stories tall. It is unclear which two low-rise buildings would be razed under the plan.

Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the scheme on the April 22 edition of “Inside City Hall” on NY1. The previous day, he also took to Twitter about the issue, writing, “This administration would never replace an old building until brand new apartments at NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] rents were ready for every single resident. No one in Chelsea’s Fulton Houses should stay awake tonight worrying about losing their home.”

The private development on the site would be an attempt to raise money for needed repairs at Fulton Houses, which are estimated to cost $168 million over the next five years. NYCHA is currently under a federal monitor due to various issues of mismanagement.

Under the mayor’s plan, two of the lower buildings in the Fulton Houses would be demolished. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Local politicians wrote a letter on April 22 to Kathryn Garcia, NYCHA interim chairperson and C.E.O., calling on the authority to present its plans to Fulton Houses residents as quickly as possible.

The letter was co-signed by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, state Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

“Tenants need to hear plans under consideration for their community directly from NYCHA and be given a real opportunity to ask questions, receive direct, honest answers, and provide meaningful feedback,” the letter reads.

“To be clear,” the letter continues, “we will not allow any plan to advance that does not protect and preserve the Fulton Houses community, that involves displacement of residents from the Fulton Houses property, or that diminishes tenant rights or affordability.”

The eastern edge of the Fulton Houses complex includes lower buildings along Ninth Ave. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

The letter also expresses appreciation for efforts by NYCHA to try to find creative answers to its funding needs, a sentiment which Hoylman also reiterated to this paper. However, he said he was also wary in general of public-private partnerships.

“Look, the State of New York is as guilty as any party in ignoring the needs of our public housing residents,” Hoylman said.

He noted that the state owes NYCHA $450 million, which was allocated by the Legislature two years ago but still has not reached residents.

“Until government steps up and provides adequate funding to NYCHA,” Hoylman said, “the calls for privatization, I think, will continue. So we have a responsibility to respond with more revenue for NYCHA.”

The state senator said there were still many unanswered questions about the Fulton Houses plan, including what could happen if the housing market goes south during construction and the project can’t be finished. Also, he asked, would there be a guarantee that tenants would be protected and receive equivalent or larger apartments in the new complex?

“Residents need to be treated with respect and have all of the information necessary to judge this proposal,” Hoylman said. “Thus far, to my knowledge, that hasn’t happened. We’re still awaiting some more information.”

Hoylman, though, said the current situation at Fulton Houses could not be allowed to continue with such a big backlog of needed repairs.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said, “that New Yorkers who pay rent should expect substandard services and living conditions in our public housing.”

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