NYCHA development plan is left for de Blasio to kill or change

Baruch Houses informational meeting drew about 100 people on a snowy, slushy evening, March 18. Photo by Peter Mikoleski/NYCHA
Baruch Houses informational meeting drew about 100 people on a snowy, slushy evening, March 18. Photo by Peter Mikoleski/NYCHA

BY SAM SPOKONY | The New York City Housing Authority said on Dec. 20 that site designations for its land lease plan — which would place luxury housing within its public developments — will not go forward before the end of this year, leaving the door wide open for Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to quash or change the plan after he takes office next week.

While NYCHA’s release that day was widely reported in the sense that the land lease — or “infill” — proposal was finally in real danger of being killed, it was, in fact, not the first time that sources at the housing authority have admitted that the plan would not have a chance to solidify under the current administration.

Based on conversations with this newspaper, the authority knew as early as a month ago — shortly after proposals from private developers were received on Nov. 18 — that the land lease plan would not move quickly enough to be fully entrenched, in its current form, under the Bloomberg administration.

In any case, the decision will soon be up to de Blasio, who opposes the Bloomberg plan, but has not closed the door on continuing the infill idea in some altered form.

“Mayor-elect de Blasio has been clear in his opposition to the Bloomberg administration’s infill program. As he’s said, for any plan to be considered, it must create affordable housing, create jobs for NYCHA residents, and steer money back into NYCHA to address its backlog of maintenance and repairs,” a de Blasio spokesperson told the New York Observer in a recent statement.

In its Dec. 20 release, NYCHA also gave an update on private developers’ responses to the infill plan as it stands now, saying that developers offered proposals for 11 of the 14 total land lease sites, within six of the eight total developments involved in the plan.

The eight developments currently associated with the plan are the Lower East Side’s LaGuardia Houses, Smith Houses and Baruch Houses; the East Village’s Campos Plaza and Meltzer Tower; and Upper Manhattan’s Douglass Houses, Carver Houses and Washington Houses.

The housing authority did not disclose any details about which six of the developments garnered proposals, but stated that, taking the highest offer at each land lease site, rent payments from the developers to NYCHA would average $37 million per year if the plan were to continue in its current form.

In its release, NYCHA said the money, “based on financial projections,” would be sufficient to finance to $700 to $900 million required for full exterior and interior upgrades and restoration of the more than 9,000 NYCHA homes located within the six developments that garnered proposals.

Since, under the current plan, developers would have to build so-called “80/20” housing on the sites, 720 out of around 3,600 new apartments on those six developments would be permanently affordable. The rest of the apartments would be available at market rates.

But this may, in fact, be the last that we hear of the infill plan in its current form. In addition to de Blasio’s opposition, pressure against it will probably also continue to come from the City Council.

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose Upper Manhattan district includes three of NYCHA’s proposed land lease developments, recently claimed victory in the speaker’s race, although that outcome will not be decided until the Council convenes again in January.

Mark-Viverito has often called on the housing authority to kill the current plan, and was a co-sponsor of a Council resolution urging the state Legislature to require NYCHA to follow the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, in any lease or sale of its properties.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is about to leave office, previously brought a lawsuit against the infill program. Although a judge recently dismissed the suit, the decision in that case allows for a new suit to be brought in the coming year, once — or if — NYCHA has a chance to actually finalize its choices for the developers of each infill site.

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