Pols Rally to Holmes Residents Unhappy Over Park Loss

City Councilmember Ben Kallos speaks at a Holmes Towers rally on October 1, joined by other elected officials including, at left, Borough President Gale Brewer. | OFFICE OF CITY COUNCILMEMBER BEN KALLOS
City Councilmember Ben Kallos speaks at a Holmes Towers rally on October 1, joined by other elected officials including, at left, Borough President Gale Brewer. | OFFICE OF CITY COUNCILMEMBER BEN KALLOS

BY JACKSON CHEN | Politicians are rallying behind the residents of Holmes Towers who object to the city creating a 50-50 affordable housing/ market-rate apartment complex on the site of a children’s playground at the Upper East Side public housing facility.

Elected officials joined Holmes residents and representatives of the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center and Community Voices Heard, a grassroots group that advocates for low-income families, in an October 1 gathering to announce their opposition to plans by the New York City Housing Authority to demolish the Holmes Playground to make way for the first of the agency’s NextGen Neighborhood infill projects. The infill project, expected to draw developers’ interest because of the opportunity it affords to build half of the units as market-rate apartments, is part of NYCHA’s efforts to address its crippling deficit.

“We are united against this outrageous taking of land from the public and turning it into privatized luxury housing and taking away a playground from our children,” East Side Congressmember Carolyn Maloney said.

She charged that the NextGen project comes at a great cost to residents, with the loss of light, air, and most notably their playground, while not providing guaranteed benefits to Holmes Towers residents themselves. With the Holmes Towers infill project at 403 East 93rd Street and a similar project in Brooklyn, Maloney said, NYCHA is setting an unfortunate precedent of taking public land to create opportunities for private profit.

“A park is public, it’s a great equalizer, everyone’s the same, it’s accessible,” Maloney said. “That’s why this park is so important.”

Responses to a NYCHA RFP seeking to find a developer for the proposed infill project were due on September 30, the same day elected officials announced their plans to rally in opposition with Holmes residents.

Shortly after the press release about the October 1 gathering went out, NYCHA issued its own release, stating its intention to partner with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation in a series of community workshops next spring to solicit input on the design of a new playground to replace the one planned for demolition. The NYCHA statement offered no schedule for those workshops, which it said would be announced in 2017, following the selection of a developer team.

“Engaging residents and the community is at the core of NYCHA’s mission to protect and preserve public housing for the next generation,” Shola Olatoye, NYCHA’s chair and CEO, said in the release. “These playground workshops will bring the whole family to the table, giving young residents the chance to explore their imagination for ideas and see those ideas come to a life in a community-based vision for the new playspace at Holmes Towers.”

But dissident Holmes residents and the vocal supporters they have drawn to their side are demanding that the city look elsewhere than their playground for someplace to site the infill development.

“Before the mayor or NYCHA tries to sell off our playground so he can put up luxury housing, he should reach into his own pocket,” City Councilmember Ben Kallos said. “And NYCHA and Mayor Bill de Blasio would go from being the worst landlords in the City of New York to the best landlords in the City of New York.”

In their continued opposition — not only to demolishing the playground, but to the overall infill project itsel — residents of Holmes Towers like Glendora Israel stressed that the new complex would make life rougher for NYCHA residents.

“The luxury high-rise will take away our air, our land, and our children’s park,” Israel said. “This will also raise the price of goods and the price of living. The luxury high-rise is supposed to generate money to fix repairs we need in our buildings, but the solution for repairs should come from the city budget.”

In Borough President Gale Brewer’s view, the housing agency needs to be more transparent in the claims it makes to residents.

“NYCHA has not stated anything specific,” Brewer said. “NYCHA says if we’re going to put a building here, we’re going to give you a playground, but there’s no place to put a playground.”

She added she would only support the creation of a building that is 100-percent affordable housing and goes through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which would include oversight by the local community board, the City Council, and Brewer herself.

“This is an ill-fated, not thought-out, terrible plan,” the borough president said. “Not only is it taking away the playground, it’s not stating where there would be another playground.”

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