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NYCHA faces pushback in East Williamsburg over market-rate housing plan

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Residents of the Cooper Park Houses are not happy with plans to bring new housing to a parking lot

Screen shot via Google Maps

Tenants of an East Williamsburg public housing development say they feel shafted by city’s decision to turn a parking lot on the property into a 250-apartment complex without first consulting them.

Dozens of residents of the Cooper Park Houses turned out Tuesday night to voice opposition to the plan, under which the New York City Housing Authority would lease out a long, narrow parking lot on the edge of the property to a developer, who could then build a mix of subsidized and market-rate apartments. Many who showed up for last night’s event grew furious when they realized NYCHA was there to tell them about the plan, not ask them if they were okay with it.

“This is a done deal,” shouted lifelong Cooper Park resident Debra Bradley, 46, before storming out of the meeting early. “You got us coming out here for bullshit. I could be at home sleeping.”

Residents voiced a laundry list of concerns, namely over a loss of parking—NYCHA has promised that anyone with parking spots will get another one somewhere on the property—along with the loss of natural light for residents whose apartments face the lot, and an influx of hundreds of new faces in an otherwise sleepy corner of the development.

“I love my little community. I know practically everybody. They know me,” said Michelle Herron, 50, a home health aide who has lived in Cooper Park since 1971. It’s “a whole can of worms they’re opening up,” she added.

Leroy Williams, a NYCHA representative in charge of community outreach, did his best to assuage an increasingly rowdy crowd of residents. “I know it’s tough—no one wants a building anywhere, I totally get it,” Williams told the assembled crowd. “We’re saying we do not have the funding to repair these buildings. Your building is over 50 years old. … We have to try to preserve the current stock we have. … We’re trying to preserve public housing.”

While they’re not looking for feedback on the project’s existence, NYCHA does want input from residents on what would like to see for the new building, said Deborah Goddard, the acting Vice President of Real Estate for NYCHA. “There’s a whole lot of questions,” she said. “What does it look like? What’s it providing the community?” The agency is planning a series of meetings in the coming months to gauge what residents hope to get out of the project.

Cooper Park Houses is the fourth development identified for the city’s NextGeneration Neighborhoods Plan, which brings market-rate and affordable apartments to “underutilized” land on NYCHA properties. Similar plans are currently moving forward at the LaGuardia Houses in the East Village, Holmes Towers in Yorkville, and Wyckoff Gardens in Boerum Hill, all locations deemed to have high enough property values to make the deal worth the city’s while.

The subsidized apartments in the East Williamsburg building will rent out to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers making below 60 percent of the area median income, or $57,240 for a family of four. Half of whatever funds come in will go directly to Cooper Park Houses to make a dent in the estimated $60 million in capital improvements needed there, the city says. The other half will go to fix NYCHA properties across the city. Whatever deal the city cuts with a developer, however, “it won’t come close” to covering the massive amount needed for repairs at Cooper Park, according to Goddard.

At Cooper Park Houses, NYCHA plans to release an official request for proposals next spring. They’ll select a developer by the end of the year and hope to have shovels in the ground by 2020.

But in East Williamsburg, the authority is running into deep-seated distrust from residents, many of whom are still reeling from recent news that the authority failed to perform mandatory safety inspections for lead paint for four years and lied about it to the federal government.

Tenants like Geraldine Lawrence, 69, who moved into Cooper Park in 1965, say they simply can’t trust NYCHA to keep its promises—that new apartments will be subsidized at low enough levels for Cooper Park residents to actually get a shot at living there; that residents with parking spots there will get new ones; and that funds generated through the project will actually make their way back to Cooper Park so it gets the repairs it needs.

“They make you all kinds of promises,” she said. “They’ll tell you anything to get what they want.”