The New York City Council and Resident Association Leaders From Impacted Developments File Lawsuit To Halt the Land Rush and Stop NYCHA from Transferring Public Housing Land to Private Developers; Legal Aid and Patterson Belknap Are Representing The Residents

The New York City Council and Resident Association leaders from impacted developments filed a lawsuit yesterday in State Supreme Court, New York County, to prevent the New York City Housing Authority from transferring public housing land to private developers without statutory authorization and the legally required collaboration of City elected officials and NYCHA residents. The New York City Council, The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP are co-counsel on the case.

The lawsuit asks the Court to enjoin NYCHA from proceeding with its Land Lease initiative and to declare that any attempt to proceed is in violation of New York State and federal law. Since NYCHA announced the Land Lease initiative earlier this year to allow private developers to build market-rate residential high rises on several parcels of public housing land, the City Council, community advocates, and the Resident Association leaders have expressed concerns over the manner in which NYCHA intends to raise additional revenues through its disposition of property and have charged that sufficient information has not been given public housing residents, elected officials or other stakeholders about NYCHA's plan to lease "under-utilized" land at select NYCHA sites. They have demanded that the project be slowed down in order to provide for meaningful resident and community involvement in the process. .Despite NYCHA’s mission to provide housing to low-income New Yorkers, the rents in these buildings will be affordable only to New York City residents with high incomes. State law requires NYCHA to comply with the NYC Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in implementing significant changes to public housing projects.

“NYCHA’s sole purpose is to build and maintain affordable housing—not lease public land to make way for luxury apartments,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Any proposal to radically alter the landscape of New York City’s public housing must be made in consultation with the very communities who will be impacted by these changes. The City Council is proud to join The Legal Aid Society and NYCHA residents in filing suit against the Bloomberg Administration to stop this misguided decision to move ahead with the land-lease program.” “Today, the City Council undertakes a vital and important lawsuit to protect the last bastion of truly affordable housing in our City—public housing,” said Council Member Rosie Mendez. “ As is his practice, Mayor Bloomberg again seeks to disregard formal processes and subvert the will of our residents by releasing a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) that contains language that may allow Infill Development to occur without community review and in direct contravention of the stated will of the majority of residents. The Mayor has had 12 years to be a leading advocate on public housing issues by focusing on decreasing the long wait time for repairs, as well as the high level of crime. This City and the residents of public housing deserved better.”

NYCHA's approach has been rushed, secretive and narrowly-focused on residential rather than retail or commercial development without meaningful community engagement.

"Public housing land is required to be used for low-income housing as it should be given the extreme lack of affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers. It is a shame that we need to go to court to prevent selling public housing land to the highest bidder for market-rate housing. Claims that this needs to be done to raise revenue ignore the fact that the New York City Housing Authority should stop paying and the City should stop collecting over $70 million for police services that private landlords do not pay for, which would then free up those funds for NYCHA's housing needs. Public housing residents need a real process for input to ensure that NYCHA's plans meet residents' needs," said Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society.

“This lawsuit seeks to protect the rights of low income New Yorkers in residential housing impacted by NYCHA's actions," said Lisa E. Cleary, a partner at Patterson Belknap. "It is critical that this process be conducted in accordance with the statutory provisions governing such development efforts. The voices of the residents and community must be heard before NYCHA proceeds.”

NYCHA's proposals portend major impact on the day-to-day lives of residents. Yet while NYCHA has gone through the motions of holding resident meetings in order to create the appearance of complying with the consultation requirements of federal law, it has refused to make any material changes to the Land Lease initiative as a result of its meetings with residents. NYCHA has insisted on pressing forward with the Land Lease initiative in 2013 despite having failed to describe the plan in its 2013 Annual Plan as required by federal law, and despite widespread calls to submit the plan to further deliberation and review by residents and local government officials.

"From the beginning, the residents of Baruch Houses have stood against NYCHA's plan to build huge towers for luxury housing on our development, " said Roberto Napoleon, President of Baruch Houses Tenants Association. "Today we bring a lawsuit that tells NYCHA simply that it is not above the law. We have always wanted to work with NYCHA but throughout this process NYCHA has refused to meaningfully engage with the residents and has refused to follow the law."

"We need permanently affordable housing to be built for low-income New Yorkers. We do not need more luxury developments." Says Jane Wisdom, President of the Residents' Association at Douglass Houses.

The New York Times
October 10, 2013
City Council Moves to Stall Land Leases at Public Housing
By Mireya Navarro

The New York City Council and a group of tenants sued the Bloomberg administration on Thursday over plans to lease land in public housing developments for the creation of market-rate apartments.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, stems from a long-running controversy over the New York City Housing Authority’s proposal to raise revenue for repairs and capital projects by allowing private developers to build on the grounds of eight public housing projects in Manhattan.

Housing officials have given developers a Nov. 18 deadline for proposing ideas — so-called expressions of interest — but it was unclear whether they would be able to select construction projects before the change in administration that will follow the November mayoral election. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the lawsuit is intended to forestall any deals with developers before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s term is over.

“The city has the ability to designate a developer and tie the hands of the incoming administration,” said Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the tenants. “The new administration would be without remedy.” Democrat Bill de Blasio, the leading candidate for mayor, has not ruled out developing land owned by the housing authority, but he has said he favors building affordable housing, not market-rate units. The public housing system has more than 400,000 residents and $6 billion in unmet capital needs.

The Council objected to being left out of the decision-making regarding the plan to build on public housing grounds. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs seek to have the city rescind the request for expressions of interest. They argue that under state law, housing officials have no authority to lease public housing land for high-income residents and that they must submit their plan to the Council for approval. “There’s still a need for more low- and middle-income housing, and that should be the city’s priority,” said Rosie Mendez, who heads the Council’s committee on public housing.

In response to the lawsuit, the housing authority issued a statement saying that it has heard significant interest from developers and looks forward to receiving their proposals next month.unfortunate that the City Council is attempting to block a proposal that would generate significant revenue for the New York City Housing Authority money that would go directly into developments and repairs for residents.

New York Daily News
New York council sues to stop NYCHA’s leasing land to luxury apartment builders
By Greg B. Smith
Thursday, October 10, 2013

New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea says leasing land will generate $50 million annually for the agency.

The New York City Council sued Thursday to stop the local housing authority’s plan to lease public land for luxury development.

The Council — joined by housing authority tenants and the Legal Aid Society — contends that New York City Housing Authority should not be in the business of creating more housing for the affluent.

“NYCHA’s sole purpose is to build and maintain affordable housing — not lease public land to make way for luxury apartments,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.

With three months left in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has set in motion a plan to lease land at eight NYCHA Manhattan developments to developers to build 4,300 mostly market-rate apartments that would rent at luxury rates.

NYCHA Chairman John Rhea says he hopes the rent will generate $50 million a year for the cash-strapped agency and notes that 860 of the apartments would go to lower-income tenants.

But residents at seven of the eight targeted locations have come out against the plan, worried that the influx of high-end apartments would worsen gentrification that’s already driving up costs in their neighborhoods.

Aixa Torres, tenant leader at Smith Houses in lower Manhattan — where NYCHA plans to put up two huge towers on parking lots and basketball courts — welcomed the Council’s lawsuit.

“Hallelujah,” she declared. “They told me they were going to do that and they did it. I’m so glad.”

NYCHA officials said it was “unfortunate” the Council was trying to block a plan that would generate “money that would go directly into developments and repairs for residents.”

The authority’s plan to seek proposals from developers last April was delayed until August after resistance emerged. Proposals are now due Nov. 18.

The suit asks a judge to immediately halt the plan, arguing that the agency has no power to turn over public land “for the purpose of building housing that will be affordable only to high-income individuals.”