NYCHA leader says no to new development ideas

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  If Mayor Bill de Blasio decides to rehash an infill plan to raise funds for the New York City Housing Authority, he may have to leave the Lower East Side’s Smith Houses off the list.

De Blasio said in February that he had abandoned ex-Mayor Bloomberg’s scheme to lease public housing land — including some at Smith Houses — to luxury developers in order to finance much-needed building repairs. He also said he would revisit such a plan if there is support from NYCHA residents, but a tenant leader at the L.E.S. complex declared she and her residents would never back a new infill.

“Our reasons against it haven’t changed,” Aixa Torres, the Smith Houses tenant association president, said in a Feb. 15 phone interview. “The fact is that we would never support a land lease project here.”

Aside from Bloomberg’s idea allowing 50-plus-story luxury towers on the sites, which she called a “slap in the face,” Torres explained she’s still worried about the disastrous effects any large-scale construction could have on the structural integrity of her development’s aging buildings.

In particular, she stressed that the buildings at 20 Catherine Slip and 180 South St. are still very vulnerable after being flooded by Hurricane Sandy, as well as suffering infrastructure damage from the city’s minor earthquake in 2011. Digging new foundations next to those sites could potentially exacerbate those problems — especially because the cash-strapped housing authority has been notoriously slow in making many building repairs across the city.

“So it’s not just about me saying no,” Torres added. “It’s about the safety and well-being of my residents, because we have a right to decent housing.”

The Smith Houses leader also said that, while she hasn’t yet had an actual meeting with the mayor’s office to discuss this specific issue, she has “made these feelings very clear to members of his staff.”

Other East Village and L.E.S. developments included in the Bloomberg-era infill plan included Campos Plaza, Baruch Houses, LaGuardia Houses and Meltzer Tower. Bloomberg and former NYCHA boss John Rhea had hoped that the scheme would bring in around $50 million per year to close the authority’s budget gap and speed up the building repairs.

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