Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Critics Blast NYCHA/Mayor Over UES Playground Land Grab

Rendering of proposed plan. The De Blasio Administration is moving a head with its controversial plan to build a 47-story,  350-unit high-rise building on a playground on the NYCHA Holmes Tower site at E. 92nd Street between 1st and York Avenues.  Critics say the deal does little to alleviate NYCHA’s massive $ 17 billion dollar structural deficit including approximately $35 million in capital repairs needed in Holmes Towers alone.  


By Geoffrey Croft

Public housing residents were joined by several elected officials yesterday to protest the De blasio administration’s plan to build a controversial 47-story building on a playground, the city refers to as “underutilized land” on NYCHA’s John Haynes Holmes Towers.   

The 350-unit high-rise would rise on E. 92nd Street between 1st Avenue and York Avenue.  

Tenants at Holmes Towers have expressed outrage over the proposal, which would cost them light, air,  and a 5,100 sq. ft. playground, while providing very little in return they say.

Existing Site. The Holmes Tower building behind numerous trees. (Photos: By Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

The De blasio administration has reinvigorated a failed Bloomberg-era plan that aims to sell off bits and pieces of NYCHA properly in desirable locations. Holmes Towers is one of 80 sites across the city identified as a “strong neighborhood” for new mixed-use development. 

Critics point out that the city does not have a viable overall plan to solve NYCHA's massive structural problems. While succeeding in making communities more dense this development deal does little to alleviate the monumental financial deficit NYCHA faces, estimated at $17 billion in capital needs.  

Only half of the $ 25 million in development rights - $12.5 million -  from this sale would go directly to Holmes Towers for repairs, not nearly enough to cover the $35 million NYCHA says it needs.

Fifty-percent of the proceeds would go elsewhere. 

According to the city though, “residents will have a voice in setting the priorities for capital repairs at the buildings participating in the NextGen Neighborhoods program.” 

That voice does not extend however to having a say if the building gets to keep the money needed for those repairs.

The plan would allow for the construction of a 47 story building with 350 apartments, half of which would be designated “affordable,” however the income thresholds for these apartments would be too high for the vast majority of public-housing eligible New Yorkers to afford. 

This new building will have 50 percent affordable and 50 percent market-rate housing. These new affordable homes will be permanently affordable and be available to the City’s low-income residents making up to 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) according to the city.

The development will include units affordable to residents earning less than $41,000 for an individual, $52,000 for a family of three, and NYCHA residents will have a preference for 25% percent of the affordable housing units the city says.

Critics have expressed concern that the so-called affordable housing is middle class housing that NYCHA residents cannot afford. They have stressed that while middle class housing is important, there’s an irony in telling NYCHA residents that they have first dibs on housing they earn too little to qualify for.

Residents have also questioned the sense of developing the site without first fixing the existing needed repairs.

NYCHA will retain ownership of the land through a 99 year ground lease in exchange for twenty-five million dollars, a price many think is far below what the site is worth.

“I am deeply disappointed by this development plan, which creates the impression that residents of Holmes are essentially being asked to bear the burden of fixing NYCHA’s financial difficulties because they happen to live in a desirable neighborhood,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan).

“Not only does this deal not help residents of Holmes, it will actually hurt them. In one of the city’s most densely populated areas, open green space is critical. Every inch of New York City is valuable and in theory can be sold for a price. Parks and playground are vital to public health and civil society, and it is short-sighted to lease them to developers for a pittance that doesn’t even come close to addressing the financial hole.”

“Funding for NYCHA repairs should not come on the backs of NYCHA residents, especially children who will be losing their light, air, and playground for little in return,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. 

“His deal does not create enough affordable housing, and the affordable units being built are too expensive for NYCHA residents to move into,” Kallos said.

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer making a point at yesterday's press conference.  

Critics also complain that NYCHA has been to slow in releasing basic details of the plan,  residents and elected officials feel they have been left in the dark. 

Seven area elected officials fired off a letter to NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye that included thirty-one questions regarding the project.  

The letter expressed “outrage” by residents of  the Holmes Towers questioning how it could justify “losing light, air and their playground and getting very little in return.”

The joint letter was signed by Maloney and City Council member Ben Kallos,  Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Jose Serrano, Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, and Assemblyman Dan Quart.

The city has boasted of, “unprecedented community engagement”  but many of who have attended meetings say their concerns have been ignored.   They also complain that the project is skirting ULURP.

The administration has made it clear they are moving forward despite community opposition. 

Holmes Towers, named after social justice pioneer John Haynes, is a public housing project for low income residents of the Yorkville section of the Upper East Side.  The two public housing buildings, completed in 1969, are 25 stories tall and contain 537 apartments.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to raise money for cash-strapped NYCHA by building luxury apartments on public land failed, his plan to build on the Holmes Tower site were scuttled due to community opposition.

In May the city announced it had chosen Fetner Properties as the developer. 

If built the proposed mixed-income development will be the first NextGeneration (NextGen) Neighborhoods site, a NYCHA initiative.  

The city also awarded Asphalt Green which also operates on city property,  to run a 18,000-square-foot pay-to-play recreational and community center.  The proposed center will include a new indoor basketball court and a rooftop turf field that can be used for soccer and other activities. 

Memberships at the pricey Upper Eastside company run $254 a month plus one-time $199 initiation fee for two adults and up to two children: $149/month plus one-time $199 initiation fee. Hardly the market for public housing. 

The city has indicated that a percentage of free memberships would be available to Holmes residents but details remain vague.  According to the city’s press release, all “Holmes Towers residents will be able to access free or low-cost programming for youth, adults and seniors.” 

No mention was made however for residents of the adjacent Stanley M Isaacs Houses, the three building NYCHA complex containing 635 apartments. 

 “When we use precious public land – especially NYCHA’s open space – for new development, it’s our moral obligation to make sure we are getting the best value for the community,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. 

“For this kind of project, I think we should be striving for 100 percent long-term affordable housing.”

Residents complain about the lost of air and light in part due to the close proximity - just 60 feet of separation - between the proposed 47-story building and the existing 25-story Holmes Tower building.

“This building is going to be forty-seven stories these (existing NYCHA) buildings are only 25,”  said 40-year-old Holmes Tower resident LaKeesha Taylor, 40, at Tuesday’s press conference.  

“It's a tower, towering over those who do not have. Who’s looking down at us. What are you saying that we don’t matter.  I don’t understand. Please explain,” she said to loud applause. 

Close Quarters. Residents complain about the loss of air and light in part due to the close proximity - just 60 feet of separation - between the existing 25-story Holmes Tower above and the proposed 47-story development. 

Joint letter signed by seven area elected officials to NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye, that included thirty-one questions regarding the project which included thirty-one questions regarding the project.  

The letter expressed outrage by residents of  the Holmes Towers questioning how it could justify losing light, air and their playground and getting very little in return. 


  1. This is a terrible idea on its own and made worse with the waste transfer station coming into the area, blocks away.

  2. How is a playground and trees considered under-utilized?

    And what about the effect on the environment, concerning noise and air quality, by the Holmes building once construction starts? Especially how close the tower is.

  3. This is outrageous. Parks, playgrounds, and open space are not "optional" they are essential to the health and well being of NYC's communities and neighborhoods. The Mayor should be ashamed to be anywhere near a project as appalling as this one.

  4. See donations given to DeBalsio from developer Fetner, who will get $13 million in tax payer subsidies and pay no taxes because the building sits on NYCHA property. Such abuse of power.