In Development Plan, NYCHA Commits to Keeping Parking Perks

It’s easy to see why the New York City Housing Authority’s recent proposal to develop new housing on some of its property in Manhattan has aroused strong passions.

New residential construction at eight public housing projects in Manhattan could help fund NYCHA's huge repair and maintenance needs.

Under the proposal, NYCHA would enter into 99-year ground leases with developers to build new residential buildings at eight properties in Manhattan below 110th Street. Most of the new units — 80 percent — would be market-rate, while 20 percent would be income-restricted. Developers would also be asked to install upgrades to the existing properties. NYCHA’s main reason for pursuing this plan is that the land-lease rental revenue from the developments — up to $50 million per year — would fund capital improvements to NYCHA buildings, repairing things like roofs, elevators, and heating systems. Meanwhile, the angle that’s getting a lot of play in the press is “luxury condos replace public housing playgrounds.”

While it won’t completely make up for decades of declining federal support for NYCHA, and it would fill only a portion of NYCHA’s maintenance needs, the plan deserves consideration. New developments could replace space on NYCHA properties currently devoted to subsidized surface parking, without any net loss of park space or other community facilities. But so far, both the agency and its residents have shown a reluctance to reduce the amount of low-cost parking for NYCHA residents.

The new developments would go up on land currently occupied by a total of 632 surface parking spaces, as well as a community garden, a basketball court, a baseball field, two tree-filled spaces, two trash compactors, and a community center.

NYCHA says that the project will “replace or reconfigure impacted areas (i.e. seating areas and gardens) where space is available.” At most sites, this space is already available. At least 500 surface parking spaces would remain untouched in the development plans. To help address resident concerns about lost recreational space, NYCHA could specify in its plan that parking lots would be replaced with green space or community facilities.

Problem solved, right? Residents keep the same amount of green space, while new development helps fund needed maintenance.

But at community meetings where NYCHA has presented the proposal, a common theme has emerged from both the authority and its residents, though they remain locked in conflict: protecting the perk of subsidized parking.

“They’re trying to push this down our throats,” said Harvey Epstein of the Urban Justice Center at one public meeting about the proposal. “They said they’re going to relocate the parking lot. Where are you relocating it to?”

“They should have already mapped out beforehand the alternative places for people to park,” said Bobby Forestal, a lifelong Douglass Houses resident, at another meeting.

NYCHA’s Margarita Lopez “reassured residents repeatedly that no resident parking spaces would be lost and that new parking locations would be in place before construction began,” according to DNAinfo. Although most low-income public housing residents can’t afford the luxury of maintaining a car in Manhattan, NYCHA offers annual parking permits to its tenants for as little as $60 per year, far below the cost of nearby garages. Apparently the agency is committed to maintaining this perk, though it’s not exactly clear where.

Six of the eight development sites are located in the part of Manhattan where zoning sets parking maximums for new construction. In addition, a zoning change moving through the approval process would remove perverse parking mandates for affordable housing. As a result, most of the new construction being proposed will probably not be required to provide parking.

At LaGuardia Houses on the Lower East Side, two development sites would replace surface parking lots containing 48 spaces. Surface lots containing 111 spaces would remain untouched. Image: ##

Despite the emphasis on maintaining discount parking for Manhattan public housing residents, there are positive elements to the proposal.

Most NYCHA properties are mid-century tower-in-the-park developments that, while providing spacious grounds, tore apart the neighborhood fabric of the city blocks they replaced. By filling some of the gaps in the superblocks, these new developments can help right an urban design wrong. In fact, NYCHA chose development sites “along street fronts to encourage pedestrian traffic and campus integration with the neighborhood.”

In addition, adding residential units in areas like Manhattan with access to employment centers is good housing policy. One-fifth of all the new units would be income-restricted, matching the city’s inclusionary zoning standard.

This isn’t the first time the space around New York’s mid-century tower-in-the-park housing complexes have been considered for new development. A low-cost resident parking lot at Elliott-Chelsea Houses was redeveloped as housing, and a recreational area at Soundview Houses is set for new affordable housing. On the Upper West Side, space within Park West Village was redeveloped with new retail and residences. In Brownsville, a proposal from non-profit Community Solutions would build affordable housing on open spaces within existing NYCHA properties.

The RFP for the Manhattan proposals is set to be issued at the end of April. Until then, there is time to improve the plan so it better meets the needs of residents, and not parked cars.

  • CN

    This seems, to me, a surprisingly naive interpretation of the Bloomberg administration’s plan. While I’m no defender of surface parking anywhere, there is a big difference between what was done at previous sites (leasing land to a non-profit developer to create affordable or supportive housing) and the current proposal which provides long-term ground leases on city-owned land (occupied by playgrounds and community centers as well as parking) to a for-profit developer to build luxury housing. While superblocks aren’t my aesthetic preference, neither is partitioning off land for luxury apartments with segregated entrances so as to keep out the “undesirable” former inhabitants.

  • Joe R.

    There’s already a glut of luxury housing in the city. If anything should be built on these sites it should be more housing like the projects where your rent is income-based. And as for relocating parking lots, it’s incredible parking should even be a concern in the place in the US where it’s easiest to live without a car.

  • J

    The problem, though, is that NYCHA is underfunded, and building affordable housing simply doesn’t generate much profit, certainly not enough to pay for the growing backlog of repairs that are needed in NYCHA housing. While more affordable housing is certainly needed, you need money to create subsidized housing, and no one seems willing to pay for it. In fact, no one seems to want to pay for our existing affordable housing either.

    NYCHA residents don’t seem to understand the dire straights that the agency is in, and they are attacking the only substantive effort to actually improve living conditions. They fight to keep parking perks while the structures that support them literally and figuratively crumble to the ground.

  • Anonymous

    Some taxpayers might wonder what the income limits are for subsidized apartments and subsidized parking spaces in public housing projects. Some might marvel at the number of expensive vehicles, SUVs and luxury cars, using these parking lots. Some drivers and residents may know how to work the system.

  • KillMoto

    Did I just read “NYCHA needs money” and ” NYCHA offers annual parking permits to its tenants for as little as $60 per year” in the same story?

    I have an idea for NYCHA: charge a legitimate market rate for parking. That will get them money to fix roofs…

  • Ari

    Really? Then how come all the luxury units are snapped up at high rents and developers are clamoring to build more? Sorry, Joe. The market has spoken. There is a DEARTH of luxury housing in the city. You may wish it wasn’t this way, but it is.

    I completely agree with your statement about parking.

  • Ari

    Yes. I grew up (and my parents live) a block from one of the NYCHA parking lots being considered for lease. It’s filled with luxury cars. I don’t want my tax dollars paying to subsidize the surface parking of a luxury car… IN MANHATTAN.

  • Ari

    Yeah, the big difference is that the city will make more money from the leases!

  • Jorge

    Agreed. The people who want to move into luxury housing won’t stop moving into the city if we stop building luxury housing. They’ll just displace more middle- and low-income residents of tenements. We can’t just pull the wool over our eyes and hope the city’s housing crisis will be resolved.

  • Jorge

    This plan includes over 800 new affordable apartments — 2,400 low- and middle-income people who wouldn’t have a roof over their heads will be able to live in Manhattan thanks to this plan. That’s in ADDITION to the $30-50 million per year that the NYCHA will get to fix up buildings. I don’t understand why the fact that a private developer is involved negates the good that would be done by properly funding the NYCHA, getting rid of surface parking lots, and providing homes to 2,400 more low- and middle-income people.

    It seems like resistance to change and a drawbridge mentality to me.

  • Joe R.

    I find that hard to believe. I’m curious what jobs these people are doing that they can afford rents which start at $2000 a month (for a studio in the outer boroughs), and go to well over $5000 a month for 2 or 3 bedrooms in Manhattan. The way people usually budget for these things is to figure rent at 25% of your take home pay. That means you have significant numbers of Manhattan families with month take-home pay of $20K? That’s $240K a year after taxes, probably $400K before, or $200K each if you have both people working. Last I checked $200K jobs were few and far between, even in Manhattan. Point of fact I don’t personally know anyone who’s making much over $50K before taxes.

    The only conclusion I can reach if I accept your statement as true is we have lot of people coming here who are independently wealthy and/or living off their parent’s money. Regardless of whether there’s a shortage of luxury housing or a surplus, there is definitely a shortage of truly affordable housing. The projects are good for those they serve, but last I checked the waiting list for an apartment is many years, perhaps even decades. How come we as a nation could afford subsidized housing 40 years ago when we were a much less rich country but can’t afford it now? That’s the real problem. A healthy city needs housing for all income groups, including the working poor and those getting by on Social Security or pensions. In a city only of the wealthy, who will do the dirty work if the workers have no housing? That’s the problem with letting the free market decide which housing gets built. Gentrification has caused vast swaths of the city to lose their unique character. I remember a time when you had artists living in Manhattan lofts. And then somebody figured out they could get rich by selling the apartments to yuppies.

  • Joe R.

    It depends how you define affordable. I’ve seen ads for some of the so-called affordable housing built under Bloomberg. You might have an income limit of $35,000 and a rent of $1500. An apartment which costs over half of your take-home pay isn’t affordable in my book. Are these 800 apartments going to be similar, or will they follow the guidelines typically used by the housing projects (i.e. 25% of your take-home pay)?

  • George

    Sounds like a lot of speculation on your part, but if you’re right and the market isn’t there for the housing, the developers will lose money and will have to lower rents. It would be a neutral for the NYCHA since they would still get their lease payments, but it would be good for renters–apartments with high-income amenities will become available to people of lesser means. This has happened before in New York City history.

    As to your last point, if ‘dirty’ workers can’t afford housing and there’s nobody to do the dirty work, then employers will have to raise wages because they have to get someone to do those jobs.

  • Joe R.

    In actuality what happens when workers can’t afford housing is you get 8 or 10 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment. Go to Jackson Heights or Corona or Flushing and you’ll see plenty of this. Same thing with college students. A house two doors down from us has about a dozen college students. In theory it would be nice if wages tracked housing costs, but somehow I don’t see employers paying a cashier or a data entry clerk $75K a year. The hard fact is free markets are great for optional goods, but not so great at things like housing or transportation. Those on the low end typically end up with either highly substandard, or even no, options.

    Incidentally, charging fair rates for use of parking lots is one way we could pay for affordable housing.

  • Joe R.

    I’m thinking how nonsensical this entire situation of subsidized parking is. We won’t (or can’t afford) to subsidize more affordable housing for people, but we’re spending tax dollars subsidizing “housing” for cars? Really bizarre if you ask me.

  • CN

    According to the plan, the incomes will be pegged to be affordable (meaning at 30% of gross income) to households making 60% AMI, or $50,000 for a family of 4. And the affordable apartments will be a godsend for those who receive them, I’m not arguing with that. Though, I would argue that 20% affordability should be the floor rather than the goal for the amount of affordable units.

    I do think that the article simplifies the situation as one about stupid poor people and housing advocates fighting for parking lots in opposition to the great plan that’s been proposed here. NYCHA is underfunded mostly due to the withdrawal of federal, state, and city funds over many years, but housing advocates have proposed other ways to increase revenue, such as ending the $70 million NYCHA pays annually to the NYPD on top of what it pays the City through the PILOT program (the nonprofit equivalent of property taxes).

    I don’t like surface parking lots at all (though there are also recreation spaces, green spaces, and community centers on the demolition list) but I also think that permanently disposing of public land to for-profit developers should be the absolute last resort, and in this situation I think there are alternatives.

    Even if it is necessary to preserve NYCHA’s budget (which is debatable), any plans for the disposal of public resources should be publicly vetted. I think the reactions quoted in this blog post regarding parking are reflective of a broader concern with the infill plan: that residents have so far received very little information about permanent, disruptive changes to their homes. NYCHA residents are very aware of the national trend of demolishing and privatizing public housing and so there is a lot of concern about where projects like this may go in the future. Until last week, NYCHA had no written information available about this project, even though the project is being presented as a done deal.

  • Anonymous

    I believe that housing is an area where taxpayers’ dollars should be used to help the less fortunate have a decent place to live. Subsidized parking is not worthy of the taxpayers’ money, and there are many MANY better ways to spend that money.

    Maybe this is a good place to privatize and outsource the parking lots. Private operators would quickly find the market price of a parking spot — and collect taxes while doing so to pass on to the City and the State.

    Note that the subsidized parking lots in the housing projects are over and above the ample street parking often found there.

    Even the ‘photo map’ above clearly shows angled parking along Cherry St, giving about a 30% bonus of street parking right there.

  • Anonymous

    It’s mean of me, I guess, but I’d take the presence of SUVs and Cadillacs, Mercedes etc, as evidence to justify an audit of the apartment residents to see if they actually still qualify for subsidized apartments or not.

    If they can afford a Beemer, they’re making far more than an after-tax income of $50,000. They are gaming the system. They should pay a fair rent for the parking AND for the housing. The hidden-income, fraud-committing residents reduce the number of apartments available for those most in need.

    C’mon. If they can afford to cruise around in a Beemer, these fraudsters can afford to pay for the parking. Or ride buses and subways like the rest of us do.

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    New York State landlord-tenant law regulates the provision of amenities like parking spaces to rent-regulated tenants (like most if not all NYCHA tenants). By providing amenities like parking spaces, the landlord implicitly promises to maintain them. If a landlord wanted to take away the parking spaces, the tenants could negotiate to reduce the rent that they are already paying.

  • Ian Turner

    Who says that housing should be 25% of take-home pay? The poverty definitions assume housing should be 1/3 of take home pay, and in New York, where housing is more expensive, higher numbers are very common. For approval processes, landlords typically expect gross income equal to 40X monthly rent, which is 30% of (gross) income. Standards have started to slip a bit and many landlords will accept tenants with gross income of 35X monthly rent, putting rent at 35% of (gross) income. So basically, I would expect these people renting $5000/month units have gross household income of $200,000 to $300,000. I assume I don’t need to explain that there are a lot of people in that income range in the city.

    To me the idea that we shouldn’t build more luxury housing because there are families stacked up in Jackson Heights doesn’t make much sense. Rich people are not going to leave the city just because there is not new luxury housing for them; instead, they will renovate and occupy existing units, driving up the rent for everyone else. From my perspective, it doesn’t matter much what type of housing you build, because of this market fungibility. The best way to lower rents and help your hypothetical Jackson Heights family is just to build more housing of any kind. Unfortunately New York is highly hostile to new development, which (in my opinion) is one reason why we have a housing crunch to begin with.

  • Anonymous

    A different kind of fraud not mentioned on your post is the subletting parking spots. I don’t know how hard the authorities try to prevent this; does anyone here know?

  • Ian Turner

    Jonathan, can you cite the law on this?

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    If you feel that this applies to you, I strongly suggest you speak to a real estate lawyer before taking further action.

  • Joe R.

    25% of take home was used as a guideline for decades to determine how much you can afford in rent. The guidelines for budgeting typically call for 25% housing, 25% food/toiletries, 25% miscellaneous, and 25% savings/investments. When you start getting much higher than 25% for rents, the other categories start to suffer. The only possible exceptions might be those with the household incomes of $200,000 to $300,000 you mention. They can probably pay 50% of take-home for rent and still have a good amount left. And no way is food going to require 25% of take home on high salaries like that (unless you eat out a lot and buy Fresh Direct).

    I don’t see how anybody making a working class salary can pay 35% of gross income. That’s probably equal to about 45% to 50% of take home pay. My parents paid 25% of their take home when we lived in a housing project and things were tight, very tight actually.

  • Joe R.

    NYCHA is in the same situation as the MTA because we as a society no longer feel housing or transit are worth subsidizing. Maybe somebody should try to fix that first before running to private industry to fix a problem which never should have existed in the first place. And 30% of gross hardly qualifies as affordable rent to someone trying to raise a family of four on $50K a year.

    NYCHA are right to be concerned. How long before some private developer gets the idea to convert their apartments to luxury condos with the promise to keep 20% “affordable”, with affordable here going by the very loose definition we’re using now.

  • Ian Turner

    This is for rent-stabilized units, do you have anything indicating that NYCHA units are covered by this?

    Also, it’s not clear to me that this would extend to paid add-ons like parking, even if they were sold at a discount rate. The rent stabilization on a rent stabilized hotel does not extend to the prices in the mini bar.

  • CN

    Yes, one would think transit advocates and housing advocates have common cause. As someone who considers herself both a housing and transit advocate, a very common criticism of the transit advocates is that they are elitist and irrelevant to the needs of working class and low-income New Yorkers, (aka a bunch of white out-of-touch yuppies with their bikes).

    And I feel this post perpetuates that by doing little more than quoting NYCHA’s press release without taking a more substantive view of why housing residents and advocates are upset, Further, it reduces very reasonable concerns about the lack of information regarding the developments to a handle of comments evoking pro-parking idiocy. I find it very disappointing and even somewhat classist.

  • Apartments for under four hundred a month and a parking space in Manhattan for sixty dollars a year while the TAXPAYER struggles with market rents consuming in many case fifty per cent of income… Sixty five dollars annual buys ZIP car membership let them go the route the give,me give,me set at it again

  • Isabel Diaz

    I live rutger st here since we move in 1988… From 75 pike st long time…


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