De Blasio NYCHA Proposal: More Space for People, Less Subsidized Parking

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to stabilize the finances of the New York City Housing Authority includes higher, but still subsidized, parking fees and a promise to develop a mix of market-rate and affordable housing on under-utilized property, including parking lots.

A conceptual plan for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]
A concept for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]
The mayor announced that the city will be developing new housing on NYCHA property. De Blasio took pains to distinguish the levels of subsidized housing in his proposal from an un-implemented Bloomberg administration proposal to develop housing on NYCHA property in Manhattan.

The new development plan would build 10,000 units in buildings where all residences would have below-market rents, plus about 7,000 residences in buildings that would be a 50-50 mix of market-rate and below-market units.

It’s an open question, however, exactly which NYCHA properties will be the site of new development. De Blasio said the city will begin announcing development sites in September. The New York Times reported that the first sites would be at Van Dyke and Ingersoll houses in Brooklyn and Mill Brook Houses in the Bronx.

The authority says the developments would “transform underutilized NYCHA-owned property,” including parking lots and other street-facing parcels like trash or storage areas, over the next 10 years. Parking lots are particularly promising, since they cover more than 467 acres of NYCHA property, according to a parking reform study prepared for the Institute for Public Architecture last year.

The Bloomberg administration’s development plan would have replaced any parking removed to make way for new housing. The de Blasio administration has not yet replied to a question asking if that will be the case with its plan.

Mayor de Blasio unveils his NYCHA plan in East Harlem this afternoon. Image: Mayor's Office/YouTube
Mayor Bill de Blasio unveils his NYCHA plan in East Harlem yesterday afternoon. Image: NYC Mayor’s Office/YouTube

It’s clear, however, that NYCHA won’t be subsidizing parking to the extent it does now, with permit prices set to rise.

“Relatively few NYCHA residents have vehicles to begin with,” de Blasio said at a press conference yesterday afternoon in East Harlem. Just 2.5 percent of NYCHA’s more than 400,000 residents have a parking permit. “It’s a very small number, out of 400,000-plus people. But this is something, again, that we think will be necessary, to shore up the fundamental financial reality of the housing authority so we can benefit the residents.”

Today, NYCHA residents can pay as little as $60 a year for a permit granting them access to an outdoor parking space. Residents pay more for indoor or reserved spaces, with discounts for seniors and the disabled. (In 2011, the authority began converting all its parking to reserved spaces, which command higher fees.) The average parking fee is $6.80 a month for unreserved spaces and $26.33 for reserved parking, NYCHA says. Even still, its 19,000 parking spots are at only 59 percent capacity [PDF].

De Blasio made the case that it’s time for an increase, but not to market rates. The mayor said parking fees “in most parts of the city” will go up to $86 per month under his plan, which caps resident parking rates in the highest-demand locations at no more than $150 a month in areas where market rates exceed $500 per month.

Today, non-NYCHA residents can buy permits if there are extras available, at double the price paid by public housing tenants. Under de Blasio’s plan, they would pay market rates.

In some neighborhoods, market prices are 12 times the amount NYCHA charges, the authority said. “[It] is obviously well below anything that would be available on the open market,” de Blasio said of the proposed resident rates, “…[and] obviously much more affordable than other options typically are.”

The additional parking charges, which will be rolled out at NYCHA properties beginning next year through 2018, are expected to bring in up to $5 million on top of the $2.4 million the authority already collects from parking. NYCHA also seeks to “efficiently lease” more than two million square feet of existing non-residential ground floor space to reduce commercial vacancies, bringing in another $1 million each year.

  • Bolwerk

    Sadly, the only thing that could really fix these atrocious modernist housing projects is a conflagration of hellfire. Those things are at least partly responsible for the last three generations of intractable urban poverty that we’re still coping with.

    That housing was a policy of deliberate mutilation, pulled off with exacting detail and forethought, right down to breaking the street grid and angling buildings so they could never fit in the context of the wider city.

  • stairbob

    Stop subsidizing parking! Give subsidized MetroCards instead.

  • c2check

    A UC Berkeley Master’s of Urban Design student, Mohammed Momin, won a CNU award for his thesis on a similar infill proposal for the LES.
    http://www.cnu.org/resources/projects/projects-sustainable-community-re-envisioning-public-housing-lower-east-side-manh

  • Joe R.

    I’m not sure the physical layout of the housing is entirely to blame. After all, there are lots of similar developments here and abroad which function just fine. I would think livable streets advocates would embrace the superblock concept. It adds nothing to the urban fabric in my opinion having roads for motor vehicles every 250 feet. The major mistakes with the housing projects were:

    1) Not providing ground floor retail in the some of the buildings. This tends to generate positive activity. The rents from these stores would also provide a supplementary source of income for the housing projects.

    2) Not keeping the grid, or at least some semblance of it, mostly intact, at least for pedestrians and cyclists. Like I said, having car roads break up a city does nothing positive but people moving under their own power need a finer grid than cars.

    3) Not keeping a good mix of poor and working middle class in each project.

    #3 in my opinion was the downfall of a lot of housing projects. I used to live in a housing project. When we first moved there, in 1965, it wasn’t a horrible place to live. It was mostly working class and some retirees. Then in the early 1970s you started getting more than a few welfare families. These weren’t the temporarily down on their luck families who might have been on welfare a short time. Rather, it was the multigenerational type. Moreover, city policy at the time gave apartments to teenage girls once they had kids of their own. Those of us who came before called it what it was—a state subsidized baby factory. With these types of people came roaches, vandalism, urinating in stairwells/elevators, lewd remarks when my mom or sister passed by groups sitting on the benches. The old people no longer felt safe coming out. In a few short years it went from a not so bad place to live to a place everyone who could got out of. We saved for a down payment, then bought the house in eastern Queens where my mom and I live to this day (dad died in 2006).

    Some housing projects remained OK despite misguided public policy. It was mostly those which retained a healthy population of working poor which didn’t go downhill. Those on welfare need role models and mentors to help them get out of their rut. The working class in housing projects often provided that. Small wonder without them you had the three generations of intractable poverty you mentioned, along with all the other social issues that causes.

  • Mark Walker

    Bolwerk brings up an interesting point. Do we want to reinvest in these mutilations of the street grid — or invest in a reinstatement of the grid? Those ’60s housing projects have just about reached their sell-by date and need much expensive repair. Of course tearing down and rebuilding the existing buildings would displace a lot of people, but if a multi-generation project did it in stages, project by project, the relocation problem could be managed — especially if the city adopted a policy of (pardon me for screaming) NO NEW HOUSING FOR THE RICH.

  • Joe R.

    Unless the buildings were subjected to extensive vandalism, quite a few of these projects are still in their prime, with another 50 to 100 years of useful life left. We can do things like add ground floor retail, maybe reinstate some of the grid for walking or biking where it’s feasible. I see no good reason though for reinstating the grid for motor traffic. That’s actually a plus with these types of super blocks. You have a huge area free of motor vehicles and motor vehicle pollution and noise.

  • Bolwerk

    I don’t think any one thing wrong with them is “entirely” to blame, though the two things I mentioned are really bad. This goes way beyond bad architecture. It’s bad planning.

    The results abroad aren’t that good either. In Europe, there is the upside that the modernist superblocks didn’t really come with the American baggage of racial segregation. I suppose they did manage to stay “middle class” (as Americans understand the term). But it says a lot that pretty much all authoritarian ideologies throughout the 20th century, and probably inst the 21st, love(d) variations on modernist megablocks: American liberal reformists like Robert Moses, authoritarian socialists, and fascists. Randroids seem to like that aesthetic too. Obsessed with order and control much?

  • rao

    People forget that the towers-in-the-park provided a significant improvement in living conditions over the slums they replaced, and, crucially, they did so at a reasonable cost–for the first and perhaps only time in the city’s history. It was then, as now, damned difficult to build truly affordable housing in New York City, but NYCHA discovered a formula that made it work. The criticisms you raise are valid and are the same that were raised historically.

    Although the remnants of the slum neighborhoods that survived the wrecking ball are quite desirable today, that is because the housing there has been renovated to accommodate fewer and wealthier people. They were not good places to live when they warehoused the poor at six to a room.

  • Bolwerk

    The problem is that reinstatement probably raises at least one of the original problems of the mutilation: mass displacement of people. To put back what we should have, we have re-commit the original atrocity.

    Bet Moses and his ilk knew that too. :-

  • Joe R.

    Don’t forget location has a lot to do with it. Quite a few NYC housing projects were put in areas which were not close to jobs or other areas of interest. Given the prevailing attitudes of the time, this was likely done on purpose, basically to segregate the poor so nobody else had to be bothered with them. Other countries may have done similar things, but instead segregated racial or ethnic groups they weren’t fond of.

  • Bolwerk

    On the bright side, I bet they could be used for surface transit storage too.

    It could be expensive to implement since the garages often seem low. The people who built those things were evil but, as I said, they didn’t lack for foresight.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, exactly. I’ll also add that the former slum housing which is desirable today is only desirable because a huge amount of money was poured into renovations. Had the poor remained there, instead of being displaced to housing projects, the living conditions would probably be far worse than anything we see in housing projects today.

    BTW, I think the entire towers-in-the-park idea has received a lot of undeserved criticism over the years. The primary problems were the ones I mentioned. Without a grid for walking/biking and some ground floor retail, you lose the benefits of people who don’t live there walking through the area. That serves both as a deterrent to crime and also fosters economic activity.

  • Bolwerk

    But they were right on top of jobs! These developments destroyed mixed use neighborhoods and replaced them with single use residential properties. Each lost storefront probably represented a few lost jobs. I know there’s a myth that job flight was just good business, but certainly eliminating commercial property helped fuel flight from the city by retarding our economy.

    Europe often thought of itself as mono-ethnic until recently anyway (BS though that is). Even the names of the countries hint at that delusion. Plus this stuff often went up when housing was tight after WWII, on account of being obliterated in war. There probably wasn’t a lot of concern about segregation at that point, one way or another, especially after a series of genocides and mass forced migrations made the question largely moot. :-

  • rao

    Until quite recently, many, even Jane Jacobs, would have argued that the original atrocity was the grid itself: monotonous, insensitive to the needs of the city (though delightful for property speculators), works badly for cars, transit and pedestrians alike. And talk about authoritarian! A military formation of 155 streets marching in lockstep.

    I think Moses’s designs were driven primarily by economics and not ideology. Befitting his own brand of authoritarianism, he had very traditional tastes and probably would have been happy to insist that the housing projects look like Colonial Williamsburg had it been financially feasible.

  • Joe R.

    And arguably grids spaced as tightly as Manhattan’s were rendered obsolete once transportation speeds went above the speed of a horse walking (~6 mph). Given motor traffic speeds of 30 or 40 mph, a motor traffic grid with about 4 streets per mile would make more sense. It would take about as long to go one block as it took a horse to go a 250 foot block.

    Yes, you would still need to keep the present, finer grid intact for walking or biking. However, once you do this you can replace what was often a 50 or 60 foot wide street (plus another 20 to 30 feet for sidewalks) with something maybe 30 feet wide. Basically, you would have a ten foot or so bidirectional bike road with 10 foot sidewalks on either side. The bike road could still allow access for emergency vehicles if need be. The end result of this idea is 1/4 mile square areas with no motor traffic, plus more room for housing or businesses.

    You’re 100% correct that a grid as it exists today is bad for everyone. When you need to put kludges like traffic signals every 250 feet just so cars don’t hit each other (and people can cross the street), something is seriously wrong.

  • Bolwerk

    Many would have been stupid to say so, and literally almost literally nothing in those paragraphs is true, right down the part about Jane Jacobs being against grids and the number of streets. Grids are great for transit. Winds and turns are quite bad for transit. Even cars benefit from grids because grids allow them to disperse and minimize snarls in intersections (look at how dangerous acute and obtuse angles are for pedestrians and drivers at intersections). I don’t even buy that bit about speculators, since grids probably maximize how many individual (small) own but probably not as well as alternative that allow speculators to monopolize larger lots.

    All that said, I don’t think grids are necessary per se, and I generally like diversity, but they certainly have been shown to work. I can’t think of many huge cities that work well without them.

  • Bolwerk

    I’m rather meh on Jacobs, but I thought one of her more interesting observations was an entire chapter supporting grids of short blocks. Manhattan long blocks make it a lot harder to move around. The trip around a long block to a point due south (grid north-south, not geographic north-south) of the middle of a long block is significantly shorter when the block is shorter. Compare east side and west side Manhattan.

    Smaller blocks promote diversity and choice. It’s probably a major reason authoritarian ideologues like Moses wanted to break the grid. Diversity offends them. Short blocks may not stop mega-developments (a skyscraper doesn’t need much acreage), but they certainly encourage a more humane scale.

  • vnm

    I love this.

  • Bolwerk

    There are non-destructive ways to provide more mixed use housing at a human scale. Infill is one. Building out is sensibly, with attention to good transit planning, is another. None of those things ruins the neighborhood for everyone else.

    Many NYCHA and peer projects (some are, in fact, private) are much more slum-like today than anything else that exists en masse. Safe to say they’re the source of a lot of intractable antisocial behavior and poverty too. New York is too conservative to admit it makes planning errors, but some cities really have found it’s cheaper to just tear those things down.

    Granted, *some* of that is political. They seem to encourage a lot of adversarial behavior between neighbors. They’re subject to a lot of arcane rules, often concerning income and service consumption.

  • Joe R.

    But do we really need short blocks for cars and transit, as opposed to cyclists and pedestrians, in order to see those advantages? A 1/4 mile grid gets anyone on transit to within an 1/8 mile or closer to where they’re ultimately going. That’s really easy walking distance. With a coarser grid cars arguably can no longer provide door-to-door service, so they end up losing much of their appeal compared to transit. That can only be a good thing.

    The Manhattan long blocks probably should have been bisected midway by a pedestrian/cyclist street.

  • Bolwerk

    All building stock eventually needs to be renewed through replacement or renovation.

    Now NYCHA housing needs that. If that’s your argument against traditional building stock, keep in mind traditional housing (including many “slums”) held out better than much of what came after. And it’s built at a scale where it’s a lot easier and cheaper to replace.

    Might be ending six-to-a-room occupancy was a good cause, but it was handled really badly.

  • Joe R.

    I’m arguing more against a grid with streets for motor vehicles every 250 feet than against traditional housing stock. The former is really bad for all concerned.

    That said, there are much, much worse development patterns than towers in a park. Suburban housing tracts on cul-de-sacs with 1/2 acre and up lots comes to mind. Not enough density to support transit but more than enough to result in traffic congestion.

  • Bolwerk

    Jacobs’ main concern was pedestrians. I suppose you could extend the argument to cyclists too. At least in Life and Death, she didn’t talk about transit much – probably one of her bigger weaknesses. Regardless, I don’t think it’s a bad argument.

    Granted, short blocks might not always be best for surface transit, though IMHO the damage can be minimized to be close to trivial. Definitely doesn’t hurt subways.

    I suppose you could say a drawback to short blocks is more room for parking. OTOH, nothing says street space has to be used for parking. That’s a political decision.

  • Bolwerk

    Wide-ish streets probably customarily encouraged vending.

    I don’t see anything inherent about cars in Manhattan’s grid. Historically, they were about streetcars, horse wagons, people-drawn wagons, and peds (on sidewalks). Any or all at once. One of the things that got Jacobs all pissed was sidewalk narrowing to accommodate parking POVs.

    Our dumb local politicians are just obsessed with parking, mostly for themselves.

  • Joe R.

    Space is really the biggest argument against short blocks, at least if we’re talking short blocks for motor vehicles. Consider that you can replace what might be a 40 foot wide street (with 15 foot sidewalks on each side) with a 10 foot wide bike street with 10 foot sidewalks. That’s 30 feet out of every 250 used for moving people instead of 70+ feet. You essentially gain over 20% more space to build housing or retail.

  • Joe R.

    The wide streets (i.e. the Avenues) are more or less sensibly spaced. It’s all the Manhattan side blocks where we waste a lot of space for parking and motor vehicles. As I wrote above by making keeping the motor vehicle crosstown streets spaced more or less as widely as the Avenues you gain about 20% more space to build on since the crosstown streets can now be much narrower.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, nothing wrong with that.

    I’m not even sure I’m as against motor vehicles as you,* though I do favor segregating them from people as much as possible. I don’t know why car-free streets are so intolerable to New York planners. Unless you think they should be everywhere where any other street use would be possible, you’re “anti-car.” F that.

    * And most people would agree I’m pretty against them!

  • Joe R.

    I come off as pretty anti-motor vehicle but I’m probably more anti-private automobile. Most street space is used by, and most congestion in this city is caused by, private automobiles. This increases the costs of goods/services, slows down emergency vehicles/transit, and in general reduces the quality of life for everyone. It’s a pity car-free streets aren’t a major component of city planning. Certainly we can bollard off most minor Manhattan cross streets, make them inaccessible to everyone except delivery or emergency vehicles, without inconveniencing that many people. We might even consider making every second or third Avenue for bikes and peds only as well. We can even spread this idea to the outer boroughs. Ideally, the only people who should drive on most minor side blocks are people who live there. They already do this to a large extent in places like the Netherlands.

  • Bolwerk

    Probably the way to think about it is you need a lot of streets that are equally useful, and a low(er) ratio of cars to streets; then a grid is very efficient, certainly more efficient than alternatives. That’s not only true with grids, of course; it’s why big highways paradoxically end up reducing capacity over local streets period. Put another way, you can clog a grid easily, but it’s harder to clog a grid than its alternatives.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, and NYC probably passed an efficient ratio of cars to streets in the 1920s or 1930s. Fine grid spacing mainly presents problems when you encounter a street filled with cars every 250 feet. It makes walking or cycling very unpleasant and very slow. If the streets had so few vehicles that you didn’t need traffic lights or stop signs, then grid spacing wouldn’t matter.

    I think we can both agree NYC drastically needs to reduce the volume of motor vehicles on the streets.

  • Bolwerk

    Now that you mention it, as a cyclist I might prefer the west side because long blocks let you get up to speed more. As a ped, I might prefer the east side because the traffic (foot and car) does seem at least somewhat less clogged probably thanks to the diffusion in the grid. But that’s pretty anecdotal.

    Not that I don’t like it, but lately the traffic situation in Manhattan has been so bad I’m rather glad my trips there have become infrequent.

  • AnoNYC

    I live in a community with an enormous number of both NYCHA and former Mitchell Lama developments. Dense, mixed use infill built atop the enormous number of underutilized parking lots would make the area so much more vibrant, provide jobs, goods, services and reduce the psychological segregation of the tower-in-the-park.

  • Jared R

    Portland, OR, Philadelphia, PA and Savannah, GA have very short blocks. These are some of the shortest blocks in the United States. The result is a wonderfully diverse, bikable and very walkable active city. Philly has the highest bike to work mode share. More and smaller blocks creates more permeability for peds and more routing options. It also increases the active lineal feet of storefronts and building entrances. I’m not saying that the streets shouldn’t be narrow and car free. More blocks + narrow streets = goodness.

  • Bolwerk

    Yeah, Philly has a range of plans. West Philadelphia has absurdly long blocks, often containing squat apartment buildings or Victorian mansions.

    Go figure, it’s probably one of the more unpleasant/inconvenient places to live in Philadelphia.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Some housing superblocks could easily be broken with a thru street or two.

    One project stretches from Manhattan Ave across Columbus Ave to Amsterdam Ave from 100th St to 104th, with a pedestrian walk (or two?) midway. That could easily be retrofitted to serve as a narrow one-way street, with metered short term parking on one side only.

    All of the projects need a rethinking and repurposing of the street-level land. Not just removing the subsidized parking. Much of the grass in the projects is fenced off, to be looked at but not walked on. The public spaces are designed for control, not enjoyment. More and better facilities, like flower beds, playgrounds, or even indoor rec space, could help a lot.

    But watch out about retail. Methinks the original exclusion of retail was so that “subsidized” projects would not compete with “free market” landlords trying to rent their nearby street-front spaces for the maximum rate. Those rules may be acts of Congress, and not easily untangled no matter what we in the city want to do.

  • WoodyinNYC

    From the YIMBY blog, how private owners want do serious infill in a tower-in-the-park development in Harlem:

    Plans for residential towers at each corner plus two more inserted into underused space in a superblock development. Great rendering, take a look.

    http://newyorkyimby.com/2015/06/rezoning-process-begins-for-harlems-lenox-terrace-tower-in-the-park-complex.html

  • bitterhoney9

    People tend to forget that initially public housing was created to get rid of slums! Overcrowded environments where disease such as tuberculosis and cholera festered and spread. Whether you call it infill, tower in the park, affordable housing plan, whatever, it means less living space in an already crowded environment. Of course the rich and so called middle class will have access to funds for vacations or getaway weekends leaving the poor to stay in crowded conditions. As to the affordable housing, it is interesting how the vernacular about how housing has changed from low income to affordable. I would like to know what are the projected changes in the economy for people who are making under the 60% AMI (approximately $50,000) yearly to be able to live in this projected “affordable housing”? It is amazing that we continue to call ourselves civilized and more advanced than places such as Cuba. Well, surely at the rate of where things are going on the issue of housing, the almshouses will rise again!

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