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Can Plan to Develop Private Buildings Solve NYC's Public Housing Woes?

While some agree that the plan has financial merit, others fear the social costs of mixing incomes in public housing neighborhoods. The authority's chairman sees it as a win-win.
March 5, 2013, 8am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Batya Ungar-Sargon discussed the details that have begun to emerge about the New York City Housing Authority's (NYCHA) controversial plan to allow private developers to build on "under-used" land at public housing sites located in "prime real estate areas," such as the Upper East and West Sides and the Lower East Side.

"The proposal will use the citywide 421a housing subsidy, which means that in exchange for 20-year property tax abatements, developers will set aside 20 percent of the new units for affordable housing. 'Affordable' means that the apartments will be made available to families who earn up to 60 percent of the regional Area Median Income (or $49,800 for a family of four), while the other 80 percent will charge market-rate rents."

"'If all sites currently under consideration are offered and attract acceptable bids, 4,000 to 4,500 apartments could be created,' Sheila Stainback, NYCHA's spokeswoman, writes in an email. Parking lots will be the most common spot for the new buildings to be erected. 'NYCHA will work closely with residents to restore green space in other parts of the developments and to replace parking,' Stainback writes."

"However, some advocates and experts think the arrangement NYCHA has described is not a good enough deal for land in such high demand, especially given the tax break that's involved. 'That is the tax deal given to developers on private land,' says Eliot Sclar, Director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) at Columbia University's Earth Institute. 'In this case, they are privatizing public resources; they should leverage it much more,' Sclar adds."

"Others are worried not about the financials as much as the initiative's impact on public housing. Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge at the Legal Aid Society's Civil Law Reform Unit, says that public housing was built to be dense, with vacant space to compensate. Building on that vacant land would mean a compromise in quality of life. She also fears that the federal government might adjust its funding to reflect NYCHA's new lease income."

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Published on Monday, March 4, 2013 in City Limits
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