The New York City Dept. of Housing and Preservation Development submitted an Environmental Review Record for NYCHA that glossed over environmental issues at Harlem River I and Harlem River II.
A member of the group, Fight For NYCHA, filed on Monday an objection with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), arguing four (4) alternative reasons why the Environmental Review Record submitted by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”) as applicant on behalf of the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) should be rejected.
Under HUD regulations, an applicant can, on behalf of a public housing authority, claim an exception to the requirement that an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment be submitted for public housing developments undergoing changes due to the Rental Assistance Demonstration (“RAD”) scheme. Under RAD, the management of public housing developments can be transferred to private sector landlords, who would collect the rents and HUD subsidies. From those monies, the private sector landlords would pay for the back log of capital repairs that accrued due to decades of racist divestment of public housing.
Harlem River I and Harlem River II are public housing developments located in Manhattan. They have undergone RAD/PACT conversion. Part of the administrative process that would allow for the release of HUD funding to the private sector landlord taking over is the filing of an Environmental Review Record, which would identify the environmental issues with the site. The objection filed by Fight For NYCHA asks HUD to reject the Environmental Review Record and to stop the release of funds.
The first part of the objection alleges that :
- The exception that HPD claimed for NYCHA was based on the incorrect claim that no extraordinary circumstances exist. NYCHA is at a turning point, and the disposition of public housing assets through RAD/PACT conversion promises to end public housing as we know it. These are extraordinary circumstances, and NYCHA was wrong to claim that no ordinary circumstances existed.
- NYCHA suspended inspections during the Coronavirus pandemic, and that suspension has interfered with NYCHA’s ability to perform an environmental review and submit the Environmental Review Record.
- Even if NYCHA was not required to prepare and submit a more detailed Environmental Impact Study or Environmental Assessment, the Environmental Review Record was defective, because NYCHA failed to consider HUD environmental standards when the sole environmental consideration disclosed in the Environmental Review Record was noise abatement.
- The objection argues that what would normally be excluded activity (the repairs made through RAD/PACT) will certainly have a significant impact on residents. This would nullify the exception from preparing an Environmental Impact Study or an Environmental Assessment.
The second part of the objection alleges that NYCHA made omissions in the Environmental Review Record, such as the extraordinary circumstances faced by NYCHA, NYCHA’s suspension of inspections, NYCHA’s failure to fully-consider HUD’s environmental standards, and the effect of NYCHA’s suspension of in-person meetings. Furthermore, NYCHA deliberately down-played the circumstances, risks, and dangers of environmental conditions at Harlem River I and Harlem River II, including the presence of hazardous waste, water and steam mains, and flammable or combustible fuel tanks. Because NYCHA failed to conduct appropriate studies, NYCHA must reëvaluate the environmental conditions at Harlem River I and Harlem River II.
Because NYCHA did not appropriate study important environmental conditions, like hazardous waste, broken water or steam mains, and fuel storage tanks, these issues were never discussed with public housing residents.
The third reason the Environmental Review Record must be rejected is the failure to hold meetings for public housing residents.
- NYCHA’s claim for an exception to having to prepare a more formal Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment meant that public housing residents were denied information about the horrific environmental conditions at Harlem River I and Harlem River II. If NYCHA did have any meetings, those meetings didn’t cover the true environmental conditions. As a result, public housing residents were denied opportunities to review and discuss the true magnitude, risks, and dangers of the RAD/PACT construction that they face. Hazardous waste was found in two locations in the soil at Harlem River I and Harlem River II, and the possibility of having to replace broken water or steam mains and fuel storage tanks would certainly disturb the soil. At one location, the amount of hazard lead waste was estimated to be as large as 5,100 lbs.
- Besides the environmental risks, NYCHA has never been transparent about its intention to end all of its obligations to public housing residents following RAD/PACT conversion. This has not been explained to public housing residents. What is more, NYCHA has not provided the kind of public discussion formats — for example, a Mayor’s Working Group — like was provided to residents of Fulton Houses prior to their selection as a site for a future RAD/PACT conversion. The unequal treatment under the law should be considered discriminatory and, as a result, unlawful.
- If any meetings were held virtually, they should have been considered unlawful for having no basis in law and, in any case, defective, due to NYCHA’s inability to hold virtual meetings with any real integrity.
The final reason given that asks HUD to reject the Environmental Review Record has to do with the ULURP Process.
- As NYCHA’s applicant, HPD is facing HUD in the request for the release of HUD’s funding. but HPD is a City Agency, and when City Agencies take the lead on real estate development projects, they take the lead on ULURP Process when they act as applicants. That’s according to the New York City Planning Commission. When looking to the City Charter, a ULURP Process must govern the disposition of City real property or urban renewal plans that RAD/PACT represent. However, HPD did not follow the ULURP Process for Harlem River I or Harlem River II.
- The ULURP Process also calls for public meetings, but, as we know, NYCHA either did not hold public meetings, or else the virtual meetings NYCHA held had no basis in law or were defective.
- As a result, HPD engaged in an unlawful process as NYCHA’s applicant.
For the foregoing reasons, HUD was asked to reject the Environmental Review Record and to reject the Request the Release of Funds for Harlem River I and Harlem River II.