Fight For NYCHA file an objection with HUD over the RAD/PACT conversion of Williamsburg Houses

The New York City Dept. of Housing and Preservation Development submitted NEPA Categorical Exclusion documents for NYCHA that glossed over environmental issues at Williamsburg Houses, including the possible destruction of Native American burial grounds.

A member of the group, Fight For NYCHA, filed on Thursday an objection with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD“), arguing five (5) alternative reasons why the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA“) Categorical Exclusion documents 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 at least some of the backlog of capital repairs that accrued due to decades of racist divestment of public housing. RAD has been marketed to unsuspecting NYCHA residents as a panacea. Promises have been made for superficial repairs, like new kitchen cabinets. Public housing residents have been promised that their tenants’ rights would not change. However, that’s not turned out to be true.

NYCHA has a pattern or practise of violating environmental laws or regulations, and the Objection filed with HUD alleged that NYCHA was also violating laws regulating the return of Native American tribal cultural items.

The Objection filed by the group, Fight For NYCHA, alleged that NYCHA had violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (“NAGPRA“), which requires Government Agencies receiving Federal funding to return to descendants of, or Native American tribes, items discovered of their cultural heritage, including human remains.

The NEPA Categorical Exclusion documents reveal the possibility that Native American burial grounds may be found at Williamsburg Houses. NYCHA was accused of treating the preservation and treatment of Native American cultural artifacts as possible exigencies instead of an obligation to comply with the law before any of the environmentally-disruptive activities contemplated for Williamsburg Houses were set to begin. A related complaint has been filed with the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.

Some of NYCHA’s deliberate acts at violating environmental laws or regulations is a shock to the conscience.

NYCHA has completely ignored revelations that “29 spills and 8 historical cleaners within 1/8 mile ; 45 underground storage tank sites, 8 dry cleaners and 36 aboveground storage tank sites within 1/4 mile ; 44 leaking storage tank sites within 1/2 mile ; and 3 manufactured gas plant sites within 1 mile of the subject property” may have affected the site. Because NYCHA has a long history of violating its own promises of, much less laws regulating, environmental protections, it should come to no surprise that NYCHA engaged in obfuscation in the NEPA Categorical Exclusion documents by limiting the depth of groundwater soil borings to 45 feet bgs. NYCHA acted disingenuously and, therefore, unlawfully, when it failed to conduct adequate environmental studies of groundwater under Williamsburg Houses. After a random check of the elevation of Williamsburg Houses using a Web application, it was revealed that the elevation of the grounds of Williamsburg Houses ranges from 43 feet to 52 feet. When NYCHA conducted inadequate environmental studies of the groundwater specifically designed to fail to encounter groundwater, it was as if NYCHA conducted no groundwater studies at all.

Hazardous waste, chemicals, poisons, or toxins were detected in the soils of Williamsburg Houses, including three pesticides (4,4′-DDD, 4,4′- DDE, and 4,4′-DDT) and several metals (arsenic, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc), which were detected at levels above their respective NYSDEC Unrestricted and/or Restricted Resident Use Soil Cleanup Objectives.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : 5 City Council Candidates call on de Blasio to stop RAD conversions at NYCHA during pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS :

Anthony Beckford,
VoteforAnthonyBeckford@gmail.com,
(989) 964-8713

Rodrigo Camarena,
Rodrigo@Rodrigo4NYC.com,

Victoria Cambranes,
vcambranes@gmail.com,
(917) 202-8466

Rick Echevarría,
rick@voterick2021.com,
(929) 282-5482

Marni Halasa,
marnihalasa@gmail.com,
(917) 501-9444

FIVE DEMOCRATIC PARTY PRIMARY CANDIDATES FOR CITY COUNCIL CALL ON MAYOR DE BLASIO TO STOP RAD CONVERSIONS AT NYCHA — AND HAND-OVER DECISIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC HOUSING TO THE NEXT MAYOR, THE NEXT CITY COUNCIL

NEW YORK, NY (Nov. 28) — A group of five (5) Democratic Party primary candidates in separate New York City Council races are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) to cease all conversions of New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA“) apartment buildings under HUD’s scheme known as Rental Assistance Demonstration (“RAD“).

City Council Candidates Anthony Beckford (D-District 45), Rodrigo Camarena (D-District 38), Victoria Cambranes (D-District 33), Rick Echevarría (D-District 37), and Marni Halasa (D-District 3) issue the following statements in a joint effort to draw attention to the mayor’s dangerous privatization of public housing.

“The attempt to privatize public housing is violence against the people,” said Beckford, adding that, “The RAD program will displace thousands of families and will eliminate public housing. RAD is a threat to NYCHA residents and must be eliminated.  Private developers and the elected officials who support them are a threat to our communities and must be stopped. We must fully fund and repair NYCHA and provide the services and resources needed for the tenants.”

“Public housing should remain in the public’s hands,” said Camarena, adding that, “The RAD program opens the door for the full privatization of public housing in New York City and aims to absolve our Government from their responsibility to fully-fund and repair NYCHA. Housing is a human right, and it’s up to our Government to secure and protect that right.”

“RAD conversions are a shortsighted privatization scheme that would have NYCHA tenants living within construction sites, breathing in all that dust, paint, and whatever else kicks up,” said Cambranes, adding that, “It’s a proven eviction-machine, and while tenants may enjoy new kitchen upgrades, their rights and protections will deteriorize just as their buildings have for so long.”

“Mayor de Blasio should be ashamed of himself for attempting to privatize public housing that has been public for 100 years, while HUD has an anti-public housing and lame duck Secretary,” said Echevarría, adding that, “There should be no further RAD progress until the new HUD Secretary is confirmed ! At which point, the HUD/NYCHA agreement should be modified to preserve public housing in the long-term without a private option !”

“Hard data shows that RAD is not only an eviction machine, but will end public housing as we know it,” said Halasa, candidate for Council District 3. “What’s sad is that the elected officials on the West Side of Manhattan put public housing tenants through the wringer with their sham working group, a group which operates in secret — in violation of the state’s sunshine laws that demands transparency in the disposition of public assets. At the very least, because of COVID, RAD should be shelved until the next mayor and Councilmembers are elected. That’s the least they could do.”

The pandemic makes it impossible for NYCHA residents to meet, confer, discuss, and understand the RAD legal documents

Amidst the second shut-down of the Coronavirus pandemic, now is not the time to continue with, much less expand, RAD conversions. NYCHA residents have long complained that NYCHA is not providing enough explanations or translations about the RAD conversion legal documents. The conversion process itself has been designed to bum-rush tenants into signing RAD Leases with horrendous clauses and provisions.  NYCHA has proposed Zoom meetings as an inferior substitute for physical meetings, but the Zoom meetings fail to attract robust participation, because residents either don’t have WiFi, computer or smart phone devices, or the skill to make meaningful use of Zoom meetings (as imperfect and limiting as they are). An immediate suspension to all RAD conversions is warranted, and a robust public review of the privatization of NYCHA must take place under the next mayoral administration and the next City Council session — once the pandemic is over.

We Don’t Need RAD to save NYCHA

Many elected officials have pending legislation to save NYCHA (or to make the process to “dispose” of public housing assets more transparent), and it is dishonest to move forward with RAD as the sole solution when other solutions are within reach. For example, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY 7) has introduced a bill to fully-fund the capital repairs needed by NYCHA without having to resort to any privatization. Assemblymember Harvey Epstein (D-74th District) co-sponsors legislation to make any disposition of public housing assets subject to the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (“ULURP Process“). Separately, the activist-preservation group, Fight For NYCHA, have argued that money can be found to fully-fund repairs at NYCHA by raising taxes on corporations or the wealthy with ideas featured in their aspirational, People’s Budget.

The candidates make these statements in support of the NYCHA residents currently facing RAD conversion. The candidates join in the fight to keep NYCHA residents in Section 9 public housing and to let those, who have them, keep their portable Section 8 Tenant-Based Vouchers (TBV).

Melanie Aucello, the resident association president at the NYCHA public housing apartment building located at 344 East 28th Street in Manhattan, recently joined Fight For NYCHA as a core member, because her apartment building and 15 other locations face imminent RAD conversion, which is expected to take place on Monday, Nov. 30.

Aucello, civil rights attorney Michael Sussman, and Assemblymember Epstein issued a press release last Tuesday, making a similar demand as the five candidates. A separate letter sent by Sussman to Mayor de Blasio raised objections to clauses or provisions in the proposed RAD Lease Agreement that could pass extra costs to tenants and put tenants at-risk for evictions.

RAD is a bad deal for public housing tenants

In the past, RAD conversions have led to evictions. At the Ocean Bay Apartments in Far Rockaway, Queens, which Mayor de Blasio has described as his “model” for RAD, 80 households were evicted following RAD conversion. Those evictions stemmed from over 300 Housing Court actions filed by the RAD Landlord at Ocean Bay alone in the time following its RAD Conversion.

Because RAD has developed such a bad reputation, the mayor has rebranded RAD under an Orwellian name :  Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (“PACT“) in an effort to confuse tenants about the negative impacts that privatization of public housing holds in their future. Besides RAD/PACT conversions, the mayor plans to seize green spaces, playgrounds, and parking lots for infill development, and he plans to sell air rights above NYCHA developments to real estate developers. He has also shockingly proposed the demolition of public housing apartment buildings in order to rezone the lots under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (“MIH“) to build 80-20 or 70-30 luxury apartment buildings.

To market RAD, HUD has argued that RAD provides $19 of leverage to every $1 of public housing funds. However, a 2018 review by the National Affordable Housing Management Association (“NAHMA“) revealed that when RAD funding was recalculated to remove Government funding, the leverage ratio falls to $1.23 in private financial funding to every $1 in public housing funds.

In light of the addition of only pennies on the dollar in real margin and as a result of the eviction risks to public housing residents, the above-named City Council candidates and the activist-preservation group Fight For NYCHA are arguing that preserving the status quo until the next mayor has been elected and the next session of the New York City Council has been sworn in (once the pandemic is over) would provide conditions that would lead to more transparency and tenant participation in determining the future of NYCHA public housing.

About Fight For NYCHA

Fight For NYCHA is a collective fighting so NYCHA tenants can self-determine the future of public houisng in New York City. We oppose Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to put one-third of NYCHA into the hands of private landlords. We believe the money exists to save NYCHA. We just have to change our priorities. Learn more about our People’s Budget plan to fully-fund NYCHA : https://fightfornycha.org/peoples-budget/.

Fight For NYCHA is not a political action committee. As a result, it does not endorse candidates, and it makes no financial contributions to campaign committees.

There is no substitute for public housing !

IN THE ZONE — Manhattan Institute: De Blasio housing program has not lived up to promise, by POLITICO’s Janaki Chadha

A signature de Blasio administration policy that requires developers in rezoned areas to build affordable housing has failed to live up to its promise, a new Manhattan Institute report concludes. Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the program, known as Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, as a game-changer when it was approved by the City Council in 2016. The policy, which he promised during his 2013 mayoral campaign, was billed as an essential tool to spur the construction of apartments for low- and middle-income people citywide. But the report — authored by former Department of City Planning official Eric Kober — argues flaws in the design of the program have made it ineffective in much of the city without public subsidy, “limit[ing] its utility” without additional financial commitments to affluent areas in which the city has largely shied away from pursuing rezonings that would boost density. The policy was presented “as another way to finance affordable housing that would go beyond the public funding that has historically been available” but has not worked out that way, said Kober, now an adjunct fellow at the fiscally conservative think tank. It was estimated by the city to generate 12,000 affordable apartments over 10 years.