Testimony of Victor Bach, Senior Housing Policy Analyst
at Oversight Hearing on The NextGeneration NYCHA Housing Development Plan
New York City Council Committee on Public Housing
CSS welcomes the opportunity to submit testimony at this first Council hearing on NYCHA development since the release of the NextGeneration Plan last May. The ten-year plan envisions two housing development initiatives in public housing communities:
- NextGeneration Housing: 100-percent affordable residential buildings. (10,000 units.)
- NextGeneration Neighborhoods: 50-percent affordable residential buildings. (7,500 units.)
NYCHA estimates that these initiatives will ultimately affect 50 to 60 of its 334 developments. So it is important to use early experience to help set reasonable standards for the future. To date, only five developments have been participating in the NextGeneration development process, including Holmes Towers. Based on what we have observed, we commend residents for playing a conscientious role in the engagement, as well as NYCHA staff for working with residents on community visioning and housing priorities.
Principles Guiding NYCHA Development
We believe several principles should apply to all housing development at NYCHA sites:
1) Affordability: AMI levels targeted for admission should be tiered in order to reach the income levels of current public housing residents.
2) Preferences: 25 percent of admission preferences should be set aside for current residents, particularly seniors.
3) Revenue for On-Site Capital Improvements: Where development activity generates NYCHA revenues, the major share (75%) of such revenues should be earmarked for on-site capital improvements. Residents should be rewarded for their engagement efforts, for giving up open space, and for putting up with nearby construction. Furthermore, it is essential that NYCHA be transparent in monitoring the revenues generated at each development and their allocations.
4) Good Jobs for Residents: Residents should be accorded priority in training, apprenticeship, and job opportunities generated by redevelopment, both in construction and permanent jobs generated.
5) Community Benefits Agreement: Agreements reached between residents and NYCHA or the developer—re jobs, revenue allocation, income-targeting, admissions, and other negotiated benefits—should be recorded in a written, legally-binding agreement with residents.
Transparency: Advance Notice to Residents that Their Development May be a Candidate.
Finally, based on current experience, we believe NYCHA needs to do much more to let residents know in advance what kind of development might be in store for their communities. At present, once a development is selected for on-site construction and resident leaders are contacted, it is too late for them to challenge the initiative. NYCHA is clear that residents may influence the type of housing to be built, its size, who is to be admitted, what sites are to be considered. However, that housing will be developed on-site with the prescribed degree of affordability is an accomplished, non-negotiable fact from the start, no matter how the NYCHA-resident engagement proceeds. Although the Authority must file a Section 18 Demolition/ Disposition proposal for HUD approval of land disposition, such approval requires only that residents be consulted and offers no real opportunity to contest the proposed redevelopment.
At Holmes Towers, for instance, residents are concerned that a valued playground will be lost. Whether those concerns have been adequately addressed is still unclear.
This kind of situation points to the need for residents to know in advance whether their community is a candidate for NYCHA housing development and what alternative sites or footprints are under consideration. Such notice should also allow them to contest their candidacy before they are selected.
NextGeneration NYCHA is a comprehensive 10-year plan. No doubt NYCHA is already planning for the next round of housing development initiatives. For years, well before the current administration, the Authority has been conducting a comprehensive citywide assessment of which developments have available land for redevelopment and what rent levels the local market will support. Resident leaders deserve to know what they have found and be informed in advance where their development stands on that citywide NYCHA map of candidates. Is there available land for residential development? Is the development deemed suitable for the 100-percent or 50-percent affordable program, or for neither? What alternative sites on campus are under consideration?
In short, we recommend that resident leaders at all developments be notified whether their developments are considered suitable candidates for new housing and what sites are under consideration. And there should be a process under which resident leaders can contest their candidacy in advance of their selection by the Authority.