Bill de Blasio Struggles to Sell NYCHA Residents on His Plan to Save Public Housing

"NYCHA will be two cities," one Wyckoff Gardens tenant said, voicing fears that Bill de Blasio's proposals for new development on housing authority land won't pay off for her neighbors.

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds up the NextGeneration NYCHA plan (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer).
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds up the NextGeneration NYCHA plan (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer).

Tenants at a New York City Housing Authority development in Brooklyn met Mayor Bill de Blasio with disbelief as he and his team sought to convince them of the merits of his “Next Generation” plan to bring the troubled public landlord back to solvency.

The mayor and his leading NYCHA appointees met with several dozen residents of Wyckoff Gardens, one of the complexes selected for the development of mixed market-rate and affordable housing on its open spaces under the plan. Mr. de Blasio insisted again and again that the only way for the city to pay for the housing authority’s $17 billion backlog of badly needed repairs, and to keep its yearly operation solvent, is with the proceeds of such private development.

“You can’t get something for nothing,” he said, emphasizing that state and federal funds are scarce and unlikely to increase soon. “I think the honest answer is, no, I don’t know of a lot of ways to make money that we haven’t found.”

Residents articulated fears about increasing density on the property, about a potential decline in air quality and lack of parking for the incoming inhabitants of the new housing. But more than anything, they voiced concern that the city and real estate interests were simply looking to cash in on the growing cachet of the surrounding neighborhood, and that the current NYCHA tenants would reap few benefits from the arrangement.

“NYCHA will be two cities,” one woman lamented, recalling the egalitarian rhetoric of the mayor’s 2013 campaign.

Mr. de Blasio acknowledged that inequities were inevitable, but claimed only the funds derived from new development could help rectify them.

“Will the building built in 1965, that has been put through hell, be as nice as the new building built in 2017? No! No. I’m being real,” he said. “Will we keep making the building built in 1965 better with the new money we have? Yes.”

The mayor also emphasized that his plan differs from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposals to “infill” vacant space at NYCHA properties with luxury housing. Under Mr. de Blasio’s plan, 13,500 of the 17,000 new apartments Next Generation proposes creating across the city will rent for below-market prices—and residents of the specific projects where development takes place will help decide what repairs are made on their buildings with the new revenues.

He assured the audience that Next Generation would in no way lead to privatization or demolition of NYCHA buildings, or to evictions or increasing rents for present tenants.

Two people criticized the scheduling of the forum, one arguing that tenants had received only short notice of the event, and the other claiming it excluded those who work evenings. There were also a host of complaints about intercoms, elevators and insufficient police presence.

The response from the mayor and his administration was the same: the city lacks funds to pay for the fixes, unless it leases NYCHA land for new construction.

“You go down the list: everything costs money. Everything costs money,” he said, noting that public housing land is one of few resources the city enjoys complete control over. “So what can the city do for itself?”

Several residents thanked the mayor for coming to the development, as did local Councilman Stephen Levin and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Mr. de Blasio begged the crowd not to blame him for problems that began under his predecessors, whom he jabbed for not holding similar events during their tenures.

“How was your meeting with Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani?” he asked, grinning.

Bill de Blasio Struggles to Sell NYCHA Residents on His Plan to Save Public Housing