Tenants from the Chelsea-Elliot and Fulton public housing complexes in Chelsea gathered outside of the New York City Housing Authority’s public hearing at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday evening. They voiced their opposition to NYCHA’s proposal to demolish their buildings.
The rally, with around 20 participants, took place amid a contentious debate between tenants, NYCHA and developers over the fate of four housing developments: Chelsea, Chelsea Addition, Fulton and Elliot.
NYCHA has proposed the gradual demolition of the four developments over several years, which would destroy 2,055 units, home to more than 5,000 residents.
The public housing authority insists that only about 100 households, or 6% of tenants, would be displaced during the rebuilding process, though tenants expressed worry that the number may be much higher. NYCHA plans to partner with private development companies Essence Development and The Related Companies to replace the demolished buildings with a mix of upgraded affordable housing and market-rate units. Residents who rallied in front of Stuyvesant, however, are wary of the plan.
NO TRUST IN NYCHA
Celines Miranda is one of these residents. Her family has lived in the Elliot houses for almost 50 years, and she opposes the demolition and privatization plan. She says that if NYCHA tears down the buildings, she will be “heartbroken,” that it would be the “ruining a community, a beautiful environment, a family-oriented place.” Initially, Miranda wanted NYCHA to rehabilitate the buildings, but when she learned private developers would be involved, she began to worry they would bring evictions and now opposes privatization in any form.
Many other residents echoed these sentiments, and feel that the demolition project’s goal isn’t just to upgrade the developments, as NYCHA says, but to push lower-income residents out of the wealthy Manhattan neighborhood.
“I believe it is systemic, that people don’t want public housing in this area because of Google and Hudson Yards, and all their wealth, and the Highline,” said Luana Green, who lived in the complex from 1970 to 2008, and now lives in a co-op nearby. “They really want to take over the property, and it’s really a land grab. Demolition is not an option.”
The Indypendent spoke to some residents that are worried they will end up like public-housing residents in Chicago, where families were displaced on a massive scale in the early 2000s. “We’ve seen this done in Chicago and other cities,” said Luana Green “And guess what? Those tenants never came back. So I don’t see any course except to keep them, keep the buildings or renovate.”
NYCHA cites a tenant survey that showed majority support for demolishing the existing buildings and replacing them with new ones. However, Alex McDougall, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, told The Indy that the survey was conducted in a misleading way.
“The development team says that there was a survey, and that residents participated in this survey and indicated that they chose the demolition option, with rezoning — massive rezoning — to create 2,500 market rate apartments.” McDougall explained that in the survey “there is no mention of total demolition, or the development of 2,500 market rate units under the option of new construction. So there were a lot of glaring omissions. Then under the [rehabilitation] option, they actually do mention temporary relocation, and they do mention the development of an affordable unit. So it seems like it was a very biased process from the outset.”
While 57% of tenants voted for demolition, the organization Save Section 9 says that only around 30% of tenants voted at all — meaning only around 18% of all tenants voted in favor.
Celines Miranda says that some of “the 70% that did not vote are making a statement also. The only two options were demolish and rehab. So even if rehab would have won over demolish, we still would have gotten private developers. The 70% that did not vote are being ignored.”
“Just leave us alone,” said tenant Jackie Lara, when asked what her ideal solution would be. “Leave us alone. Leave our buildings alone. NYCHA: Step up and fix these developments.”