By Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, 12th Congressional District in New York
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is proposing to sell public land at Cooper Park Houses to a private developer who would construct a 250-unit building. The current mayoral administration says it is doing so to raise revenue, using Cooper Park as its cash cow. At best, it would generate a very small drop to fill a very large bucket of red ink. NYCHA is facing a $19 billion shortfall. Instead of developing a comprehensive plan, they are doing the equivalent of a bake sale to raise capital by selling land.
NYCHA will invest only half of the revenue generated from the sale back into Cooper Park, diverting the rest of the proceeds to other developments whose residents are not being asked to assume any burdens. The plan forces the Cooper Park community to pay a steep price without receiving the benefits it is due. The money from the sale most likely will not cover Cooper Park’s capital needs, and even if it did, much of the revenue would be used elsewhere. What’s worse, the so-called affordable housing in the development will not be affordable for the majority of Cooper Park residents.
At Holmes Towers in Manhattan, NYCHA is selling a playground for $25 million, less than the development’s capital needs. The residents will be losing a playground, as well as light and air, and the developer will put up a 47-story building. Holmes Towers will receive only $12.5 million out of the $37 million it needs. This deal does not bode well for Cooper Park, which faces a $59 million capital need. Any revenue generated from the proposed sale will at best scratch the surface of what Cooper Park requires.
The income threshold for the affordable units planned for the development will be too high for the vast majority of Cooper Park residents. The income threshold for an affordable apartment is 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), which was $51,540 for a family of three in 2017. The 2017 average annual income for a family living in NYCHA was $24,336. Most Cooper Park families would have to more than double their incomes to be able to move into the new building. Cooper Park families will look out their windows to a new building on their land that was not built for them.
In 2005, the Bloomberg administration introduced a similar plan; however, they proposed a much more modest 130-unit building. The development has ballooned to 250 units. North Brooklyn has had a significant rise in development over the last decade. Since 2006, over 5,200 new residential units have been built in the neighborhood. Population density has increased from 34,500 people per square mile in 2006 to 40,900 in 2015. These substantial changes have put a strain on the neighborhood’s public resources, such as crowding the already overburdened L train. The proposal for Cooper Park, along with the development at Greenpoint Hospital nearby, would significantly increase the neighborhood’s density without a viable plan to address the negative effects on the community’s quality of life.
In addition, Williamsburg continues to face significant public health issues, including poor air quality. In North Brooklyn, the levels of PM 2.5, the most harmful air pollutant, are well above the city average. Cooper Park is already surrounded by 19 waste transfer stations and a EPA superfund site. Numerous studies have shown that Williamsburg has a high asthma rate, which disproportionally affects vulnerable communities. Another 250-unit building in such close proximity will only exacerbate these problems. Cooper Park residents have already had to bear the burden of the effects of pollution; they shouldn’t have to face more.
While I support the creation of affordable housing and acknowledge that NYCHA needs funding to make repairs, this plan achieves neither goal. It fails to create housing that low income New Yorkers can afford and does not invest adequate resources in Cooper Park to address its capital needs. The proposal only succeeds in sending a message to the tenants and neighbors of Cooper Park that NYCHA is willing to put a price on their quality of life.
Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney represents the 12th Congressional District in New York.