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NYCHA Turns to Parks Department for Public Housing Playground Fixes

Housing officials are consulting the experts in city green space to tackle longstanding problems at some crumbling play spaces.

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Tamika Williams-Moore, president of the Pomonok Residents Association, hailed the new playground inside the NYCHA complex bordering Queens College.

Courtesy of Tamika Williams-Moore

The city’s public housing authority is getting some help with its long-neglected playgrounds from the Department of Parks and Recreation — the agency specializing in those fixes. 

Under a new partnership, five playgrounds and open spaces inside New York City Housing Authority complexes will be revamped, the agency announced Tuesday. 

The pilot program will be financed by $23 million originally set aside for that purpose by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, according to a city official familiar with the plan. His announcement in July 2021 came a week after THE CITY revealed that more than one out of 10 NYCHA playgrounds were closed to the public due to unsafe conditions. De Blasio’s plan extended a smaller-scale partnership between NYCHA and Parks that began in 2019.

On the campaign trail in 2021, then-candidate for mayor Eric Adams decried the condition of public housing playgrounds.

After a year in lockdown due to the pandemic, “families need safe outdoor spaces to reclaim a sense of normalcy,” Adams tweeted on July 19 last year, with a link to THE CITY’s coverage.

“But in NYCHA complexes, delayed repairs & dilapidated playground equipment have made that all but impossible,” his tweet continued. “Our city must prioritize these repairs.”

While he’s been mayor, however, the number of closed playgrounds has actually gone up to 98 from 89 last year, according to NYCHA. His administration has also not added any additional funds for repairs so far, according to budget records. 

On Wednesday, city Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue is scheduled to join Shaan Mavani, NYCHA’s chief asset and capital management officer, to formally announce the agency partnership. 

A playground with a sprinkler was locked because of nearby construction at the Sotomayor Houses in The Bronx, Sept. 13, 2022.

Candace Pedraza/THE CITY

They will cut the ribbon at the newly revamped Legacy Park at the Pomonok Houses in central Queens, according to a press release. 

City officials refused to disclose details of the planned revamp before the scheduled ribbon cutting. 

“Details will be shared in a release tomorrow,” Parks Department spokesperson Meghan Lalor told THE CITY on Tuesday. 

NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio declined to comment. 

Shuttered Playgrounds

The Parks Department has an online capital project tracker that shows all the updates being made to its different green spaces. The department also has an internal design team that has long worked with city contractors to maintain and repair parks and playgrounds. 

Still, some of those projects have languished for years and gone way over original cost estimates. During his mayoral campaign, Adams vowed to dedicate 1% of the city’s overall budget to the Parks Department. But the budget he signed this year fell millions of dollars short. 

As for the new play area in Queens, Tamika Williams-Moore, president of the Pomonok Residents Association, hailed the planned new play area on 71st Avenue between Kissena and Parsons Boulevards. 

De Blasio, Williams-Moore said, “gave us $3 million to build what we named Legacy Park and we are elated.” Work in the area started around 2019, she said, with construction through the COVID pandemic.

The playground — with a workout area for grown-ups — officially opened in June, Williams-Moore said. 

The design was based on input from residents who suggested part of the area be designated for adults. Previously, the area was an open space with grass. 

“We didn’t want to leave that demographic out when building in our community,” she said. 

The outdoor space now “features fitness equipment, sensory play equipment, seating and new landscaping,” according to the press release. 

Under the plan, the new play area will be maintained by the city’s Parks Department. 

“We are seeking funds to complete additional outdoor playgrounds for the community,” Williams-Moore said, noting the housing complex is 53 acres. 

NYCHA has long struggled to maintain and modernize its 710 playgrounds. Some are decades old, covered in layers of peeling paint and kept functioning by makeshift repairs, while others have been demolished or cordoned off and effectively abandoned.

Aside from the park at Pomonok Houses, the reconstruction projects will also include two other developments in Queens: Redfern and Woodside Houses. City officials also plan to repair park spaces at Watson and Sotomayor Houses in The Bronx and Kingsborough Houses in Brooklyn.

Some Sotomayor Houses tenants were cautiously optimistic. 

“I think it’s a good idea, there are so many kids around here. I feel like they have a few parks,” said Cree Verley, 34, whose son, Ronan, 6, plays in the area. 

Verley, who lived her whole life in the complex, also urged elected officials to set aside money to build recreational centers to keep the children busy. 

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