Planned renovations at 15 public housing playgrounds are “paused” due to lack of city funds, records reveal — despite a mayoral campaign pledge from Eric Adams to prioritize those repairs.
The stalled projects include the estimated $2.7 million makeover of a playground at the Seward Park Extension houses on the Lower East Side, a $1.5 million overhaul at the East 180th Street-Monterey Avenue complex in The Bronx, and a $1.3 million basketball court renovation at the Brevoort Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
A total of $8 million in repairs are delayed with no start date because of “operating budget constraints impacting staffing,” according to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) spokesperson Michael Horgan.
At the Gowanus Houses in Brooklyn, one playground has been closed for months, while the sprinklers at another play area within the complex have been busted for years, according to tenants.
“I think it’s a travesty,” said resident Mike Brown, 55, who owns a nearby soul food business. “When the sprinklers don’t work, how are kids supposed to enjoy their summer?”
Instead, Brown said he walks his grandkids to a city park three blocks away from the 16-building complex that is home to more than 2,600 residents.
NYCHA does not currently have any public plan to fix the sprinklers. The $4 million community center overhaul began in March and is expected to be finished by next summer.
The Fix is Not In
The Housing Authority has long struggled to maintain and modernize the 710 playgrounds spread across 335 housing developments around the city.
Some of the play areas are decades old with equipment kept in working order by makeshift repairs, while others in effect have been abandoned.
Records obtained by THE CITY show 71 public housing playgrounds are currently off-limits because of unsafe conditions.
While that’s an improvement from the 98 shuttered last year and the 89 closed in 2021, budget records show the Adams administration has not allocated more money for NYCHA playground repairs.
“With the latest budget, I once again see our city prioritize funding for punitive policies that fall short of meeting quality of life needs,” said City Councilmember Alexa Avilés (D-Brooklyn), who chairs Council’s Committee on Public Housing. “NYCHA residents, families and their children deserve healthy and open spaces to play.”
Avilés was one of 12 Council members to vote against the $107 billion city budget finalized last month.
As for the playgrounds, the authority says it costs an estimated $500,000 on average to refurbish a play area, a figure that varies depending on size and equipment.
NYCHA has allocated approximately $24 million for playground fixes over the next four years, according to Horgan.
The scaling-back at public housing play areas comes after multiple similar construction projects were halted during the peak of the pandemic. But NYCHA playground conditions were a popular topic for Adams as he campaigned to be mayor in 2021.
Police Over Playgrounds
After a year in lockdown due to the pandemic, “families need safe outdoor spaces to reclaim a sense of normalcy,” Adams tweeted last July.
The mayor cited a story in THE CITY that detailed how a playground at the Morrisania Air Rights housing complex in The Bronx was padlocked in early 2019 after police ordered it closed because of drug use in the area.
Adams vowed to promptly reopen the location.
“I cannot subscribe to the theory that someone is committing crime on the playground that we want to penalize the children,” Adams told reporters at the time. “That’s not acceptable.
“And those that are closed because of illegal activity that took place, we are opening them immediately,” he added.
City Hall spokesperson Charles Lutvak said the padlocked playground reopened last summer, only to be closed again in May for $275,000 in renovations that include new play equipment, safety mats, lighting and seating. The work is expected to be completed this November.
“NYCHA tracks all of their playgrounds and status,” Lutvak said. “They are tracking closely when a playground is closed and why it is, so they can get them open again as quickly as possible.”
NYCHA has also teamed up with the Parks Department — the agency specializing in those fixes — to revamp six playgrounds and open spaces. Half of those projects are finished and the others are in progress, Lutvak said.
“As NYCHA faces tens of billions of dollars in capital needs and urgent fiscal challenges, the city has already committed $9.5 billion over the next decade,” he added. “At the same time, we also drove $2 billion to renovate over 8,500 apartments through the PACT program last year, and we are establishing the Public Housing Preservation Trust to bring in billions more in federal funding.”
Critics of Adams point out that the budget cuts for the 15 playgrounds go against his vow to catch more city youths “upstream” before they run into trouble.
“It’s the ultimate hypocrisy,” said Alex Vitale, the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and author of the book “The End of Policing.”
“We know that providing youth with high-quality community-based programming will reduce violence and improve community well being,” Vitale said.