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Council Speaker Adams Reboots Twice-Failed Public Housing Idea. Is Her Plan Any Different?

In her State of the City speech Wednesday, the legislative leader is expected to propose putting up new public housing in unused plots within existing NYCHA developments.

SHARE Council Speaker Adams Reboots Twice-Failed Public Housing Idea. Is Her Plan Any Different?

The Fulton Houses in Chelsea have been approved for additional housing development under a plan that differs from what Speaker Adams is expected to propose.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

In the speaker’s annual State of the City speech Wednesday, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams plans to offer a proposal to build new public housing on existing empty spaces within existing New York City Housing Authority developments, THE CITY has learned.

Adams will propose “infill” development, building on open spaces — rebooting a concept that failed twice in the recent past, with former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio both seeing their versions stalled by opposition from Housing Authority tenants and local elected officials.

According to a source familiar with the plan, Adams will propose building new public housing apartments to replace existing NYCHA units at developments that have fallen into disrepair.

Tenants within the development would then be moved into the newly built apartments. It’s not clear whether the older units would then be demolished or renovated. A similar plan is now underway at the Fulton Houses in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

But the speaker’s proposal goes a step further: The buildings within these developments would add on thousands more units of mixed-income housing, senior housing and supportive housing, along with market-rate apartments that would help defray the costs of the new public housing, the source said. That part of the building could be managed by a private sector operator.

The plan would require financial support from multiple sources at the federal, state and city levels, and the speaker is not yet proposing specific NYCHA developments as sites for the new units. The locations and funding will be determined after extensive conversations with tenants and elected officials.

Adams’ proposal would not run afoul of the Faircloth Amendment, a federal law that capped the number of public housing units at what existed as of Oct. 1, 1999, and barred construction of new public housing units above that cap.

NYCHA currently has fewer public housing units than it did in 1999, so it is allowed under Faircloth to replace public housing units up to the cap. NYCHA in recent years has taken thousands of units out of public housing and turned them over to private management via a program known as Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), which uses a different federal funding stream than traditional public housing.

A Different Plan

The speaker’s plan is different from prior infill concepts, which involved leasing NYCHA land to private developers to construct new buildings that would be part affordable, part market-rate. In that model, the developers would lease the land from NYCHA and pay a hefty fee, the proceeds of which would pay to upgrade NYCHA’s aging developments.

The basic idea of infill has been consistent every time this tactic has been proposed: build new housing on existing NYCHA property.

Under mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio, the new housing was to be constructed by private developers on parking lots, playgrounds and basketball courts within NYCHA developments. The builder would be required to keep a percentage of units permanently affordable, renting out the rest at market rates. 

In 2013, the last year of his three terms in office, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to raise billions of dollars by leasing land to developers to build 4,000 new apartments, 80% of which would be market rate, 20% affordable.

Then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn sued Bloomberg to halt the plan which was ultimately dropped by Bloomberg’s successor, de Blasio, when he arrived at City Hall.

De Blasio then resuscitated his own version of infill, pledging that the developments would be 50% affordable, 50% market rate. In one of the six developments where he proposed doing this, then-Manhattan Borough President (now City Council member) Gale Brewer sued to halt a project at Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side, and in 2019 de Blasio pulled the plug on that plan.

Since then all of the former mayor’s proposed infill plans have stalled.

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