Locals say city’s plan for NYCHA funding under Gowanus rezoning falls short

Elected officials and tenant leaders rallied at the Gowanus Houses on June 15,
Photo by Ben Verde

Repair plans for Gowanus New York City Housing Authority buildings as part of the neighborhood’s controversial rezoning do not go far enough, according to elected officials and tenant leaders, who say they won’t greenlight the project unless they feel residents’ needs are met.

“Here we are past certification and the city has not come forward with a concrete and clear plan about how it is going to meet the needs of our neighbors in Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Houses,” said Councilmember Brad Lander during a rally at the Gowanus Houses on June 15. “It is not appropriate to ask any tenant to choose between mold-free bathrooms, functioning elevators, and safe electrical outlets.”

Lander and Councilmember Steve Levin say City Hall has presented three separate proposals for NYCHA fixes: $52 million to pay for bathroom repairs at the Gowanus Houses, with no repairs made at the Wyckoff Gardens; $40 million to replace windows in Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens, and repair the heat at Wyckoff; or $40 million to upgrade elevators at Gowanus Houses and the electrical system at Wyckoff Gardens.

Both politicians blasted the proposals, claiming that the only effective repair plan would be to combine all three options into one scheme totaling $132 million.

“In putting forward these three repair packages, the city acknowledges a minimum of $132 million in absolutely essential maintenance,” said Lander. “City Hall must commit to meet that need.” 

The pair also called for a more tenant-centric approach to determining which repairs are made, rather than the closed-door discussions currently taking place. 

“If the city wants to move forward with the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning, then steps must be taken now to engage with the community to hear from them what they need,” said Levin.

According to NYCHA records, the capital funding need for the two developments exceeds $274 million, without Hurricane Sandy-related repairs taken into account — meaning the city’s proposed repairs barely scratch the surface of their own stated requirements. 

The Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice — one of the main interest groups behind the Gowanus rezoning — has pushed repairs for NYCHA developments front and center in the debate over the rezoning. Members of the coalition, organized by the Fifth Avenue Committee (the rezoning’s main affordable housing developer), say they’ve coordinated with tenant leaders to come to these proposals, but those in the trenches say they’re not buying the city’s deal.

“What they’re trying to do is do some trickery,” said Edward Tyree, president of the tenant association at Gowanus Houses. “They’ll have you say you want those things and then when you get those things and other things break down they’ll say ‘we gave you what you wanted.’ Don’t give me what I want, give me what I need.”

After an initial hybrid public hearing held online and in-person at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, the rezoning proposal is facing local community board committees for the first time this week, with the land use committee of Community Board 2 already voting to disapprove the proposal. 

The district manager of Community Board 6, which also encompasses Gowanus, said the proposal would only earn the board’s support if the NYCHA needs were met — as laid out in the board’s unofficial resolution to approve the zoning change. 

“I don’t think CB6 is in any way supportive of this unless we get the necessary funding,” said Mike Racioppo. “I don’t think the community should have to choose, these are basic facts of life.” 

A spokesperson for City Hall defended the city’s approach and claimed they had participated in discussions with tenant leaders.

“We are committed to addressing needs at local NYCHA developments as part of this rezoning process,” said Laura Feyer. “We have been in active conversation with NYCHA, tenant leaders, and the Council Members to that end and will continue the conversation as the ULURP process advances.”