What Elliott-Chelsea/Fulton Voting Means for the Neighborhood
BY BRIAN J PAPE, AIA, LEED-AP
Scott and Elodie have lived at Elliott-Chelsea Houses on West 25th Street since they were married five years ago. Scott has lived there since he was a small boy. They know this neighborhood and their neighbors. When given the opportunity to vote on the proposals for redeveloping their complex on May 20, they were sure they would vote for rehabbing the existing NYCHA towers. Despite years of deferred maintenance making life difficult at times, they were wary of too much change.
Public meetings were organized by the tenant associations to give all residents the opportunity to hear the proposals in detail from the development team selected by NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority, under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). Over the course of 60 days, surveys and information packets were distributed at meetings, online and to every apartment so that eligible tenants 18 years and older could have their say. More than 35 public meetings were attended by 1,500 people prior to the voting.
The non-profit Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC), with Howard Slatkin as executive director, organized the voting and tallying procedures. “Essence Development, NYCHA, and the resident leaders at Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea have achieved exceptionally high resident participation, ensuring that residents have an active role in shaping the future of their homes,” Slatkin wrote in a statement. The turnout was better than the recent local primary public elections.
Even before 2019, NYCHA and the city have been working on ways to resolve the projected capital investment need of $78.3 billion for its 328 developments. The Fulton/Elliott-Chelsea PACT Project (Permanent Affordable Commitment Together) is a critical part of NextGeneration NYCHA, the Authority’s 10-year strategic plan to repair the 2,055 Chelsea area public housing units. The goal is to improve residents’ quality of life and to make major improvements to the housing developments, while preserving long-term affordability and maintaining strong resident rights with a public-private partnership.
PACT, Related Companies partnering with Essence Development and NYCHA, is proposing Option 1A. This will temporarily relocate the 436 West 27th Drive tenants (Hudson Guild Building) to a newly built rental tower at 311 Eleventh Avenue. New larger apartment towers will be built in its place, so all existing NYCHA families can be resettled in the new buildings without further interim relocations. The new buildings are planned to include dishwashers, washers and dryers, and high-performance resident-controlled heating and cooling systems.
Then, more mixed-income housing will be built on other sites as they are cleared. Leasing, operating and managing the development is the responsibility of the PACT. They will report their operations and governance to NYCHA for review.
Developers will also build 3,500 mixed-income apartments and other community amenities on housing authority land. NYCHA CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt said the project shows the “tremendous magnitude” of the needs and challenges NYCHA faces. The seven-member board of NYCHA currently has only four active members. Miguel Acevedo, Fulton Houses Tenant Association president and Elliott-Chelsea Tenant Association president Darlene Waters are among those in support of the transformational plan. It promises the best outcome for the future of the West Chelsea neighborhood.
Design guidelines for new construction go beyond the basic rules for NYCHA. They must apply Fair Housing Act (FHA) and NYC building codes, “Enterprise Green Communities” guidelines to optimize environmental resources and economize operations and “Active Design” guidelines to promote healthy lifestyle options in daily activities and amenities.
Aging-in-place amenities will be an important aspect of planning, since the NYCHA residents have created a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC). A new supermarket, convenience shops, health clinic and recreation areas are included, along with a community center, more social services and new security measures.
In a citylab.com article, Alicia Glen, the former Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, wrote about the “NYCHA 2.0” RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) plan. “Housing owned by the public sector also creates intense pressure on localities to prioritize their lowest-income and most vulnerable residents in distributing this public resource. As a result, developments are often 100 percent occupied by very low-income residents, perpetuating economic segregation and the stigma that all too often is associated with living in public housing. We know mixed-use buildings and mixed-income neighborhoods produce better health, education and economic outcomes. That is why fully funding RAD is a far better approach than just increasing funding for public housing in its past and present form.”
She believes “investing in strong public-private partnerships will improve the lives of public housing residents and is a proven model for providing quality affordable housing in this country. Abstract promises of ‘permanent’ government funding and less bureaucracy ‘down the line’ are hard to believe based on the effect our political past, and present, have had on public housing in this country.”
What came out of those 35 public meetings, was a better understanding of how the changes would work. Scott and Elodie changed their minds to support Option 1A. Although Scott is skeptical about the timeline for finishing construction, he is confident he made the right choice in voting. He looks forward to many years at Elliott-Chelsea Houses, in his new ‘old’ neighborhood.
Brian J. Pape is a citizen architect in private practice, serving on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Executive Committee, the Landmarks Committee, the State Liquor Authority Committee, and Quality of Life Committee, (speaking solely in a personal, and not an official capacity), co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and Historic Buildings and Housing Committees. He is a LEED-AP “Green” certified architect, and a journalist specializing in architecture and urban subjects.