July 6th 2016

The recent release of the Requests for Proposals (RFP) for the Wyckoff Gardens infill project by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), before finalizing a written agreement on guiding principles with residents, is an unfortunate missed opportunity for true community input. In September 2015, the New York City Housing Authority as a part of its NextGeneration NYCHA fiscal sustainability plan, announced that it had selected two developments, Holmes Towers in upper Manhattan and Wyckoff Gardens in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, to be leased to private developers who would build 50% market-rate and 50% affordable units for rent as part of a long-term plan to raise needed revenues to address its $17 billion capital needs deficit. Soon after the announcement, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) with support from the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), began organizing at Wyckoff Gardens to engage residents around understanding the potential ramifications of the plan, and holding NYCHA accountable to its promise of community-led engagement and planning.

FUREE and FAC have been observing NYCHA’s engagement process closely and have attended all of the resident meetings since October of last year. From the start of that first meeting residents have loudly and publicly voiced a general distrust of the proposal for a variety of reasons, including deep concern that it would further gentrify their community and displace more low-income families without leading to the much needed capital improvements at Wyckoff Gardens. Residents further voiced frustration with overly broad or vague language used by NYCHA to address their questions and concerns, as well as insufficient time allowed by NYCHA to engage residents in understanding the proposal and the potential effects it would have on their community before releasing the RFP and choosing a developer.

To address the lack of information and ensure an independent process, FUREE planned and implemented the Wyckoff Gardens Resident Empowerment Workshop Series which started in January and concluded on June 30th, 2016. These workshops gave residents an opportunity to fully understand the development process, voice opinions that went beyond NYCHA’s narrow parameters of engagement and put forward counter proposals to the original proposal put forth by NYCHA. Each workshop explored a distinct topic while simultaneously developing the pieces of a resident-informed community vision of the new infill project at Wyckoff Gardens. These workshops were planned and conducted with NYCHA’s full knowledge and were scheduled based on the understanding that the RFP would not be released until residents had the opportunity to examine the information and develop their priorities. A key goal of this process was to present these resident priorities to the housing authority and to have them included in the planning of the 50/50 infill development, starting with the RFP.

In response to pressure from residents and community groups, NYCHA announced an extended engagement schedule with residents, acknowledged the value of the FUREE Empowerment series and delayed the RFP release into the summer of 2016. NYCHA further agreed to the creation of a steering committee that would have representation of residents in the decision-making as the 50/50 infill process moves forward. While all of this and the creation of a counter proposal to NYCHA’s infill plan at Wyckoff Gardens are reasons for our community to be proud, the Housing Authority’s decision to release the RFP before our process was complete represents a missed opportunity for the community’s voice to be fully heard and for NYCHA to build much needed trust at Wyckoff Gardens.
“Many of us have lived and raised our families in Wyckoff Gardens for decades, and we have a lot of pride in our community and the families who have created it. For years we have dealt with living conditions that make it hard to recognize the vibrant culture and fierce determination that exists here as well as many other public housing developments city-wide.” -Valerie Bell, Wyckoff Gardens resident, RA President and FUREE member.

“NYCHA’s history has not allowed us to be trustful of their intentions or hopeful that our needs are a priority, but we see some positive changes and look forward to building on that toward more consistent and meaningful communication and more sharing in decision making. We don’t want infill, as gentrification has forced so many families from their homes and communities and the ones who remain can’t afford the higher prices that new businesses bring. But we also cannot sit by and let this plan happen without making sure our voices are heard or allow plans to develop without including our concerns when decisions are made.” – Monica Underwood, Wyckoff Gardens resident and FUREE member

Leading up to the release of the RFP communication and cooperation between NYCHA, residents and community groups had significantly improved, and there had been substantial progress on the quality of engagement from NYCHA. To date, there have been multiple meetings between the Housing Authority, residents, FUREE and FAC to flesh out a signed agreement to memorialize the commitments between the parties that we hope will ultimately guide the full 50/50 infill process, the chosen developer and the subsequent development plans moving forward. Unfortunately, this progress has been overshadowed by NYCHA’s premature release of the RFP on June 30th, in advance of a final agreement being made. Wyckoff Gardens residents recognize and share NYCHA’s commitment to addressing the Housing Authority’s substantial capital funding gap but also believe that decades of disinvestment have led to significant distrust between NYCHA and residents that must be addressed as part of any successful plan to move forward to ensure that NYCHA’s public housing is preserved. Specifically, Wyckoff Gardens residents disapprove of NYCHA’s release of the50/50 infill RFP before a binding agreement could be finalized.

As of the time of this press release, there are plans to continue conversations and negotiations to reach a signed agreement. Residents, FUREE and FAC remain cautiously optimistic that NYCHA will hold true to its promises and continue their willingness to sit at the table as residents fight to preserve their homes. In the meantime, residents, FUREE and FAC are planning a press conference to release the Resident-led Visioning Platform for Redevelopment at Wyckoff Gardens and to put potential developers on notice of the community’s priorities. Stay tuned!

FUREE is a member-led, Brooklyn based multiracial organization led by mostly women of color, that organizes low-income communities of color to fight systems of oppression. It is a program of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a 38 year old-for-profit, community-based organization in South Brooklyn that advances economic and social justice through a comprehensive range of award winning programs.

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