This Land Is Whose Land? Charas Versus Housing

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In its struggle to find a new home, CHARAS, the East Village community center that suffered a highly publicized eviction in December, now finds itself up against a city plan for the very thing the group established itself on nearly three decades ago: developing affordable housing.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) recently issued a request for proposals to develop two new apartment houses on vacant lots on East 7th and 9th streets. The plan, which also includes renovations of the city’s three Fabria House buildings on 11th Street, would produce at least 58 one- to three-bedroom apartments. Thirty-nine of those homes will be reserved for tenants with Section 8 vouchers, which allow their low-income holders to pay just 30 percent of their income on rent. (Fabria tenants, who have long endured their buildings’ faulty plumbing and wiring along with deteriorating stairways and fire escapes, will get first dibs.) The remaining 19 apartments will rent for market rate. The winning developer will get a 99-year lease on the properties.

This plan came as a shock to CHARAS. Since the group lost its community center, which the city auctioned off to developer Gregg Singer for $3.15 million in 1998, its members have hoped to build a new, smaller center on the old school yard next door to their former home on 9th Street, the very lot NYCHA now wants developed. Community Board 3 and CHARAS maintain that the board issued the group site control of the property a year and a half ago. The Housing Authority, however, asserts that the mayor gave the agency control of the site in March 2000.

To continue its support of the community center, the community board’s housing committee last week voted to send NYCHA a letter asking that the agency remove the 9th Street lot from its plans.

“We have to build housing, but we also need a community facility,” said CHARAS executive director Carlos “Chino” Garcia, noting that his group helped reconstruct the first sweat equity low-income building in the city in 1973. His current plan, which he estimates would cost about $5 million, would include a theater, community rooms, computer labs and artists space.

But the city says it is moving full steam ahead with its housing plans. This project is invaluable, said NYCHA spokesperson Howard Marder, because it “preserves 39 units at no cost to NYCHA or the city, and it furthers the goal of deconcentrating poverty by creating a mixed-income development.” This development would mark the first time the agency has built housing that mixes Section 8 and market-rate apartments. Bids are due by September 13, and NYCHA plans to relocate the 27 families currently living in Fabria to the housing development of their choice, or to give them Section 8 vouchers to live elsewhere. Renovations are slated for completion in January of 2005 and the new buildings in August of that year.

Before construction gets underway, however, NYCHA will first need to go to through the city’s land use review process to get approval to build on the vacant lots. The first stop: the community board.

Board 3’s housing committee plans to invite NYCHA officials to present their plan to the board at its July meeting.

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