Legal Aid Society Demands NYCHA Halt $1.5B Plan to Demolish/Rebuild Chelsea-Elliot Houses

The Legal Aid Society and the Community Service Society are both calling for NYCHA to halt its $1.5 billion plan to demolish and rebuild the Chelsea-Elliot housing complex, housing up to 5,000 New Yorkers in over 2,000 apartments. NYCHA claims residents are solidly behind the plan. Chelsea News spoke with several residents in Spanish last month after the plan was unveiled who said they misunderstood the survey questions and did not know it meant they’d be displaced from their homes. In testimony delivered July 12, the two organizations are demanding NYCHA re-evaluate its demolition proposals due to displacement concerns that was first highlighted in Chelsea News.

| 14 Jul 2023 | 04:33

The Legal Aid Society and the Community Service Society jointly demanded NYCHA withdraw its $1.5 billion proposal to HUD seeking permission to tear down and rebuild four public housing complexes in Chelsea, claiming residents did not realize they would be booted for several years.

“This plan is unequivocally not resident-led and is guaranteed to uproot the lives of thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers, many of whom have resided in the FEC community for generations,” said Lucy Newman, a Legal Aid staff attorney.

NYCHA is in the process of requesting approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to demolish every unit throughout four developments known as: Fulton (944 units across 12 buildings); Elliott (590 units across 4 buildings); Chelsea and Chelsea Addition (521 units across 3 buildings). There are a total of 2,055 units of public housing and they are home to over 5,000 New Yorkers on West 26th St. and Tenth Ave.

The City says that the estimated $1.5 billion that it would need to spend on repairs for the aging and problem plagued buildings was equivalent to the cost of demolishing the buildings and rebuilding them from scratch. Its new proposal would mix market rate and affordable housing and let a private developer build and manage the complex.

Legal Aid and the Community Services Society says that NYCHA and the designated Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) partner violated the principles spelled out in the Chelsea Working Group Report. They argue that demolition and the alleged proposed plan to build 3,500 units of market rate and “affordable” housing will undoubtedly lead to the permanent displacement of resident families.

But some of the leaders of tenant groups fought back against the claims from the Legal Aid Society and Community Services at a contentious NYCHA hearing on July 12th when the two advocacy groups presented their arguments against demolition

“Let’s be clear: the claims made by these organizations are outright lies made by people who have never set foot in our buildings in order to advance their own political agendas,” Fulton Tenant Association President Miguel Acevedo and Chelsea-Elliott Tenant Association President Darlene Waters, who support the plan responded in the testimony.

“The tenants we represent overwhelmingly chose new construction at Fulton-Chelsea Houses because we deserve new, safe, healthy homes. Anyone who says otherwise stands against the tenants, tenant leadership and the elected officials who represent our complex,” they said in a statement.

Roughly 30 percent of eligible residents, or roughly 950 people responded to the survey, and about 60 percent opted for demolition and rebuilding new complexes according to week-long surveys, according to NYCHA.

When Chelsea News spoke in Spanish to several residents in the complex, they said they did not understand what the survey was asking and did not realize it meant they would be displaced from their admittedly problem plagued homes for several years.

The city in its press conference insisted residents were solidly behind the plan and that NYCHA was just following their wishes. “No one knows better than the residents what they need, and they were smart to recognize the potential benefits of completely rebuilding their campus,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement.

“When the residents lead and have a seat at the decision-making table, we can find solutions that prioritize our safety and better our surrounding neighborhoods,” tenant association presidents Miguel Acevedo at Fulton Houses and Darlene Waters at Elliott-Chelsea Houses, who approved the process, said in a joint statement.

Acevedo, Waters and Mayor Adams said they had widespread support on demolition/rebuilding.

“They say it was 60 percent people signed, but nobody’s in agreement,” 77-year-old Dominican Delfena Plasencea, a resident of the building for 49 years told Chelsea News. “They don’t know what they’re signing.”

“The people sign without reading and without knowing what the paper says,” 70-year-old Ecuadorian Maria Moneira pitched in, who has been a resident of the building for 20 years.

“Where are they going to send us? The street?” Moneira asked. “They are not going to do this in two or three months, this will take years.”

The Legal Aid Society claimed that nowhere in the presentation or survey is there any mention of new in-fill residential units with 2,500 market rate units and 900 affordable units (with no information about levels of affordability).

The Legal Aid Society said it wants to ensure that to the extent demolition at these sites goes forward, that there is no permanent displacement of households. If there is any risk of displacement under the new plan, they said they “categorically oppose demolition.”

Not only will households have to leave their homes but also but their community including leaving schools, medical providers, family and caregivers, the Legal Aid Society said claiming that history has taught us that when people are relocated in this way that they are highly unlikely to return to their original homes.

“I ain’t stupid,” Angel Martinez, a resident of the Chelsea-Elliot building for years said. “When they knock the building down and build whatever they build, we ain’t going to come back. That’s for sure.”

“The agency and developers are committed to minimizing disruption to residents, preserving resident rights and protections, and clearly communicating all processes that could affect residents,” NYCHA spokesperson Michael Horgan told the Gothamist.

At the hearing on Wednesday July 12 the Legal Aid Society insisted that “that the proposal which claims to be ‘tenant-led’ is misleading.”