Archive for the tag 'construction'

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Preservationists have been bracing themselves for news of the Vitagraph smokestack’s fate ever since scaffolding was placed around it in October. Now the developer who owns the 1263 East 14th Street property has filed plans to construct a new eight-story residential building with 302-units.

Sheepshead Bites was the first to report that Hampshire Properties purchased the 107-year-old smokestack and adjoining lot, currently occupied by the Shulamith School for Girls, for $20 million. No plans for construction were immediately filed.

That paperwork went in on Friday, as YIMBY reports:

Woods Bagot is listed as the architect…  Renderings for 1263 East 14th Street have not yet been released, but at first glance, its prospects would appear promising.

Hampshire Properties is listed as the developer, and the residential zoning area will measure 277,406 square feet. The property has an alternate address of 1277 Locust Avenue, and is currently occupied by an 85,000 square foot school that must first be demolished.

The building will be 80 feet fall, covering 64 percent of the lot, according to DOB filings. There will be enclosed attendant parking for 152 cars, the minimum required by zoning. There will also be parking for 153 bicycles.

Documents show that there will be a fitness room, meeting room, lounge with reading and children’s spaces, an outdoor recreation area, a tenant business center and a multi-purpose room.

There will be no commercial space in the new development. It’s not clear if the units will be condos, rentals or a mix of the two.

The plans are still pending review by the Department of Buildings, and no permits for demolition have been filed.

Hampshire Properties, is a Midwood-based manager and developer of residential and commercial properties, including several in Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach.

When scaffolding was erected around the smokestack earlier this year, preservationists were concerned it would be demolished. A petition started by neighbors currently has 534 signatures.

More than a century old, it’s one of the last symbols of Midwood’s film production history. Vitagraph was a leading silent film company based out of the building now set to be demolished. It was purchased by Warner Brothers in 1925, and later NBC, which also used the more modern facility across East 14th Street until the early years of the 21st Century.

The former Vitagraph facility was repurposed by Yeshiva University in 1967.

Attempts to landmark the smokestack, which sits at the northeast corner of the former studio and on which the Vitagraph emblem is still visible to subway straphangers, have previously failed to win approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Rendering of CIH's new Ida G. Israel Medical Center.

Rendering of CIH’s new Ida G. Israel Community Health Center. Source: CIH

Coney Island Hospital (CIH) is all set to reopen its Ida G. Israel Community Health Center in Coney Island this spring.

The building, pictured above, will be constructed at a new address located at 2925 West 19th Street. The original clinic – which provided crucial healthcare access to residents on the West End of Coney Island – was wiped out by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“The community on the West End of Coney Island has been without healthcare service for two years, and CIH is excited to provide healthcare service in an area where it is needed most,” said Malorie Ginsberg, a spokesperson for CIH.

Prior to Sandy, the Ida G. Israel clinic provided health, dental, and drug rehabilitation services to approximately 40,000 patients per year, many of them on medicaid or uninsured. For the last two years, West End residents have been trekking to CIH, which is difficult to access by mass transit and is separated from the West End by the Belt Parkway and a large bus depot.

As we reported last year, CIH was initially searching for higher ground on which to rebuild the clinic, to ensure that it would not be destroyed by floodwaters again, but instead the hospital has opted to build the new clinic with a raised floor foundation.

“When deciding where to rebuild the new Ida G. Israel Community Health Center, CIH attempted to find a vacant 2nd floor of an existing building in the West End, but was unable to find a vacant 2nd floor location. The best option was to build a new structure above the 100-year flood plain,” said Ginsberg. “The new Ida G. Israel location is the closest location to the West End community that was available.”

But don’t expect to see any construction at the new address for several months. The modular structure is being built by contractors in Pennsylvania, and when it is complete, the building will be delivered in parts and reassembled at the site, Ginsberg told us. Currently, the exterior brick phase is 60 percent complete, the interior walls are completely framed out, and the mechanical and electrical work is well underway.

Source: CIH

Construction on the new Ida G. Israel Community Health Center. Source: CIH

1524-sheepshead-bay-rd

Contractors were seen installing scaffolding around the demolition site this morning.

Work to install scaffolding and fencing around 1524 Sheepshead Bay Road began this morning, as full demolition of the building is set to make way for a gated entryway to the 30-story luxury condominium tower at 1501 Voorhies Avenue.

Sheepshead Bites was the first to report on the planned demolition two months ago. An application for a demolition permit was filed in August, and the site passed its pre-demolition inspection just yesterday, according to Department of Buildings documents.

The storefront is part of a larger building, all owned by Muss Development, the company behind the Voorhies Avenue tower project, that spans four storefronts including Citibank. Only the one storefront is being demolished.

The building, once known as the Soeller Building, is nearly a century old, and we wrote about its interesting history previously.

The demolition makes way for a gated pedestrian entrance to the tentatively named Voorhies Tower, the 333-foot-tall development that will feature a mix of owned condos and rental units, with the former beginning at $700,000 for a one-bedroom. (See: video of the view from 333-feet above the development site.)

view-tower

The view from 333 feet above the development site.

Behind the gates will be a roundabout driveway leading in from Voorhies Avenue, a 52-space outdoor parking lot, and a 124-car garage that’s part of the building complex, according to local stakeholders that were invited to a closed-door briefing on the project who spoke to Sheepshead Bites in September on the condition of anonymity.

The stakeholders, after being briefed, maintained that they believe the 176 parking spots for 250 residential units plus office space will amplify parking problems in the area. There remain traffic concerns about the complex’s Voorhies Avenue driveway – which is just across the street from the Belt Parkway exit ramp, and which some believe will cause additional backups along the already congested route.

Muss commissioned an independent traffic analysis, which the Department of Transportation is currently reviewing to make potential adjustments to the plan.

The tower plans filed with the Department of Buildings for the tower are still pending review by the agency.

The approximately footprint of the combined properties now owned by Muss Development. (Source: Google Maps)

The approximately footprint of the combined properties now owned by Muss Development. (Source: Google Maps)

 

Former Richard Yee's site at 2617 Avenue U

Former Richard Yee’s site at 2617 Avenue U

The owners of Cherry Hill Gourmet Market are working to open up a new Glatt Kosher market in the former site of the legendary Richard Yee’s Restaurant at 2617 Avenue U.

Neighbors began noticing construction in late summer, with the black paneling ripped out and windows papered up. The inside is being gutted as of last week, and a manager of Cherry Hill market, Sam Nitka, told Sheepshead Bites it’s all in preparation for a gourmet kosher market to open next year.

“[Cherry Hill] will financially support it, and we believe there’s a demand for it in the neighborhood,” said Nitka.

The store will sell kosher certified meats, packaged groceries, organic vegetables and more, and will be Sabbath observant. It’s expected to open in June or July 2015, Nitka said, with a name to be decided.

The new market will also take over the former site of Shulman’s Picture Framing on the corner, and will likely utilize the small parking lot behind the property.

Richard Yee’s closed in 2008, though the property remains in the family’s name. The restaurant was among the first place to hawk Chinese fare outside of Manhattan’s Chinatown, having opened in 1967 (following an earlier creation by Richard’s father, Joe, in Flatbush). When it closed, it was the oldest surviving Chinese restaurant in the borough.

After its closing, the venerable food columnist Robert Sietsema reflected on its legacy:

Yee’s represented a new type of restaurant when it opened in 1952: Emphatically located nowhere near any Chinatown, it offered a nightclub ambiance with the Polynesian flourishes that were expected of upscale Chinese restaurants at the time, including flaming cocktails, tiki-hut décor, a separate cocktail lounge, and an evolved Cantonese cuisine perfectly suited to the young families that were flooding the neighborhood in the postwar era. Classic dishes included sliced roast pork with garlic and sherry, steak kew, lobster in scallion sauce, and some of the city’s first “sizzling platters.”

A more in-depth account of Yee’s history can be found in the book “Gastropolis.” It was apparently a favorite of local Jews (and Sandy Koufax), so it becoming a kosher market is not altogether removed from history (and better than the fast food chain Sietsema predicted). Yee invented or inspired many dishes that are now ubiquitous in American Chinese shops, and one of the most famous was his crab balls.

A member of the Yee tribe appears to have set up a blog to remember the restaurant’s legacy.

The location has sat empty since Yee’s closed, so we’re glad to see it being put to use by a local business. We’ll keep you posted as the opening nears.

The Parks Department says it can avoid routine maintenance by replacing wooden planks that warp over time, seen above, with concrete and plastic. (Photo by Ned Berke)

A site trailer and construction fence were installed at Brighton 15th Street this month – a first step in a controversial plan to replace the Riegelmann Boardwalk’s iconic wooden planks between Brighton 15th Street and Coney Island Avenue with cement and plastic. But several elected officials are expressing outrage about the work, and at least one is threatening to cut off funding to the project.

Construction on the Coney Island Boardwalk officially began on November 11, the Parks Department confirmed, despite fierce objection from community members, advocates, and local politicians who disagree with the plan to replace the boardwalk with artificial materials.

“I remain very disappointed that the Parks Department is moving forward with this major change to the boardwalk without completing any safety studies to determine the impact it will have on the community,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger. “The Parks Department is also ignoring the will of the local state lawmakers who allocated this funding for repairs, and not for a new concrete road down the middle of the iconic boardwalk.”

The state lawmakers in question are Assembly members Alec Brook-Krasny and Steven Cymbrowitz, who together allocated $10 million to the Parks Department in 2009 for general repairs and improvements to the 2.5-mile span. The funding can be cut off at the lawmakers’ discretion – but only before the contracts are signed. That time has passed, but Cymbrowitz said he’s still going to find a way to close the funding spigot.

“I am outraged that Mayor [Bill] De Blasio and Commissioner [Mitchell] Silver have fast-tracked the destruction of an iconic landmark in southern Brooklyn. As I wrote to Mayor de Blasio, concrete and composite plastics are a poor approximation for a boardwalk. It’s a boardwalk, not a sidewalk. There are also significant safety concerns with this project since no impact study has been done,” said Cymbrowitz in a statement. “This is an underhanded misuse of the money and the mayor knows it. I will work to make sure that the millions of dollars I allocated are cut off. I fought hard for the boardwalk to be repaired, not to fund the elimination of the boardwalk as this community and all New Yorkers know it.”

He’s backed up by both Treyger and Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who say that the funders’ intentions should be considered in how their money is spent.

“The money came from Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, and whoever gave the money for the boardwalk should have a voice in it,” Deutsch told this outlet.

Even though Coney Island’s boardwalk survived Superstorm Sandy relatively unscathed compared to the Rockaways’ concrete walk, Mayor Michael Bloomberg deemed all wooden boardwalks insufficient to withstand the ocean’s surges, and commissioned them to be replaced with concrete. That was the plan anyway, following a 2008 directive from Bloomberg’s office that city agencies would stop using tropical hardwoods – the type used to construct the boardwalk – for environmental reasons. The de Blasio administration has continued to press forward with those policies.

“Using tropical hardwoods could contribute to the climate change that helped destroy the boardwalk in the first place and it would be more expensive,” said a spokesperson for the Parks Department. Critics point out that there are other options, including sustainable domestic hardwoods such as Black Locust or White Oak, that can be used.

But the lower cost of maintaining concrete, long a part of the Parks Department’s justification for switching to cement, does not necessarily mean it will hold up better during storms, said Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who represents the Brighton Beach portion of the Riegelmann Boardwalk. He, Treyger and Cymbrowitz want an impact study that considers the performance of concrete in storm surges. Other areas, including Manhattan Beach and the Rockaways, saw huge concrete chunks barrel through the streets as they broke up during the October 2012 storm.

“[This is] about what is safer with the community in case another storm comes in,” he said. “It has to be safe, not just more resilient in terms of repairs, but what’s safe in regards to any kind of surge.”

Even before the storm, advocacy groups filed a lawsuit hoping to stop the plan, demanding a full environmental review. But just weeks after Superstorm Sandy, a judge ruled that the project did not need to undergo such a study since it would not constitute a signficant change the existing structure.

The boardwalk construction is expected to be completed in time for the 2016 beach season, according to the Parks Department. Elected officials are asking the city to terminate all construction until the concerns of residents are addressed.

Here is a map of the proposed plan via the Coney Island Boardwalk Alliance:

boardwalk-map

Click to enlarge

– With additional reporting by Ned Berke.

Source: DOT

Source: DOT

Starting tonight, there will be several nighttime closures on eastbound and westbound lanes of the Belt Parkway to accommodate construction. The work is part of the Seven Bridges Project, a renovation of the highway’s seven bridges and overpasses that began in 2009, and will continue through March 2015.

Bay Ridge Avenue (Exit 1)

At 11pm, the westbound lanes of the Belt Parkway at Bay Ridge Avenue (Exit 1) will be shifted right, to the newly completed section of the Belt Parkway Bridge at Bay Ridge Avenue. The two lanes of the eastbound roadway will remain in their current configuration. This traffic shift will allow for a work zone in the center of the bridge in order to begin the second stage of the bridge rehabilitation.

Source: DOT

Source: DOT

Gerritsen Inlet Bridge

Beginning tonight at 10pm, and continuing for approximately three weeks, overnight roadway paving will take place on both the eastbound and westbound Belt Parkway at the Gerritsen Inlet Bridge (between Exit 9 and Exit 11).  Closures will begin in the first lane at 10pm, followed by the second lane at 11:30pm. During the paving operation, one lane will remain open to traffic at all times, however delays should be expected. All travel lanes will re-open at 5am each morning, and all work will be completed in one direction before the opposite direction begins.

Work will be suspended for the holidays, on Friday, November 21, from 6am to 11:59pm, and again from Monday, November 24, 6am through Thursday, January 2, 11:59pm.

cih-rendering

Rendering of proposed building, as seen from Avenue Z and East 6th Street. Designs have not yet been finalized.

Coney Island Hospital (2601 Ocean Parkway) is slated to construct a new, resilient building to house critical services, ensuring that Southern Brooklyn’s only major medical center will continue without significant service interruptions in the case of another weather event like Superstorm Sandy

The new building, as well as a planned 1,720-foot flood wall, is being funded using part of a $923 million grant from FEMA, representing the lion’s share from a slated $1.6 billion payout Health and Hospital Corporation (HHC) announced last week.

“Few services are as critical as our hospitals during extreme weather. This unprecedented investment will make four key public hospitals much more resilient next time they need to be,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference at Coney Island Hospital on Thursday.

The new building will be constructed in a section of the hospital campus’ parking lot near Avenue Z. It will be elevated by pillars 10- to 15-feet high, allowing water to pass beneath in the event of a future flood.

When it’s completed, the new building will be the largest investment and expansion of the hospital in more than a decade.

The hospital’s critical services – many of which were off-line for months after Superstorm Sandy – will all be housed in the new, flood-proof structure. A ramp will bring ambulances to a second-floor Emergency Room, and the medical center’s most used services – X-ray, CAT scan, MRI, pharmacy and lab departments – will all be in the same building.

“This is a big deal for the community. They should be excited about it,” said Coney Island Hospital’s Associate Executive Director for Public Affairs Robert Cooper. “This is going to shore it up and guarantee that there won’t be any disruption in their healthcare in another storm like Sandy.”

When it’s completed some four to five years from now, it’ll be the largest investment and expansion of the hospital since the completion of the  inpatient bed tower building in 2006.

The parts of the campus not currently storm-proofed, which include the tower building and the main building, which houses the emergency department, will be wrapped in a 1,720-foot flood wall, designed to protect from a storm surge on the scale of that predicted to occur only once every 500 years.

Exact specifications of the new building are not yet known. Although the hospital worked with HHC, FEMA and consultants on the proposal and have created a rendering, seen at the top of this post, the actual designs have not been finalized. The project will go out to bid shortly after funding comes through the federal pipeline.

In addition to the new building, a portion of the $923 million is being used to reimburse the hospital for repairs already made to the facility’s basements, first floor and electrical systems.

Despite being more than a quarter-mile away from the waterfront, the hospital suffered severe flooding during Superstorm Sandy, devastating its basement and first floor. The hospital was evacuated after the storm and its emergency department was shuttered until February 2013. It did not see all services restored until later in the spring, and its temporary closure caused overflows at other hospitals that stretched resources thin.

Video tour of damage after Sandy, filmed in November 2012:

Some improvements have already been made to make the campus more resilient, including the elevation of electrical systems and the acquisition of temporary flood barrier systems that can be deployed before another storm.

Coney Island Hospital is the only major public hospital in Southern Brooklyn, and the only HHC facility in Brooklyn damaged during Sandy. Officials also announced on Thursday that Bellevue Hospital will receive $376 million, Metropolitan Hospital will receive $120 million, and Roosevelt Island’s Coler Specialty Hospital will receive $181 million as part of the same grant through FEMA’s 428 program for resiliency.

Local pols are praising the investment in resiliency for local healthcare services.

“We must do all that we can to minimize future impacts to public health facilities like this vital Southern Brooklyn institution that serves thousands of people,” said Councilman Mark Treyger via press release. ” We can’t afford having Coney Island Hospital and others lose power and shut down emergency room access, when so many in our vulnerable residents rely on our public hospitals.”

“In the crucial months following Hurricane Sandy, residents were transported and referred to nearby hospitals. In a medical emergency, seconds can mean the difference between life and death,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch in a statement.

loehmanns-rendering

Rendering of the proposed expansion. Provided by architect Robert Palermo.

Community and civic leaders met with representatives for the owners of Loehmann’s Seaport Plaza to discuss a plan to add a new floor to the development. The heated discussion boiled down to whether or not the plan was an investment in the community’s viability post-Sandy, or a bailout for a landlord who made a bad buy.

The invite-only meeting, organized by Councilman Chaim Deutsch, was attended by the owner’s attorney, architect and traffic engineer to explain the project and its impact. Members of Community Board 15′s zoning committee were in attendance, as well as members of the Bay Improvement Group, Manhattan Beach Community Group, and the Sheepshead Bay Plumb Beach Civic Association – all of which have expressed concerns about the project.

loehmanns

What’s the plan?

The property’s owner, Alex Levin, filed plans in March to add a new story of commercial offices to the building, totaling 10,000 square feet, as Sheepshead Bites was the first to report.

The news reignited a contentious fight with roots back to the early 1990s when the building was first proposed. Far outside the size limitations for the area’s zoning, and with proposed uses that didn’t match the Sheepshead Bay special zoning district, community groups fought to limit the scale of the project – largely without success.

The new plan to go even larger requires a recommendation from Community Board 15 and approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals. Originally set for a hearing in June, the developer agreed to two postponements to meet with concerned community members.

“We are sympathetic to your neighborhood; we’re part of your neighborhood.”

 

–Robert Palermo, architect.

The proposal asks not just for additional office space, which will fit four to five tenants, but also a waiver on the number of required parking spots. Zoning requires a minimum of 215 parking spaces with the additional office. There’s currently parking for about 183 cars, and they plan on increasing that to 198 spaces.

Although locals who live off Emmons Avenue said parking remains a top concern, the reps said this would have no significant impact on the surrounding area, since the offices would be used during the day when the building’s garage is nearly empty. According to their studies, parking peaks in the evenings and on weekends, when visitors come to patronize local restaurants and cruise boats.

The design includes 15-foot setbacks for the new floor making it invisible from the street, and is done with gabled roofs to keep it in line with a fishing village theme, said architect Robert Palermo. He shared a rendering of the proposed addition, seen at the top of this story.

“It’s impact visually on the neighborhood is minimal,” Palermo said. “We are sympathetic to your neighborhood; we’re part of your neighborhood.”

Construction would take a year or two to complete after approval, the representatives said.

Councilman Deutsch led a tour of the vacant Loehmann's space, where the meeting was held.

Councilman Deutsch led a tour of the vacant Loehmann’s space, where the meeting was held.

“This building is on the verge of failure.”

The purpose of the plan, the developer’s representatives said last night, is to make up for income that will never be regained after Superstorm Sandy devalued the sub-level storefronts.

“If this building fails … it’s not going to help a soul.”

 

–Eric Palatnik, attorney.

The 14,000-square-foot basement level of Loehmann’s Seaport Plaza, which houses the Seaport Buffet and New Cats Cafe, among others, turned into an eight-foot-deep pool following the storm. Since then, the landlord has had to slash rents by 40 percent in order to attract businesses back to the area.

The bottom line, said attorney Eric Palatnik, is that the building is no longer commercially viable.

“We’re having a hard time of it,” said the owner’s attorney, Eric Palatnik. “We’re here to tell you that we lost income as a result of downstairs. And in order for us to make up that income, we need space upstairs.”

The 10,000-square-foot space will bring in about 60 percent of the rent the basement commanded prior to Sandy, while the basement will continue to draw about 40 percent.

“It’ll never get market rent again,” said architect Palermo.

In sum, they said, the expansion plan is necessary because if the project goes belly-up the entire community will suffer.

“If this building fails, which it’s on the verge of failing, it’s not going to do anything for this community. It’s not going to help a soul,” said Palatnik.

The landlord has been unable to find a new tenant for Loehmann's since they went bankrupt nine months ago.

The landlord has been unable to find a new tenant for Loehmann’s since they went bankrupt nine months ago.

“Why should we bail you out?”

The argument that the exception ought to be granted for the building’s viability has historical roots, Palatnik noted. The basement level was opposed by community advocates like the Bay Improvement Group as well as by City Planning, all of which warned that a flood posed a significant risk. But the Board of Standards and Appeals agreed with the developer in 1995 that it needed commercial space in the basement in order to make the project viable.

“[Loehmann's] was a failure. We now know, the experiment is over.”

 

–Steve Barrison, Bay Improvement Group.

To the project’s opponents, this is a case of buyer’s remorse and they shouldn’t be rewarded for a bad investment. Levin and his partners bought the property from the original owners in 2008 for $24 million, a local real estate record at the time.

“We’re not saying it after the fact. We’re not Monday morning quarterbacks,” said Bay Improvement Group President Steve Barrison. “[The owners] bought it with their eyes wide open, and now they’re saying, ‘Oh we bought it. Look what happened. I’m a schmuck, I got stuck.’ And the community is saying ‘Why should we bail you out?’… Nobody is bailing any of us out.”

Some expressed skepticism that there was demand for office space in the area, but both Palatnik and Palermo said that the increasingly white-collar, Eastern European demographics are looking for professional spaces near their homes – and other projects prove it.

“Offices will rent. The B’ay Tower that I did two years ago proves it. You give a quality office environment in a good location in Sheepshead Bay, there’s a need for office space,” said Palermo, referencing the new tower at 1733 Sheepshead Bay Road that he designed and is now fully leased.

Palermo and Palatnik argued that the community must grant the waiver because it will help stabilize commercial property values. As a bonus, area businesses stand to gain from the expansion, since office workers will provide a new lunchtime client base for restaurants and other small shops.

But Barrison said that’s the same argument used to allow Loehmann’s department store into the space contrary to zoning, and it no longer holds water.

“It was a failure. We now know, the experiment is over. Loehmann’s came in, people shopped, and they left,” said Barrison.

Loehmann’s went bankrupt nationally  and vacated the property in February. A new tenant has not been found, though Palermo said it will remain a department store use.

Councilman Deutsch said he’s yet to take a stance on the project.

“I think it’s important for the members of [Community Board 15's] zoning committee and the community groups to know what they’re voting on, and that why went to take the tour,” said Deutsch. “I still have to discuss it with everyone, see what their position is, and their feeling is, and then I’ll take my position if need be. Or maybe I’ll just let the Community Board zoning committee vote on it, because that’s what they’re there for.”

Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo said much the same.

“I see a difference on Emmons Avenue [after Sandy,] and there isn’t really the life that used to be two years ago,” she said. “So I understand it probably is a heartache [for the landlord]. Down the road, let’s see what happens. I want to hear from the general population of Sheepshead Bay.”

The project is not yet scheduled to come before Community Board 15, but Scavo said it’s likely to come up in January.

Photo by Jesse Coburn

Photo by Jesse Coburn

By Jesse Coburn

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the day “transcendent.” Senator Charles Schumer predicted “a glorious future” for the neighborhood. Shola Olatoye of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) dubbed the plans “a triumph.”

They sang these praises while announcing that $108 million in federal funding would go toward renovating a low-income Coney Island housing project severely damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

But some living in the Coney Island Houses have their doubts. “I don’t trust them,” said Judy Toro, 66, a resident since 1996. “They make a lot of promises.”

It’s been two years since Superstorm Sandy tore through New York, but many public housing tenants are still feeling its effects. The storm caused $19 billion in losses across the five boroughs, and these low-income residents were among the hardest hit. The Coney Island Houses, a five-building complex with nearly 1,400 residents at 2410 Surf Avenue, will be the first such property damaged by Sandy to undergo major repairs, and the city now hopes to acquire roughly $1 billion in additional federal funding for similar improvements in other public residences.

“My house is falling apart, little by little before my eyes, and I don’t see anything being done.”

 

–Coney Island Houses resident.

But decades of strained relations with NYCHA have left some tenants deeply suspicious of the beleaguered city agency, causing even good news to be met with wariness.

Toro’s tenth-floor apartment overlooks Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk, but the interior doesn’t quite match the view. Black mold grows in her bathroom, plaster is crumbling in the living room, and she said roaches and spiders have infested the kitchen walls. “My house is falling apart, little by little before my eyes, and I don’t see anything being done,” she said.

Problems like these have long afflicted public housing, but Toro said that they’ve only gotten worse since Sandy. A large water stain on her grandson’s bedroom floor provides a blunt reminder of the storm, which left residents of the Coney Island Houses without heat and electricity for 22 days.

The long list of outstanding repairs in Toro’s apartment is symptomatic of the ailments plaguing the housing authority, the largest such provider in the nation, with 334 developments that accommodate more than 400,000 tenants. Its 2014 projected deficit is $191 million, due largely to a steady reduction of federal funding. And though the backlog of work orders has decreased greatly in recent years, it still runs in the tens of thousands.

Superstorm Sandy only exacerbated these chronic issues. The storm affected more than 400 public housing buildings across the city and left more than 80,000 residents without basic amenities for weeks. The Coney Island Houses is one of many properties still relying on temporary boilers two years after the storm.

“The funding, design, and implementation challenges [of NYCHA's Sandy-related repairs] are unparalleled,”

 

–Nicholas Bloom, an urban historian.

As part of the renovations, NYCHA will install back-up generators, build an elevated structure to house new boilers, and replace numerous mechanical, electrical and architectural features damaged by the storm. It also will install new surveillance cameras to provide everyday security and to allow authorities to monitor the property in the event of another storm. The funding will not, however, cover repairs for storm-related damages in apartments like Toro’s that are above the first floor.

A NYCHA spokesperson said work should begin next summer. If successful, this approach to implementing Sandy repairs, which relies on funding from FEMA, may serve as a model for renovations in at least 15 other public housing developments that sustained heavy damage in the storm.

According to Nicholas Bloom, an urban historian and professor at the New York Institute of Technology, the sheer magnitude of damage at some properties has made it uniquely difficult for the authority to carry out repairs. “The funding, design, and implementation challenges are unparalleled,” he said. As for the two-year wait for extensive Sandy-related renovations, Bloom praised the city agency for not “rushing a fix.”

An authority spokesperson echoed the need for patience: “Very early on in the aftermath of the storm, once we made temporary repairs to restore critical utilities, we made a determination that it would be irresponsible to simply repair in place and rebuild for short-term expediency instead of long-term sustainability, which could potentially compromise our infrastructure and leave our residents vulnerable.”

But this protracted wait has left some residents skeptical of the authority’s ability to care for its aging buildings. “When I see it, I’ll believe it,” said Carmen Gonzalez, 61, of the planned renovations. “They’re always promising.”

Amelia Riviera has called the Houses home for more than three decades, and the 57-year-old said the problems facing the buildings predate Sandy. “We had to wait for a storm to get help like this?” she asked, mentioning longtime issues like faulty elevators, broken security cameras, and trash on the facility’s grounds. “The buildings were already corrupt.”

Photo by Jesse Coburn

Photo by Jesse Coburn

The Coney Island Houses consist of five 14-story towers that accommodate 1,398 low-income residents. The buildings were completed in 1957—one of many high-rise, low-income developments built on the outskirts of the city.

Cheap land, low population density, and preexisting poor communities made places like Coney Island and the Rockaways seem like logical places to put these new housing blocks. Since then, however, these beachside locations have proven a mixed blessing, as residents are isolated both geographically and economically from the rest of the city. Crime continues to trouble the neighborhood, although it has significantly improved in recent decades. And the area’s median household incomeremains among the city’s lowest.

But as the 2012 storm made painfully clear, natural phenomena count among the most serious threats to the neighborhood and its almost 10,000 public housing residents.

The city has received pointed criticism for its response to public housing impacted by Sandy. In “Weathering the Storm,” an independent report by a group of community advocacy and research organizations from 2013, the authors wrote: “The City’s response to Superstorm Sandy was slow and communication to residents before, during and after the storm was inadequate.”

But the report saw promise in the wave of progressive politicians and officials who have arrived in local public office in recent years. Chief among them is Mayor de Blasio, for whom housing is a central concern. And according to Judy Toro, the authority’s response time to work orders has improved in the past few months. Recently she received a new refrigerator, three years after submitting her request.

For residents like Toro, however, such developments will have to become the norm rather than the exception if perceptions of the authority are to improve. The upcoming renovations could represent such a sea change. But Toro is less than certain: “I’m not holding my breath.”

Photo by Erica Sherman

After successfully fulfilling his pledge to begin construction on 500 homes hit by Superstorm Sandy through Build it Back by the summer’s end, Mayor Bill de Blasio set a new target on Monday to double that number by the end of the year.

De Blasio announced the new goal of 1,000 homes by December 31 at a press conference in Broad Channel Monday, where he touted the program’s progress since its overhaul under his administration. He also said the program will send 1,500 reimbursement checks by year’s end.

The New York Daily News reports:

To date, 727 homes have started construction, and 878 homeowners have received reimbursement for work they did themselves.

That’s out of 14,000 active applicants in the Build It Back program — which hadn’t started work on a single home when he took office in January.

“Every check means a family is getting back on their feet. Every construction start means a family will get back in their homes,” de Blasio said.

The new goals come two years after the storm impacted thousands of New Yorkers, leaving many without heat or hot water. While emergency measures helped many return to their homes, it left others in debt and more still with work to be done before being “made whole.”

The Build it Back program kicked off under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but stalled under its own bureaucratic red tape. No homeowners had received reimbursement checks or construction agreements by the time de Blasio took office, when the new mayor overhauled the program with new leadership and the elimination of many restrictions.

Still, with 14,000 applicants on the docket, it remains a long road ahead. There are other measures of the program’s march forward, and, the New York Times reports, de Blasio said that nearly half of the applicants – 6,400 – have been offered help, with 4,000 accepting it. As many as 1,500 have started the design process, the step before construction can begin.

A report earlier this month from the Department of Investigation noted that it “could potentially take several years to complete the work.” A survey of applicants for the report revealed that 90 percent of the 14,000 hadn’t received any help.

The mayor is hoping to ramp up the program even further, expanding the program’s design and construction capacity. The city will release a request for proposals on how best to do that soon, CBS reports.

Next »