ANOTHER BROWNSVILLE POLITICAL STORY: PROSPECT PLAZA (THE HOPE VI PROJECT).
Government should always try its best to avoid screwing the little man/woman. You know: the everyday people; the ordinary people like you and I. You see, without government we are left alone to the vagaries of greedy capitalists and unscrupulous speculators. Without government protections the strong and the wealthy will have too much power; much more than they already have. Much more than they already abuse.
Between the years 2001 and 2003, the residents of four dilapidated high rise towers in Brownsville, Brooklyn, were forced to relocate by the government of New York City. There were 368 apartment owners involved in this undertaking, and the lives of more than a thousand residents were possibly disrupted. The apartments were known as Prospect Plaza, in a nexus near Eastern Parkway, including small sections of Prospect Place and Saratoga Avenues.
It was a painful relocation process for the mostly low-income residents of the plaza. The fact that they had very little say in the matter was even more painful. Most of them felt that the city had imposed severe hardships without adequate compensation. They protested the move without success. Eventually they started making compromises through their tenants association. There were meetings upon meetings. Agreements were drawn up between tenants and city officials. I am told that even federal officials came in.
The eventual plan was to demolish one of the four tall structures (the one containing 102 apartments), and renovate the other three. The idea was to create a community of mixed-income residents, with some low-rise townhouses to be also built. The hope was that more affordable housing would be made accessible to the poor residents of this area since it was sorely needed.
What precipitated these moves was NYCHA’s (City) application to HUD (Federal) for a HOPE VI grant in 1998, which was awarded to them a year later. Let me explain what that meant. HOPE was the acronym for Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere. It granted federal monies to housing authorities all across the country, which in turn were supposed to take on severely distressed housing projects, seeking to clean them up, refurbish, renovate and in some instances totally rebuild. Some of the housing stock was to be sold to the low-income residents of the areas undertaken. It was an imaginative federal program which started around 1993. It was supposed to be an answer to the many social-ills plaguing housing projects. There were social-service components to these grants. There were also human-service mandates.
Maybe the city was a bit impetuous in jumping on this project; or maybe some bureaucrat thought he or she had to hurriedly snatch up this federal money before the faucet was turned off. Whatever the reason, it appears that all the designs for the Prospect Plaza/ Hope VI project end up with fewer residents served than there were before. They come up with fewer apartments, fewer residents and many many issues around affordability.
The original grant was for the creation of 600 units, of which 365 were to go for public housing. The original agreement that the tenants signed off on gave displaced residents first dibs on both apartments and townhouses. The agreement also called for total input by tenants into the planning, design and (re)construction. It also called for locals to be hired by the developers. They were supposed to also build or create, a community center, a small shopping mall with diverse business entities, recreational programs, job-training programs, artistic and cultural programs, educational and vocational programs, and the like and the like. The overall plans seemed rather hopeful and optimistic.
So now, it’s almost ten years later. Many of the tenants are scattered over all the five boroughs of New York City. Others have left for parts unknown, and others still, have gone far off to cities and towns we know. A few have even gone on to the world beyond; where gravesites keep the open secrets of their anger towards the city for not expediting this project sooner.
Milton Bolton who headed up the Prospect Plaza Tenants Association then (and still do now), believes that the heirs of those who died have survivor-rights to all this; all because of the severe hardships the disruptions created. His main advisor (Mawu Straker) insists that the feds should intervene and investigate why all this has taken so long to be resolved. He surmises that there is missing money from the millions originally allocated for this project. He is rather distrustful of the bureaucrats. He said that former senator Alphonse D’Amato garnered millions upon millions for this project, but still there is no discernible progress. He also questions whether there is proper accountability for monies already spent.
At this point in time, the earliest target for groundbreaking on this development project is 2012. Even the most optimistic of its supporters think that year will come and go without the ceremony. Council member Darlene Mealy inherited this issue when she first took office in 2005, and lately she has been pushing hard for movement forward. She is optimistic that she can get all sides together to facilitate a resolution. Let’s all wish her luck in this regard.
Stay tuned-in folks; this story needs a happy ending.
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