A round table discussion in Chelsea, Manhattan hosted by the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club was scheduled to adjourn this evening, but was cancelled late last night.
The panel was set to convene representatives from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), tenant rights activists, local politicians, and residents from Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea Houses who oppose the plan by Related, NYCHA, and Essence to demolish eleven Section 9 residential towers in Chelsea and build new, Section 8 mixed-income residential buildings in their place.
The last minute cancellation comes amid rising concerns and frustration over the plan from public housing residents and the Chelsea community at-large. On September 6, public housing tenants from Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea Houses staged a rally outside the Fulton Senior Center in Manhattan protesting the demolition plan just before a Manhattan Community Board (CB4) meeting was to take place. The cries “No Demolition!”; “Hell No We Won’t Go! Related’s Gotta Go!”; “The Survey Was a Scam!”; and “Mi Casa No Es Vende!” echoed along Ninth Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets.
Just prior to the protests, a coalition called Fulton Elliott-Chelsea (FEC) Tenants Against Demolition issued a press release calling upon CB4 to support them. FEC Tenants Against Demolition is a “group of Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea tenants, activists and concerned neighbors, who oppose the demolition of NYCHA complexes of Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea” with a series of demands. In a press release, the group called for “a public resolution against the demolition” which would force CB4 to take a public position either for or against the demolition plan; an action which the group hasn’t yet taken.
According to the New York City Council, resolutions “allow the Council to express a collective voice of the City, and can play an important role in the development of law and public policy throughout New York State and across the nation.” In short, if a public resolution against demolition is brought to CB4, the board will have an opportunity to vote on it using public input. In turn, if the resolution is given a majority vote, CB4 would then issue an official letter about supporting said issue to the City Council and stakeholders to express majority favor.
Last June, The New York Times reported that “30 percent of eligible residents, or roughly 950 people, responded to the survey, and about 60 percent of those opted for demolition.” For AN, Elliott-Chelsea resident Celines Miranda noted that “if you take into account residents as a whole, only 18 percent want demolition. They’re not taking into account the 70 percent of people who did not vote.” Thus, in recent weeks, the survey process itself has been called into question.
While the demolition plan is backed by Fulton Houses’ TA president Miguel Acevedo and Elliott-Chelsea’s Darlene Waters, AN reported in August that there’s been opposition from public housing residents across the city; many of which have called into question the legitimacy of the survey that was issued last May polling residents about demolition.
New information that’s come to light since August revealed that many tenants “were never issued surveys” according to Marni Halasa, an organizer who’s been active since 2019 when demolition was first announced by the de Blasio administration. Halasa, a Chelsea activist, continued to organize with residents when a new plan was announced in 2021 under NYCHA’s PACT-RAD program which converts Section 9 public housing into Section 8. Since August, there’s also been claims of intimidation and harassment perpetrated by TA president Miguel Acevedo and CB4 member Hector Vasquez from public housing tenants who oppose demolition. FEC Tenants Against Demolition claim that Acevedo has been “physically menacing” residents who oppose the demolition plan by Related, NYCHA, and Essence.
“People have been threatened for even putting up flyers,” Halasa said, “but the bylaws are clear in that tenants have the right to protest and collective bargaining.” She continued: “It just shows how ugly this fight is getting. People are still here though and they’re still protesting, keeping the pressure up.”
Acevedo and Waters responded to these claims in a joint statement via email to AN through Pythia Public, the public relations firm representing Essence.
“Outside activists with a political agenda continue to spread lies about what this transformational project will do for our residents—and now are even lying about what happens at protests and community board meetings,” Acevedo and Waters said. “There was no serious opposition to the plan from residents at the most recent community board meeting or any other recent meeting. We represent the residents, and residents want new, safe, modern housing after years of neglect. That is why we stand with our residents and our elected officials in support of this historic investment in public housing.”
In response to claims that multiple FEC residents weren’t issued surveys, Waters and Acevedo responded by saying: “Any claim, by an outsider no less, that many residents were not given the survey or that it was somehow a ‘scam’ is completely false and disingenuous,” they said. “As Tenant Leaders, we worked everyday to host informational sessions in various languages where residents were given paper or digital surveys. Knowing not every resident could make a meeting, thousands of residents were canvassed and every single eligible resident was delivered an informational packet and survey. Our efforts worked, with an unprecedented amount of residents participating in the survey and ensuring this is a resident-led process that will lead to the quality of homes they have long deserved.”
Luana Green lived in Elliott-Chelsea for years and raised her son there before moving a few blocks north to Penn South, a co-op. Green is the former president of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club and attended the September 6 protest out of solidarity with her former neighbors. She also feels as though that if Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea Houses are demolished, her co-op building in Chelsea could be next.
“Many of the residents did not know about the survey and did not fill out the survey,” Green told AN. “A minuscule amount of people filled it out, but not the majority that they’re quoting.” She asserted that “this project started out as a renovation for the apartments and has now evolved into this whole grand scheme, a land grab.”
As president of Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, Green has also been an outspoken advocate against Governor Hochul’s demolition plan for Penn Station. As developers eye properties in Chelsea and Midtown, tenants coalitions, preservationists, and activists are forming new alliances against interconnected projects by Related and Vornado. Green elaborated, saying: “This process is so unfair, so that’s why I’m here: Because today it’s Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea and tomorrow it’s where I live.”
At the September 6 protest, Elliott-Chelsea resident Celines Miranda told AN that the survey issued to residents was confusing and misleading, especially for elderly residents. Furthermore, she argued that the buildings are not “beyond repair” as NYCHA has claimed. “In the last CB4 meeting Jonathan Gouvea from NYCHA went down a list of why they want new buildings but he could not provide a full list of how the buildings are deteriorating. He included stuff in the budget that does not apply to us. How did amenities become part of the budget? Our amenities are the Hudson Guild and The Parks and Recreation Center.”
Miranda echoed Green and Halasa by calling into question the integrity of the survey process. “They lied!” Miranda told AN. “[NYCHA] said that more than half of the resident respondents chose rebuild and project-based Section 8. That wasn’t even an option on their survey, or what they’re calling a ‘vote.’”
When pressed on the demands listed on the FEC press release, NYCHA press secretary Michael Horgan emphasized the “unprecedented resident engagement campaign beginning in 2019, and extensive information sessions, Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea residents have made their voices heard and helped shape a plan for the future of their developments,” in a statement to AN.
This is an ongoing investigation and AN continues to monitor the negotiations. If you have additional information or would like to get in touch, please email email@example.com.