NYELJP's Joel Kupfermant at City Hall Press Conference to announce filing of lawsuit against NYCHA's Infill Plan  -  Photo Courtesy of Arlene Davila

NYELJP’s Joel Kupferman with NYCHA residents and allies at City Hall to announce filing of lawsuit against NYCHA’s Infill Plan – Photo Courtesy of Arlene Davila

The Urban Justice Center and NY Environmental Law and Justice Project, together with tenants’ rights groups and resident associations, filed a lawsuit today in NYS Supreme Court to prevent the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) from accepting any bids to construct luxury high rise developments in five NYCHA sites targeted for the Land Lease Program (Infill). The lawsuit compels NYCHA to perform environmental reviews in its housing developments where it is planning to lease public lands to private developers.

NYCHA is seeking to raise revenue for necessary repairs to its housing developments by leasing public land, such as parks and community gardens, within housing sites throughout the city. Five of the public housing developments are on the Lower East Side – Baruch Houses, Campos Plaza, LaGuardia Houses, Meltzer Tower, and Smith Houses. Two of the developments are on the Upper East Side – Carver Houses and Washington Houses. And one, Douglass Houses, is on the Upper West Side.

In August 2013, NYCHA issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) to procure services for the construction of luxury high-rise towers on 14 existing NYCHA sites, including 5 on parkland, within the eight developments.

The lawsuit claims that NYCHA violated state and federal laws by failing to conduct environmental reviews and floodplain analyses, which determine possibilities for inundation, before issuing the RFEI to developers. It also claims that NYCHA violated the Public Trust Doctrine by failing to obtain the necessary legislative approval before targeting parkland sites for non-parkland use and therefore cannot move forward with its land lease program.

It is clear that NYCHA decided to forego necessary environmental reviews in order to speed up its land lease program. In the process, it violated state and federal laws by issuing a Request for Expressions of Interest to luxury developers and therefore should not be allowed to move forward with leasing land at public housing sites,” said Harvey Epstein, Director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.

Without a proper environmental review process, NYCHA is trying to shoehorn in deals with luxury housing developers before the window closes on the Bloomberg administration.  It is especially irresponsible—not to mention unlawful—to rush into a bidding process for large-scale construction at NYCHA developments that are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, and where FEMA’s best available data shows the greatest flood hazards in lower Manhattan,” said Joel Kupferman, Director of the NY Environmental Law and Justice Project.

Map of Coastal Flooding Hazards at Lower East Side NYCHA Developments  -  Courtesy of Pratt Institute's RAMP

Map of Coastal Flooding Hazards at Lower East Side NYCHA Developments – Courtesy of Pratt Institute’s RAMP

Infill is a flawed initiative that discounts the well-being of the very residents NYCHA purports to serve. Long after Bloomberg returns to the financial sector, NYCHA residents will be stuck with the damaging effects of this plan. Residents will lose their community center, parks and recreational spaces so that wealthy New Yorkers have more luxury apartments to chose from,” said Denise Miranda, Managing Director of the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center.

Residents at the housing developments have expressed opposition to NYCHA’s land lease plan since its announcement in March.

Based on what happened in my development after Sandy, I’m shocked that NYCHA has not thought about the environmental impacts the land lease program could have on my building as well as my community,” said Derese Huff, President of Campos Plaza Resident Association.

NYCHA is going to tear down our community center that provides after school programs for youth, meals for the elderly and healthcare services in order to build luxury housing. Infill won’t help NYCHA residents. It will destroy the few resources that people in our community can enjoy and afford,” said Domingo Munoz, VP, George Washington Houses Resident Association.

The purpose of this lawsuit is to bring justice to all public housing residents and save our homes. NYCHA’s land lease program will destroy affordable housing for low-income families truly making this a tale of two cities,” said Aixa Torres, President of Smith Houses.

In Washington Houses, NYCHA is destroying and taking away our community center which serves thousands of families and children in our development and community, to build luxury housing for the rich with their own separate entrances. They are literally creating a tale of two cities. We refuse to lie down and will fight to take back our homes!” said Marietta Palmer, Washington Houses Resident and a leader at Community Voices Heard.

I have lived in the Carver Houses for 50 years; I raised my family here. Now, NYCHA wants to tear down our community centers and parks to create luxury housing. If NYCHA is really concerned about saving public housing, it should work with the residents to create a plan that strengthens our developments, not one that demolishes community gardens and senior centers,” said Patricia White, Secretary, George Washington Carver Houses Resident Association

In the RFEI, NYCHA has set a deadline of November 18th for bids by developers to build, operate and manage luxury developments on these NYCHA properties.

On June 27th 2013, I testified before the Committee on Environmental Protection at City Hall.

Please find attached my testimony re: the introduction of Local Law no.1088 to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to water retentive sidewalks and a study on absorptive street and sidewalk materials and alternative street angulation.

July 27, 2013 City Council Testimony re: Introduction of Local Law 1088

Celia Tutunjian


Sufficient evidence traces back the source of the October 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti to the MINUSTAH camp in Mirebalais. The Nepalese peacekeepers failed to maintain proper sanitary conditions, and dumped human waste directly in the Meille River. The strain of the cholera virus was found to be identical to the one in Nepal. As of May 31st of this year (2013), the cholera outbreak has claimed 8,120 lives and infected more than half a million Haitians. 150 new cases of infection are counted every day, and a person is dying from cholera every 40 minutes. The UN is held accountable for the outbreak because it didn’t screen the Nepalese troops for cholera before their arrival in Haiti. It also failed to maintain water testing equipment in good condition, which caused unsanitary and extremely infectious conditions in the camp area. The UN is not only responsible for causing the outbreak, but for failing to properly address the outbreak after it happened. It intentionally delayed investigation on the matter, and tried at every turn to conceal the source of contamination.


Haiti faces major challenges in regards to its water, sanitation, and transportation infrastructure. With the main river infested with the cholera virus, the majority of the Haitian people are left with no alternative source of water. A lot of civilians therefore still drink from the river and get infected. 83% of Haitians don’t have the means to dispose of their fecal waste properly. Half of the garbage is left uncollected. There are only 2 sanitation plants in operation for a country of more than 10 million people. The number of cholera treatment centers has dropped significantly over the last two years: it went down from over 300 clinics in early 2011 to a low 28 as of April 2013 for the entire country. In the meantime, the death toll keeps increasing. People are not able to reach hospitals and clinics on time because it is so hard for them to move around.


Haiti suffers from a severe shortage of funding, and a serious lack of transparency and accountability on where money goes. The great majority of funds collected for Haiti are not spent in Haiti, with only 10% of the total $6.4 billion invested actually going through national systems. As MINUSTAH’s budget for peacekeeping operations goes down, Ian Schwab suggests that more money could be put into the cholera eradication plan, which is estimated at $2.27 billion over 10 years.


The standing claims commission still hasn’t been established in practice. This means that there is no effective judicial mechanism enabling Haitian civilians affected by cholera to file claims against the MINUSTAH. Furthermore, the 1964 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations grants immunity to UN personnel from legal courts in countries where they are stationed.

The UN has a legal obligation to provide remedy for the cholera outbreak aftermath. The Haitian people demand:

1-      Investment in water and sanitation infrastructure to promote better hygiene, water delivery and waste collection

2-      Implementation and funding of an effective cholera eradication plan

3-      Compensation for losses

4-      A public apology from the UN recognizing the responsibility of the MINUSTAH in the cholera outbreak


While the Haitian government is pro-UN, thousands of Haitians are protesting against what they perceive to be an illegal armed force in their country. UN soldiers have repeatedly violated the space and integrity of university campuses, fired at Haitian civilians during protests, and been found guilty of several rape incidents. The Haitian people want doctors, engineers, agronomists instead of the MINUSTAH.


The lack of transparency in regards to mining contracts is particularly worrisome as the country’s landscape and infrastructure are already tremendously fragile. Haitians, especially in the rural North, are very concerned about the impact of potential mining exploration activities would have on the environment. The country is at a roadblock because the government is pro-mining operations while the senate is against it. This poses a major obstacle for the implementation of sustainable solutions to health and environmental problems in the country.

Celia Tutunjian

New York Environmental Law & Justice Project

While the New York City Housing Authority has continuously mentioned that their new ‘infill plan’ will ensure “that no public housing apartments would be demolished and no families displaced,” they have yet to mention any potential drawbacks in loss of open space, community centers, and recreational facilities. That being said, NYCHA has released pre-Request for Proposal (RFP) documentation on their website as a first step in allowing residents and fellow concerned New Yorkers to examine their intended plans.

Screen shot 2013-06-12 at 10.48.30 AM

Map located in pre-RFP Smith Houses documentation of NYCHA’s intended plans for two new luxury 350′ and 500′ towers on the South Street Site. © New York City Housing Authority

As you can see from many of the documents, including the map above of the Smith Houses’ South Street Site, many of these buildings are massive, significantly larger than any of the NYCHA buildings even, and will greatly impact residents’ availability for open space, light, and air. With such an influx of residents to these areas, it may produce even more diverse problems such as overcrowded public transportation. According to NYCHA, they are willing to receive, and in fact appreciate, feedback from residents regarding the pre-proposals. It will be an interesting turn in the actual RFPs to see if that take any resident advice into consideration; although with the round table meetings, it seems as though there is quite a slim chance of any real discussion. As truthfully stated by housing authority official Leroy Williams, “this is NYCHA’s property and we can do what we want with it.”

Marissa Silverberg
New York Environmental Law and Justice Project

On Tuesday, June 11 tenant leaders, representing seven NYCHA developments, held a press conference to announce their opposition to the NYCHA infill development plan. They were joined by a host of elected officials who also voiced their dissent, including Congress members Nydia Velazquez, Charles Rangel,  Jerrod Nadler, and Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn.

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 4.56.58 PM
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez speaking in support of NYCHA residents © New York Environmental Law and Justice Project
Those who spoke expressed that there has been a constant lack of transparency on the part of NYCHA, feeling as though the plan was formulated without any input from the communities to be affected. In addition, tenant leaders said that the infill development was not the appropriate means for NYCHA to procure funds. Inhabitants are wary of the unknown impact that hundreds of new luxury housing units may have on their public housing developments.
Erik Hanselman
New York Environmental Law and Justice Project

“Our headline is ‘Trojan horse,’” attorney Joel Kupferman told The Villager.


Other press:

Again, Uproar Over NYCHA’s Plan to Lease Land to Developers By Lila Selim, April 18, 2013, The Local, East Village, NY Times

Trio of Tenants Associations Oppose NYCHA’s Land-Lease Plan By Lila Selim, April 5, 2013, The Local, East Village, NY Times

Luxury Housing in NYCHA’s Open Space? By Alexis Stephens, March 15, 2013, Rooflines

Subject: 2012 N.A. Bhopal Conference - Register Now!


Dear ICJB Supporters,

Hot on the heels of our latest project, “The Justice Element” video (watch and share now!), your North American Advisory Board is gearing up for the 2012 Bhopal Conference, and your presence is requested!!

WHEN: Saturday October 6 & Sunday October 7, 2012 (with social event Friday evening)

WHERE: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Register Now! View conference details below or visit www.studentsforbhopal.org/2012conference.



Members of the No Spray Coalition, represented by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, met with City and state officials to discuss the City’s vector control policies since entering into a settlement with the Coalition in 2007. The City agreed in its settlement to have two meetings with members of the No Spray Coalition and this was the second of those meetings.

On the agenda were concerns that the City had not followed through with the promises that it had made at the last meeting between No Spray and City officials. No Spray members expressed their concerns about the City’s decision to spray several areas in Brooklyn and Queens with an insecticide that targets adult mosquitoes last summer. The City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene used a waiver to New York City Local Law 37 in order to spray. Local Law 37 was passed in 2005 and encourages City agencies to be transparent in their decisions to use pesticides, restricts the use of certain harmful pesticides, and encourages the use of safer pesticides and integrated pest management techniques.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (“Department of Health”) officials assured No Spray that there was a comprehensive vector control policy for the City that prioritized the use of integrated pest management. The Department emphasized that their program makes use of larvicides and preventive measures, and only uses insecticides that target adult mosquitoes when absolutely necessary. The Department of Health explained that they address standing water issues, routinely monitor mosquito populations, and educate the public on ways of limiting exposure to mosquitoes. The Department only uses one adult insecticide, Anvil 10+10, and sprays in specific areas where the Department’s surveillance program has found significant numbers of mosquitoes infected with the West Nile Virus. The Department uses data from its surveillance program to decide when and how to use waivers to Local Law 37. In addition, the City claims that the amount of pesticide applied is very minimal and does not pose a significant threat to human health.

The City has made significant progress since 2001 when it allowed for the use of a toxic insecticide in its vector control program. However, No Spray members expressed their concerns that the City has not been transparent in its decision process to use insecticides, has failed in its communication and educations efforts, has not sufficiently monitored effects of the City’s spray incidents on human health, and has not undertaken any new environmental impact statements.

No Spray members alerted Department of Health officials that there were insufficient warnings in communities that were targeted for spraying and that the City’s management plan was not readily accessible to the public. No Spray also expressed doubts that the City’s prevention efforts are sufficient by pointing to anecdotal evidence that the Department was not collecting fines from landlords who failed to properly manage standing water. Members claim that the City’s education efforts are also lacking because they do not give enough guidance and there is little information about the danger of pesticides overall. In addition, although there are guidelines for when and how to use waivers to Local Law 37, there is no record explaining each decision and the decision process is largely informal. Department of Health admitted that the procedure could consist of an informal phone conversation after which the Department only maintains records of the waiver applications and their outcomes. Of additional concern is the Department’s current practice of monitoring effects on human health, its reliance on changes in asthma rates as representative of general health, and lack of monitoring pesticide levels in the urban environment. Furthermore, the City relies on an outdated environmental impact statement that does not include incidents of pesticide related illness since the City began its spray campaigns targeting West Nile Virus. A new environmental impact statement would be needed to analyze the environmental effects of the current vector control practices the City utilizes.

Towards the end of the meeting, Department of Health officials agreed to set up a 311, the information hotline for the city, option to report lack of signage in communities that are scheduled for spraying. The Department requested that incidents of pesticide related illnesses be reported directly to them. The Department also solicited comments on the vector control management plan for 2011, as the 2012 plan was scheduled for release after April.

Charles Alvarez
Law Intern, NYELJP

(Attended by representatives of: New York City Law Department, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 2, United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, ETI Environmental Laboratory (Dr. Simon), Save Organic Standards New York, No Spray Coalition, and New York Environmental Law and Justice Project.)

A coalition of industrial companies sued the New York State  Department of Environmental Conservation, alleging that DEC had the authority only to require the removal of “significant” environmental threats, not to mandate a cleanup that restored a site to its pre-industrial condition.  But in a recently published 5-to-2 decision, the Court of Appeals said that the conservation department “did not exceed its authority or act contrary to law” in enforcing a regulation meant to remove existing or potential hazards that pose a significant threat or imminent danger of irreversible damage to the environment.

LINKS: Court of Appeals DecisionNew York Times Article


In John Walke’s words on Democracy Now this morning, “President Obama made a brutal political calculation to sacrifice public health, clean air, and even law enforcement, in order to curry favor with Big Oil and reduce what the president called ‘burden’ to polluting industries. In doing so, he condemned the Environmental Protection Agency not only to accepting, but defending in court, a Bush administration smog standard that, as Joe said, is not only is unprotective, but something that the head of EPA called ‘legally and scientifically indefensible.’ These were the facts when EPA went to the White House in July to strengthen smog standards, and all signs were that they were going to do so, until what I’m calling the ‘Friday Smog Massacre’ this past Friday, when the President himself intervened, on nakedly political grounds, to override science, the law and smog protections for all Americans.”

Read or listen to the full debate between John Walke, the clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Dr. Roger McClellan, adjunct professor at the Duke University Medical Center and past chairman of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, on Democracy Now  here: “Smog v. Jobs: Is Obama Admin Endangering U.S. Environment, Public Health with Retreat on Smog Standards?” (Democracy Now 9/7/11)

The New York Times Article, “Obama Administration Abandons Stricter Air-Quality Rules” By John M. Broder (NYT9/2/11), quotes Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, saying “Today’s announcement from the White House that they will retreat from implementing the much-needed — and long-overdue — ozone pollution standard is deeply disappointing and grants an item on Big Oil’s wish list at the expense of the health of children, seniors and the infirm.” Bill McKibben called the latest move “flabbergasting.”

For a great overview of the complex history of  EPA ozone standards by John Walke, read “Obama Pulls a Bush on Clean Air” By John Walke (Grist 9/7/11).


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