Tenants at Bushwick Houses brainstorm how to spend $30k on safety
Tenants of the Bushwick Houses are getting $30,000 in grant money from the Mayor’s Office to come up with new safety and security enhancements.
No one is arguing that $30,000 in grant money from the Mayor’s Office can fully solve safety issues at one of the city’s most violence-plagued pubic housing complexes. With $32 billion needed to upgrade the crumbling infrastructure of the city’s public housing stock — where some of the city’s poorest residents live — $30,000 for specific complexes seems more like a drop in the ocean than a real fix.
But the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice says the grants are about getting NYCHA residents thinking about their own solutions — and giving them a direct, democratic say in what those solutions look like.
“We want people to be able to think about a problem and a concrete solution in the same sitting,” said Renita Francois, who heads the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety at MOCJ. “It’s not like we think $30,000 will solve some major issue, but we wanted to activate the people.”
Some of the solutions have been concrete — literally, like the upgrade to a basketball court at the Tompkins Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The Tompkins Houses used the same grant to create a six-month music program for youth called From Blocks to Beats. The final performance was given on a stage on top of the new basketball court.
The Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, or MAP, targeted 15 public housing developments citywide in 2014 where public safety measures were slower to come than throughout the rest of the city. At each complex, a NeighborhoodSTAT team, composed of residents of the complexes, works in tandem with MOCJ to implement tactics to improve community safety.
At the Bushwick Houses — NYCHA’s development with the most murders over the past year — residents had a laundry list of ideas at a Wednesday meeting on safety improvements that could be made at the development. Some of the ideas are not achievable with the allotted money, but showed tenants frustration with the city’s housing authority.
Tenants called for new stoves for all, ridding the complex of rodents, and major infrastructural fixes to the sidewalks, hallways, playgrounds, elevators and stairwells at the complex.
As part of MAP, the Mayor’s Office did spend $4.85 million at the Bushwick Houses over the last five years, upgrading the lighting, CCTV cameras and layered access control doors, an agency spokesperson said.
One basic fix some residents called for? Water fountains near the development’s fields. There are currently no outdoor water fountains by any of the fields at the Bushwick Houses, meaning kids playing have to trek all the way back to the community center across the complex — or go back to their apartment — if they need water.
Another potentially easy fix: a speed bump on Humboldt Street outside the complex, next to a school, where drivers often speed.
The Bushwick Houses opened up the pitching process for the grant on Wednesday to all the development’s residents for the first time this year.
Tenants pasted dozens of ideas for programs and construction up on the wall.
“When it comes to money, they don’t really invest here. I feel like they neglect here,” said Krystal Alcaide, a 32-year-old anthropology student who has lived at the Bushwick Houses her whole life. “I want there to be more domestic violence programs here because of that murder that was in my building,” she said, referring to a bloody April ax-murder at the complex.
In 2018, a separate double murder of two neighbors shocked the development. It still has not been solved.
“We’re pushing for it to be a program, a social event, something where they can gain skills. Because Bushwick was deemed one of the worst projects and that’s how we got MAP,” said Sandra Tapia, who heads the NeighborhoodSTAT team at the Bushwick Houses. “I want them to fix all the sprinklers. We have sprinklers outside very building and they’re really not working very well. I would like to enhance them.”
Helen Smith, who has lived at the Bushwick Houses for 54 years, wants the parking lot fixed. She says there are holes in the ground, no painted lines to delineate spaces, and no one cleaning snow in the winter. “We pay $272 a year for what? For nothing. I want them to fix it.”
The ideas will go back to the NeighborhoodSTAT team, who will confer with MOCJ, and will bring back concrete plans for the development to vote on in January.
“It’s about leveraging public space to encourage partnerships and public safety,” said Ifeoma Ebo, director of strategic design initiatives at MOCJ. “Really seeing people excited and energetic about improving their community, that for me is what’s most exciting.”
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