Last month the city finally allocated $50 million to security upgrades and “anti-violence initiatives” in its ailing public housing complexes. But of the 15 developments that will see the long called-for funding, just one (Bushwick Houses) is in the Bedford + Bowery coverage area. Meanwhile, several developments in downtown Manhattan and North Brooklyn remain without any security cameras at all.
To be sure, the $50 million allocation is a marked improvement over the Giuliani and Bloomberg budgets, and seriously addresses the dramatic decline in federal funding. Zodet Negrón, a spokesperson for the New York City Housing Authority, points at “the big difference that you see in this city budget: they have given safety and priority to the NYCHA residents.” She said the money could be used for cameras, safer doors, intercoms, and anything related to improving security.
Since 1997, NYCHA has installed “over 10,000 security surveillance cameras of varying scale,” according to Negrón. In December of last year, the housing authority issued a press release announcing that it had “achieved its promised goal” of installing City Council-funded security cameras by the end of the year and that the housing authority was “installing [cameras] faster than ever.”
Yet of the 32 developments within Bedford + Bowery’s coverage area, eight are still without security cameras, according to information obtained from the authority. Which means some 4,500 residents are still without CCTV protection.
One of those developments is the Berry Street- South 9th Street complex in South Williamsburg.
Dorothea Knox, President of the Residents Association at Berry Street, has pleaded with NYCHA to install cameras and the City Council to issue some of its discretionary spending to Berry Street. “We were never on the map,” she told Bedford + Bowery. “We never had a budget with nobody.”
Because of NYCHA’s cringe-worthy deficit (projected to top out at $191 million this year and $220 million by the end of 2015), funding specifically for security cameras has been heavily dependent upon how much individual City Council members decide to allocate to specific developments.
Last month, Council Member Stephen Levin assigned $124,663 of his $5 million in discretionary spending specifically for security to Berry Street.
But unfortunately, the money won’t make much of a dent. During a phone conversation, Levin said that to “fully secure” the Berry Street- South 9th Street Development it would cost just shy of $1 million, meaning the project will be a multi-step process.
“Steven Levin told me the other day that it will be maybe two, three years. And that’s a long time,” Knox said, seeming frustrated. “There’s been budgeting issues. I don’t know what Stephen Levin’s issue is, but we weren’t on his budget either [until now] and we should have been.”
Levin defended his track record, saying, “Every year I’ve allocated funds for the developments in my district.” He emphasized his district has a total of seven public housing developments. “These buildings are 50, 60, 70 years old at this point, so most of the other funding is allocated toward maintaining livability.”
Berry Street has a relatively low serious crime rate compared to other developments. But Knox is still adamant that security measures are necessary preventative measures. “We call the cops out here to get people out the building every other day,” she said.
James Vacca, a City Council Member representing the 13th District, said he has “what are considered to be some of the better developments” in the Bronx when it comes to crime rates, but that didn’t stop him from assigning $1.5 million this year to the installation of cameras and security systems at two of his district’s larger developments. “I thought it was important enough, I saw a need.”
Over the years, he estimates, he has allocated $6 to $7 million of his capital funding to CCTV systems.
Still, aside from Berry Street and Bushwick Houses, none of the other NYCHA buildings within B+B’s neighborhoods have received similar allocations in the 2015 budget plan, let alone money from their City Council representatives specifically for security cameras.
Some complexes in downtown Manhattan and North Brooklyn have already received upgrades: in April of last year, it was announced that Alfred E. Smith Houses had received 78 new cameras across its eight buildings. Cameras were also installed at Campos Plaza, after outrage about delays. But others remain without coverage for both the 2014 and 2015 Fiscal Year budgets, including First Houses, Lower East Side developments II and III, Lower East Side Rehab, Stanton, and Williamsburg Houses.
During a July 8 press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that investment in security improvements for NYCHA will be focused on 15 developments “that have had some of the toughest trends in terms of violent crime over the last few years.” Just one of those targeted developments (Bushwick Houses) is in our coverage area.
During the press conference, Shola Olatoye, the Chair and CEO of NYCHA, said that certain projects within the security improvement initiative (such as installing more lighting towers) would be enacted immediately. “The funds that we’re talking about today will allow us to start work literally on Monday,” she said.
But some, like Vacca, feel that NYCHA isn’t moving quickly enough. “It takes too damn long to spend the money” he said, adding that “NYCHA hasn’t allocated 1 cent” to security upgrades in his district “for more than three years.”
The incident that, in part, led to the city’s sudden prioritization of security was an act of senseless violence. On June 1, Daniel St. Hubert stabbed a 6-year-old and 7-year-old in an elevator at the Boulevard housing projects in East New York. City officials and building residents vehemently criticized NYCHA for the lack of cameras at Boulevard, which could have helped the police in apprehending the suspect more quickly rather than leaving a terrified community on hold.
“See, it takes somebody psycho to do something psychotic — now it’s, ‘Well, let’s run and get [cameras] in the buildings,’” said Knox. “There’s always something you have to fight for at NYCHA,” she explained.