March 18, 2021 By Christian Murray
Phipps Houses has drawn fire from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who says that the non-profit developer has failed to meet its obligation to fix its 472-unit Garden Apartments complex on 39th Avenue in Sunnyside.
Phipps, which is looking to rezone a parcel on Barnett Avenue in order to build a 167-unit affordable housing complex, had pledged to both Community Board 2 and the Queens Borough President that it would fix the Garden Apartments complex as a condition of being granted the rezoning.
The developer put forward a maintenance plan in November that it said it would adhere to.
“Phipps Houses made a commitment to the community that they would promptly address the maintenance issues at Gardens Apartment,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “Their failure to do so is upsetting and they have an obligation to the community to follow through on the required action plan set by Community Board 2.”
The congresswoman said that Phipps had agreed to address the maintenance issues within 90 days of Community Board 2 approving its rezoning application. The deadline, she said, expired March 1 and had not been fulfilled. The board approved the rezoning on Dec. 3 by a vote of 28-12.
Ocasio-Cortez, however, stopped short of saying that the rezoning should not be approved.
Phipps was subject to a barrage of criticism from its existing Garden Apartments tenants during a public hearing in November about its Barnett Avenue proposal.
Several speakers said the organization did not deserve to be granted a rezoning, given the condition of its existing Garden Apartments complex. Some spoke of garbage, mice and cockroach problems—while others talked about the garden areas falling into disrepair and wall damage.
Phipps, as a result, said it would address these issues and put forward a 90-day maintenance plan, which the congresswoman says has not been met.
The improvement plan included hiring an additional porter; expanding its pest control/extermination services; cleaning out dry wells; fixing the laundry room; investigating what’s needed to address drainage problems; and putting in place a tree pruning schedule.
Phipps also said that it would adopt a landscaping plan within six months and would paint the lobbies and hallways.
The Congresswoman did not address what components of the maintenance plan Phipps failed to meet.
Lisa Deller, chair of Community Board 2, said that Phipps has met some of its obligations– such as hiring staff and cleaning the drywells– and she is waiting for a March update from the tenant association..
“They have made some progress toward satisfying the plan,” Deller said.
Meanwhile, Phipps said that it has stuck to its commitment and strongly disagrees with the congresswoman’s assessment.
“Phipps developed a plan with the tenant association, and not only do we remain committed to that plan, we are ahead of schedule in fulfilling its agreed-upon 30, 60 and 90-day milestones,” said Adam Weinstein, CEO of Phipps, in a statement.
“We have been keeping tenant leadership apprised of progress and welcome updating the congresswoman if she is interested,” Weinstein said.
“As the largest non-profit affordable housing and social services provider in New York, Phipps takes our relationship with our residents very seriously and we look forward to completing our work at Phipps Garden Apartments, as well as breaking ground on 167 new affordable apartments across the street.”
The rezoning application is now in the hands of the city council. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer will ultimately determine the fate of the project since the council tends to vote in lockstep with the member who represents the district where a development is proposed.
Van Bramer announced last week that he would approve the application when it comes up for a vote. The vote is likely to take place at the end of next week.
The council member said in a statement this morning that Phipps must follow through on its maintenance plan.
“I agree with our Congresswoman. Phipps does have an obligation to follow through on the Community Board 2 action plan at the existing Phipps Garden Apartments. And I’ve always said so. But I also feel strongly that we should build real affordable housing where we can, including homes for the formerly homeless. We can, and must accomplish all of these goals which are not mutually exclusive.”