Screaming to ‘Let Red Hook Breathe,’ residents and public housing advocates demanded more playgrounds, clean air and water, the replanting of the neighborhood’s trees, more lighting, air and soil testing because of the neighborhood’s industrial history with toxic land use, and a better emergency response and fire safety plan for the community.
Residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments located in Red Hook gathered at a press conference at West 9 and Hicks Streets, with Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (Red Hook, Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights and portions of Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights, and Boro Park), to tour and address the community about urgent health and safety concerns surrounding the constant construction in the area.
The NYCHA’s Recovery & Resilience Department has several main construction projects operating in Red Hook West and East currently. There are 32 buildings spanning 39 acres that are supposed to be flood proofed and outfitted with generators and safety features in response to the devastation Superstorm Sandy caused in 2012.
“The reason this is happening to us is because we are a minority and low-income community and had it been a different community this would not have happened. All of this happening on land historically contaminated with lead and other toxins,” read Nahisha McCoy from a written statement prepared by the residency group.
They complained of the incessant dust and strong garbage smells wafting into the atmosphere.
Many residents complained that several times since construction began water in particular had been shut off without warning from construction companies or the city, leaving people destitute during a health pandemic and heat wave.
“The construction is causing several water outages in the peak of summer. The community has come together to provide water for each other because the response from NYCHA has been inefficient,” said organizer Vanessa McKnight.
McKnight said that the conditions need to improve before construction work continues.
The work that they’re doing has incredible ends, said Menchaca, about the value of the recovery construction projects, but the means to get there has dragged the community.
“If a contractor can hear from the Mayor, NYCHA, and higher ups then they can make those changes, and that’s why we’re here. To make the voices as loud as possible,” said Menchaca while walking with the group. “Contractors are on deadline but what the community is saying, is that we can change the timeline because it’s impacting the quality of their day-to-day life.”
Menchaca said that there needs to be a pause to validate and hear community concerns, find a way to implement crowdsourced solutions, and that NYCHA has the responsibility to improve water conditions and replant trees in the neighborhood.
“You’re not just going to steam roll Red Hook without the input from residents who live here. The importance of the community voice to be around the table, the leadership needs to be around the table, and we’re here to make sure that happens and support,” said a representative for Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez’s office.
She said that the Congresswoman is receptive to all the recommendations brought forth and has been in the process of planning something with NYCHA to make sure that what’s important to the community is put to the table.
One lifelong resident who preferred to not be identified was born and raised in Red Hook West. Donning a black hat and large, round shades, she showed a small caravan of press and Menchaca around the construction sites. The route went through Centre Mall, to the West end, where Coffey Park and the housing projects between Dwight and Columbia Streets are.
She pointed out areas in the past month that had flooded or had caught on fire, causing a morass of confusion with the responding fire departments. She said they couldn’t find efficient ways into the buildings to help because of the numerous construction fences.
“We have to put the responsibility on Mayor De Blasio because during the pandemic all the construction was deemed essential, and then they were started all at once. They were supposed to be in segments. And then during the pandemic they just demolished the community. And we want to know why that was essential,” said the Red Hook native, who had already mentioned that the Sandy recovery project had started years late to begin with.