Members of the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation (GREC) along with community residents, picketed outside of HPD and one protester dressed as the Grinch with a sign labeled “TNS/Great American”, aimed at sending the message that the developer is “the grinch who stole our community's future”.
The group produced over 1,300 signed petitions urging HPD to reject the Bronx-based company TNS/Great American, which HPD chose to develop the site in April of last year.
The letters also urged HPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reconsider the plan from GREC, which is a coalition of North Brooklyn nonprofit groups, including St. Nick's Alliance.
The plan was a less-expensive proposal submitted by GREC last year, which included more affordable housing. The plan won unanimous approval from Community Board 1 and over 40 community groups.
“We are saying that the city should take a second chance to make right in Williamsburg, which they should have done in the first place, give in to the community and that they need to get rid of this developer,” said Jan Peterson, GREC's chairperson.
District Leader Lincoln Restler stood in solidarity with the community.
“This is a corrupt deal gone awry,” he said. “We have a for-profit developer that does not pay its workers fairly and in our community, that's not right.”
According to recent reports, TNS allegedly cheated construction workers out of their pay by over $500,000 on projects funded by HPD. The city has now halted the project while HPD and the U.S. Department of Labor investigate TNS.
“We're not going to sit back and stand for someone to come in and give us shoddy housing that we don't need,” said Dianne King, president of the Cooper Park Residents Association in Williamsburg. “We don't need someone to come into our community and pay lower wages. We just want the mayor to look at this and have a heart; we've been fighting for this for 30 years, give it to us, it's our community. We know what's best.”
GREC already occupies six of the seven buildings that are part of the site. The coalition filed a lawsuit last year claiming that HPD gave TNS unfair advantages that violated the city's competitive selection process en route to selecting the company for the 240-unit, $69 million project.
The suit, which was filed with the backing of the Urban Justice Center's Community Development Project, claimed that the city allowed TNS to change its proposal to make it more competitive, and failed to “protect the public's best interest” by overlooking a less-expensive proposal submitted by GREC that included more affordable housing.
GREC says they complied with everything the city asked of them but HPD said that the chosen developer had more money to invest in the development. GREC claims that HPD led them all the way to the finish, only to tell them that they would not be chosen to develop the site.
Ultimately GREC lost in court, but King says that they will continue to fight for the community's best interest.
“When we see an issue like this, people say 'who benefits?'” Peterson said. “But St. Nick's Alliance hires local, and I think the community board realizes it's not just about GREC and our coalition, it's about the whole community.”
At the end of the rally, one HPD representative who described herself as an assistant to the commissioner greeted Peterson, and told her that the signatures would be taken into consideration.
The Greenpoint Hospital was closed in 1982, then served as a longtime men's homeless shelter. GREC has led efforts to redevelop the site since the late 1980's.
“We still have hope,” Peterson said. “We still want HPD to be our HPD and not the private developer's HPD.”