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Storefront eyesore - CB 1 calls for action at vacant sites near public housing

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In a neighborhood whose real estate has become highly prized in recent years, it is somewhat curious to observe the vacant storefronts surrounding the Williamsburg Houses, the 20-building, 1,628 unit New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing development stretching from Leonard Street to Bushwick Avenue between Maujer and Scholes streets.

In all, there are more than 50 abandoned storefronts, some of which have been uninhabited for as long as 30 years.

The site is both an underutilized resource as well as an eyesore. One look at it screams for some initiative to be taken.

And that’s exactly what Gerald Esposito, District Manager of Community Board 1, is doing. In June, Esposito wrote a letter to NYCHA Chairman Tino Hernandez asking him to convert the storefronts – which are owned by NYCHA – to affordable housing dwellings.

“Given the dire crisis for affordable housing in our district, these vacant spaces should be redeveloped to better serve the community with residential purposes,” Esposito wrote in the letter.

In particular, Esposito asked Hernandez to look into the possibility of the spaces accommodating elderly and handicapped people.

“These commercial spaces could very well accommodate townhouse type units, or made available as specially designed housing with ground level accessibility for handicapped or senior citizen constituents. Both of these populations already reside in the Williamsburg Houses. They could benefit by transitioning into more appropriate dwellings on lower floors,” his letter continued.

NYCHA received the letter on June 15, giving them a one-deadline timeline to respond to the letter. But as of July 15, Community Board 1 had not yet received a response.

“We received a correspondence from the Community Board, but haven’t reviewed it and have no comment,” said NYCHA spokeswoman Nancy Medina on July 11.

More than 3,100 people live in the Williamsburg Houses, which opened in 1938.

The complex’s design was revolutionary at the time: Instead of the large red-brick buildings that dominated the city’s public housing architecture, the Williamsburg Houses were comprised of tan-brick buildings only four stories tall.

Designed by Swiss-born architect William Lescaze, the buildings were set at a 15-degree angle to the street grid to create cross-breezes through the development.

In the 2003, the houses became the third NYCHA housing development to be designated a New York City landmark.

A few years prior to that, the houses received a $70 million renovation.

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