The Rockaway Peninsula of Southern Queens is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay. The area was a tourist destination in the early 1900’s, full of summer bungalows. In the 1950's, famous New York City Planner Robert Moses led an initiative which constructed large amounts of public housing units on the marshy lowlands and by the 1970’s, the peninsula was Queens’ largest concentration of public housing. Beginning in the 2000s, a revitalization effort began across the Rockaway Peninsula.
When RAD was established by Congress, NYCHA decided that Ocean Bay, a 1,395-unit public housing complex on the Far Rockaway Peninsula, would be the first public housing property renovated in New York City through the program.
RAD allowed NYCHA and its development partners to leverage $560 million in private sector debt and equity and in disaster recovery funds for repairs, all while maintaining the units at Ocean Bay as long-term affordable housing for the community.
“[RAD] is a big difference compared to what we had…now [it’s] totally different.”
—Lolita Miller (Ocean Bay tenant representative for the Resident Council)
The development team worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) throughout the Ocean Bay redevelopment program. FEMA had come to the flood-prone peninsula in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to repair roofs and install floodwalls and channels to divert water. However, FEMA’s support as a disaster relief agency was limited to ground-level repairs.
The conversion under RAD allowed NYCHA and its partners to add to the resiliency measures FEMA started. They replaced the community’s central boiler system with individual boilers and installed new ones on the roofs to continue in case of a storm surge. To further advance resiliency, the team also put in solar panels and stand-alone electric service buildings above the flood zone.
The development team built resident trust through hard work and promises kept and prioritizing changes that positively impacted residents’ lives. A deep cleaning of the entire property at the onset of the redevelopment made the complex start to feel like a community and was among the most important ways that the team gained buy-in from the citizens of Ocean Bay.
NYCHA, the developers and the residents working together transformed Ocean Bay from an apartment complex into a community, working closely with the tenants and soliciting resident feedback on the redevelopment plans. Once the managers, developers, stakeholders and residents were all working as a team, they were able to accelerate the schedule, and they completed the RAD upgrades in half the time.
“When the residents see, it's not just fluff...Everyone came together...It really worked in a way that it built that trust.”
—Matt Rooney (CEO MDG Design, Development Partner).
Revitalized Living Spaces
Almost every part of Ocean Bay is being refurbished. The units received new floors, windows, bathrooms, kitchens with updated appliances, and a fresh coat of paint. The lobbies and entryways were revamped and include new elevators.
The work included new outdoor spaces, such as walkways, benches, basketball courts, and playgrounds in addition to new vegetable gardens and landscaping, all of which provided a renewed sense of dignity to the neighborhood.
Rita remembers her early days in the apartment complex and all of the changes to Ocean Bay. “The good [part] was when we could sit outside with the neighbors. Have our kids outside. They played together...When I first moved here...They kept this place beautiful. The grass, everything was just gorgeous. The hallways were absolutely spotless.”
She remembers when the neighborhood changed in the mid-1980s. “The bad [part] was when the crime started. The shootings. You couldn’t sit on the bench. Your kids would hear the gunshots. The poor little things would run like rabbits. It was just simply horrific...The ugly [part] was how they kept these buildings. They were absolutely filthy...”
“When we heard that RAD [was being used], it was hard for us to believe that somebody would come and rescue us...But then I started going to the meetings, and I said, ‘You know, this does sound great, maybe it will come to pass.’ And then when they started the work, I said ‘Oh my god, this is really true!’”
—Rita Joseph (Resident)
Juan Roman, the General Manager, patrols the 24-building site in a golf cart. As he makes his rounds through the neighborhood, people smile and wave. If anything is out of place – loose tiles, puddles of water, construction equipment that has been left out – Juan will use his walkie talkie to have his team immediately fix the problem. This level of dedication is turning Ocean Bay into a place where people feel that their community matters.
Improvements to security were a high priority. Cameras were placed throughout the property and are monitored by the on-site property manager. A key-fob entry system was set up in each building. A booming intercom that the tenants have nicknamed “The Voice of God” sends safety alerts. Elevators, stairways, and other common spaces were repaired, cleaned, and are now well lit. These improvements make the residents feel comfortable leaving their apartments and interacting with their neighbors.
The redevelopment of Ocean Bay has had an economic multiplier effect in the area, bringing construction and service jobs to meet the area’s growing needs. The development team’s original plan was to hire 40 residents to work on the redevelopment; they ended up hiring 83. A local non-profit has introduced an internship program for 16 additional youths from the area. Restaurants are opening up nearby and there is talk of a new grocery store that may be built across from the apartments.
The City has prioritized the Far Rockaway Peninsula for new investments. In 2017, the New York City Council and the Mayor approved a new zoning plan, which will lead to additional affordable housing, new retail, and more jobs for the community. For an area that is almost an hour and a half by train from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, this commitment is further demonstration of the commitment made between the government, the private sector, and residents of Ocean Bay to making lives in the Rockaway Peninsula better.