I-Team: Freeloading Drivers Plague Public Housing Parking Lots

As the de Blasio administration seeks to raise parking rates in the lots next to public housing towers, an I-Team investigation finds vehicle owners are frequently parking for free, using borrowed permits, expired permits or no permits at all.

Over the course of three weeks, the I-Team paid multiple visits to five New York Public Housing Authority lots that were previously cited for fraudulent parking practices in a 2012 City Department of Investigation probe.

The I-Team found free riders were at it again, parking without valid permits and getting away with it.

On a Wednesday afternoon outside the Mitchel Houses, the I-Team found 19 parking violators, including a white Mercedes SUV displaying nothing more than a photocopy of a New York City Housing Authority identification card on the dashboard. The same day, outside the Frederick Douglass Houses, 12 vehicles were parked without proper permits.

"It's very frustrating because why should I be paying and others can park for free?" said Angelina Rodriguez, a resident of the Martin Luther King Houses in Harlem.

In one of the lots outside Alfred E. Smith towers, the I-Team found multiple expired permits along with a Cadillac Escalade and a Toyota SUV displaying permits that were apparently borrowed from other vehicles.

"They don't have enough tow trucks to handle the situation," said Compton Hendricks, who parks across from the Escalade.

This month, the de Blasio administration announced a plan to raise funds to fix dilapidated public housing buildings, in part by bringing prices in NYCHA parking lots closer to market rates.

Currently a public housing tenant can lease a parking space for as little as $75 a year. The new plan would raise tenant rates to as much as $150 a month.

Council member Richie Torres, a Democrat who chairs the city's Public Housing Committee, said NYCHA will have to crack down on cheaters if the plan to raise rates is to succeed.

"I think it all depends on enforcement," Torres said. "We have an obligation to crack down on free riding. If we're going to set new prices, it should apply equally to everyone."

In 2013, NYCHA awarded a private company, Greystone Parking Services, a $1.7 million dollar contract to manage its 16,000 parking spaces. The deal requires Greystone to issue permits and catch cheaters who park without paying.

According to the agreement, Greystone uses license plate recognition technology to catch unauthorized drivers parked in NYCHA lots and maintains a customer service phone line for tenants to report cheaters.

"If they take your money, they should be held accountable for you to get your services from Greystone," said Hendricks.

Greystone executives did not immediately respond to the I-Team's request for comment.

A NYCHA spokeswoman sent the I-Team an email saying 1,100 vehicles have been towed from NYCHA property since January, but the statement did not say how many of those vehicles were removed from paid permit parking lots. According to the email, the lack of secure gates at many parking lot entrances makes it a challenge to keep out drivers who park for free.

“NYCHA has an ongoing enforcement program that includes towing illegally-parked vehicles, and as we work to strengthen our enforcement efforts to better serve residents we are reviewing plans to expand security gate installation at all parking lots," the statement said. 

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