When John V. Lindsay became our New York City mayor in 1966, one of the most controversial initiatives of his administration was to place a low-income housing project in the heart of Forest Hills.
Liberal Lindsay and his New York City Housing Authority chairman, Simeon Golar, were met with their first demonstration in December 1966 when 30 women picketed Borough Hall. They also were met with fierce opposition led by Jerry Birnbach of the Forest Hills Residents Association. A Manhattan congressman named Ed Koch later allied himself with the protesters.
At the time, Forest Hills consisted of predominately Jewish people who had left Brooklyn and the Bronx due to prior destructive building schemes perpetrated there by Robert Moses and other city politicians. The project, planned for 108th Street and 62nd Avenue, the former site of a golf driving range, was scaled down from 24 stories and 840 units to 12 stories and 430 units by local attorney Mario Cuomo.
On June 30, 1975, 39 years ago this week, the building opened. It was the city’s first public housing co-op. However, you could only sell your co-op shares back to NYCHA. Only 2 percent of the residents were welfare recipients, and the vast majority were senior citizens and struggling working-class people.
Lindsay’s political career was torpedoed forever by this and other stumbles, while Cuomo later became our governor and Koch our mayor. Birnbach moved to Nassau County and Golar became a judge.
Both Golar and Koch died last year.