Search results for "NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development"

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Tremont Renaissance

Groundbreaking for Bronx mixed-use affordable housing development
Before the Memorial Day weekend, city officials posed with shovels for the groundbreaking of Tremont Renaissance, a long-planned affordable housing development in East Tremont, the Bronx. The groundbreaking for the 265-unit, mixed income structure at Webster and East Tremont avenues is the latest spate of affordable housing development in the northernmost borough. The project is part of de Blasio's plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years: A little less than half of the apartments will be reserved for low-income families, with the rental floor for three-bedrooms set at $1,224 per month. Units for middle-income households will be available to those making up to $97,920 for a family of three. The 12-story building will include 40,000 square feet of street-level retail, as well as a fitness center, play space for children, an internet lounge, a yoga/dance studio, and landscaped roof terraces. The site was formerly home to a 1930s bank, and the bank's facade will be incorporated into the building's lobby. “Even though thousands of new housing units have been built in the Bronx, our community board, and other community districts remain with a shortage of affordable rental housing and quality retail space,” noted Ivine Galarza, district manager of Community Board 6, in a statement. “This development will definitely stand out as a good example of creating housing that is affordable for all types of families in the heart of our borough.” Bronx–based Mastermind Development is behind the $117.7 million project, in collaboration with the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) One block over, Mastermind is also developing adjacent 4215 Park Avenue, a 256-unit, mixed-use development, as part of a suite of parcels it owns in the neighborhood. Over 60 of the units in this development will be categorized as Inclusionary Housing.
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NYC City Council approves neighborhood-wide zoning changes for Brooklyn's East New York
East New York is officially the first neighborhood under de Blasio to be totally rezoned. Yesterday, the New York City Council approved the East New York Community Plan (ENYCP) by a 45-1 margin. Because the ENYCP abides by the mayor's just-passed affordable housing and zoning initiatives, the eastern Brooklyn neighborhood is viewed by many as the first proving ground for the mayor's ambitious reforms. The primary goals of the plan are to create more affordable housing and spur economic development. The ENYCP is part of Housing New York, the mayor's initiative to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. ENYCP covers 190 blocks and is the first plan to apply Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), a suite of new zoning rules that require a certain percentage of new housing be designated as permanently affordable. In East New York, however, affordability would go deeper than MIH minimum thresholds: NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) says that any project it backs in the neighborhood will be entirely affordable. Units will be available to families making between 30 and 90 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI): $23,350 to $69,930 for a three-person household, respectively. 1,200 apartments will be constructed over the next two years, and HPD anticipates that more than half of the approximately 7,000 units developed in the neighborhood over the next decade will be permanently affordable. Lured by new housing, the city estimates that more than 19,000 new residents could move to the neighborhood in the next 15 years. The plan that sailed through the City Planning Commission, the penultimate approval body, in late February is slightly different than the one that the council passed. The council's modifications added more protections for displacement of current residents, tenant protections from harassment, promises to secure housing for the homeless, and additional community services like job skills training. The city will also spend $267 million on infrastructure improvements, including a new park and school.  
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In gentrifying Brooklyn, illicit luxury housing is sprouting from community gardens
Larceny and deed fraud are on the rise, and those with a mind for leaving confusing trails of paperwork are profiting from illegitimate purchases of land. A classic case of this can be found on Maple Street in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. https://vimeo.com/6258261 According to a report by The Nation, the area became a tranquil community space in the summer of 2013. Using a lot no bigger than one-eighth of an acre, local residents constructed vegetable patches and seating areas that successfully brought people together to make use of a shared space. The residents' retreat however, was short-lived. The owners,  Joseph (Joe) and Kamran (Mike) Makhani, apparently have a history of using illegitimate signatures to gain property and have even been to prison in the past for selling homes they did not own. Their company name, H.P.D., LLC, is quite similar to the government agency, NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). When questioned in the video above, Joe Makhani said, "if the client is stupid, that's not my problem." Cut to 2014 and the Makhanis show up and start destroying the lot that the residents had carefully made. Ignoring calls to stop, they only do so when the police turn up demanding a court order to prove ownership. The Makhanis promptly left after no document was produced. So what of the significance of this debacle? The sad truth is that these ordeals are cropping up more and more with cases being becoming increasingly complex with name irregularities making documented selling and purchasing of land harder to find. "No one is talking about it, but we're seeing this every day," said Sonia Alleyne told The Nation on behalf of the Department of Finance. "I don't think anyone realizes how big this story is." The ordeal features all the tell-tale signs of larceny and deed fraud. The initial purchase of land from the nephews of the deceased owners for $5,000 (an incredible and questionably low price); Social Security numbers failing to match up; spelling "mistakes" (McKany rather than Makhani); illegible notary names and the fact that the license number isn't even present; traits that, in the City of New York Sheriff Joseph Fucito's eyes, scream fraud. Anyone attempting to investigate ownership/sale history of the land, it seems, is lead down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Sheriff Fucito stated that 15 deed-fraud arrests were made in in the last year, and that (as of August 2015) his office was on the trail of over 1,000 cases. Gardens in Bushwick and Crown Heights have likewise found themselves embroiled in similar conflicts. Fucido believes that many fraudulent cases go undetected and that the real number of cases is much higher. Why the sudden rise in deed fraud? Gentrification may be partly to blame. Brooklyn residential prices are increasing at an alarming rate, and land with debatable ownership is the perfect target for fraudsters. Experts such as Christie Peale, executive director of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, say that paperwork is deemed legitimate all too easily. "The problem is this open process that allows people to just walk in and file false instruments," said Peale.
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Zoning Out?
NYC Planning contends that ZQA will fight bland streetwalls and create more lively streetscapes, as seen here in the East Village.
Simon Collison / Flickr

In November and December, all five of New York City’s Borough Boards, and 50 of 59 Community Boards, voted against one or both of two proposed text amendments, for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH). Though the boards’ decisions are advisory and nonbinding, they reflect widespread public dissatisfaction with the changes that would allow denser new development in exchange for more affordable housing.

At a December public hearing, the City Planning Commission (CPC) got an earful from the public on both measures. Union members, affordable housing activists, the AARP, preservationists, and politicians spoke out for and against the proposed changes. Everyone wants to live in a neighborhood with quality public space and vibrant street life. Everyone wants to live in an area that they can comfortably afford, where new construction is sensitive to the existing neighborhood fabric.

It’s the plans’ specifics that engender disagreement. Critics contend the plans serve developers’ interests and won’t do enough to prevent the displacement of low-income residents.

MIH aims to create permanently affordable housing in exchange for changes that substantially increase density. The changes under review are part of Housing New York, Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years. MIH would compel developers to set aside 25 percent of units in market-rate developments at 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or 30 percent at 80 percent of the AMI. The AMI is $86,300 for a family of four in New York City.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), a leading neighborhood preservation group, opposes ZQA. GVSHP maintains that ZQA will allow for out-of-scale buildings without creating more affordable housing. If ZQA is passed, buildings could be 25 feet taller, but include the same amount of affordable housing.
Courtesy NYC Planning
 

ZQA will modify rules on setbacks, height restrictions, floor area ratios, parking requirements, commercial and residential construction, and housing for seniors, in exchange for increased density. ZQA would also fight bland streetwalls, encouraging developers to create articulated facades, courtyards, and “other elements that provide visual variety.” These changes, city officials contend, will enable developers to build structures that will blend better into the existing fabric while accommodating a growing population. For example, ZQA could add five feet to the height limit for new buildings with ground floor retail. This would allow retail spaces with up to 12-foot ceilings, a height, according to officials, that increases a space’s palatability.

Under the proposed amendments, areas highlighted in purple could be upzoned by as much as 31 percent.
 

Vicki Been, commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, noted that ZQA “creates no new development rights for market rate housing.” Furthermore, ZQA allows for more affordable housing by “reforming envelope constraints that have not kept up with modern design or building technology.”

Citing citywide residential vacancy rates of less than 3.5 percent, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen emphasized that “we are now in a crisis. We are in a literal housing emergency.” She noted that market rate units will “cross-subsidize” the affordable units, which will in turn free up more public funds for extremely low income housing and housing for seniors.

Critics inveigh against what they see as a “one size fits all” approach. “There has been no serious discussion of the social and physical infrastructure necessary to manage the development for which these plans allow,” said Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. He questioned the increased density’s impact on schools, transportation, parks, and job creation.

Díaz endorsed a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, noting that, since 2009, there have been 14 res in the Bronx alone, part of the 124 res—affecting 40 percent of the city’s land area—that took place under Bloomberg. To achieve a truly mixed-income neighborhood, he argued, a range of very low through moderate income households should coexist in market-rate housing, rather than averages. “Yet, as currently written” Díaz said, “these new proposals would reshape the of the city with one broad stroke.”

Ultimately, many speakers asked for more time than the 60 days the CPC gave community and borough boards to review almost 500 pages of text amendments. Díaz stressed the time factor: “Something so profound as the future development of our city should not be rushed.”

Armed with comments from the hearing, the CPC will vote on MIH and ZQA early 2016.

Subsequently, the city council will review and vote on the measures, also in early 2016. The council’s decision is binding.

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New York promotes active design at the 2015 FitCity conference
Last month, AIA New York and the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene held the tenth annual FitCity conference. The event, which hosted a multi-disciplinary group of nearly 500 participants ranging from architects and designers to policymakers and public health officials, explored some of the approaches and strategies that could be implemented to create a more healthful and “fit” New York City. “FitCity is not just a conference. It’s a movement,” David Burney, chair of the Center for Active Design, said in a statement. Indeed, the active design movement, which is championed by FitCity, has gained considerable traction both in New York City and across the globe over the past ten years. The Center’s Active Design Guidelines, published in 2010, have created a new standard for the design and construction of the built environment, emphasizing accessibility to physical activity and fresh foods. As a result, the movement has produced healthier buildings, public spaces, and neighborhoods. The conference featured keynote addresses by Daniel Hernandez, Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, Professor of Clinical Studies and Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The “FitCity 10 Report”, which can be viewed on AIANY’s website, provides an overview of the 2015 conference, as well as a vision for the future. “Design influences our environment, and we influence design,” stated Sonia Angell, MD, the Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Division for Prevention and Primary Care. “FitCity is an opportunity to transform the environment for health.”
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Planning East Harlem
Brian Godfrey / Flickr

In the coming years, wide swaths of New York will land on the city’s drawing board for comprehensive rezoning. In September 2015, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) released the East New York Community Plan. The plan, now in its public comment period, calls for increased density and affordable housing via mandatory inclusionary zoning in a largely low-income Brooklyn neighborhood. A city initiative, the planning process was organized by the DCP with input from local groups.

In East Harlem, however, residents, community groups, and facilitators flipped the script. Stakeholders are collecting residents’ feedback on their neighborhood for the DCP’s input. The group’s project, the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, began in May 2015 and targets the area governed by Community Board 11 (CB 11). The project’s meticulous approach to community-based planning has the potential to impact neighborhood planning citywide.

The project partners are city council speaker (and area representative) Melissa Mark-Viverito, CB 11, the Manhattan borough president’s office, and social justice advocacy group Community Voices Heard. New York’s WXY Studio and Hester Street Collaborative are facilitating the development of a draft of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan. Other participating organizations include a charter school, labor unions, a tenants’ association, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), and El Museo del Barrio. These groups lead steering committees that help draft and approve recommendations.

To all parties, planning goes beyond zoning to encompass the individual and social context. Adam Lubinsky, WXY’s managing principal, emphasizes that the planning is entirely community driven, and is not about showcasing the vision of a particular designer or firm. So far, hundreds of residents have participated in the process. Ultimately, Lubinsky hopes that East Harlemites “put together key principles and ideas so city planning will look at that and understand that” for the official zoning ultimately adopted by the DCP.

The process starts with a series of community visioning workshops for residents to voice what they love and what they would change in East Harlem. Workshops include a discussion of policies that affect the neighborhood. A session on zoning and land use, for example, uses participatory visioning strategies that “get people thinking about the nature of the area,” said Lubinsky.

Ideas from the workshops are taken up by 11 subgroups, each facilitated by a different stakeholder. Topics include open space and environment, culture, education, childcare, housing preservation, affordable housing, NYCHA, economic and workforce development, senior citizens, health and safety, and transportation. A proposal from a committee headed by the NYRP, for example, suggests that “developers [should] provide green infrastructure within and/or adjacent to new developments” to fortify East Harlem against “threats from climate change.”

The subgroups create proposals that are refined in a public comment period. The final plan will be presented in early 2016 to the DCP to inform the final neighborhood rezoning.

Will WXY and Hester Street be involved in the design? Hopefully, Lubinsky states, the “capacity-building process is self-perpetuating. I don’t know if they’ll need us.”

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In the Re-Zone
This rendering of Atlantic Avenue illustrates the proposed diverse uses of space.
Courtesy NYC DCP

Right now, zoning and land use are being hotly debated in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. On September 21, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) announced two changes to the city’s zoning regulations that will have major long term impact on land use and affordable housing. That same day, the DCP released the highly anticipated East New York Community Plan (ENYCP), a comprehensive rezoning of residential areas in East New York, Ocean Hill, and Cypress Hills, as well as the commercial corridors that run through the neighborhood. Chosen for its proximity to rail, subway, and bus lines, East New York is one of the first places where these new zoning changes will be put into action.

The first change, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, would affect large-scale residential development in medium- to high-density areas. New zoning would require 25 or 30 percent of floor space in buildings with ten or more units developed in these areas to remain permanently affordable, as defined by the Area Median Income (AMI). In New York City, the AMI is $86,300 for a family of four. The second change, Zoning for Quality and Affordability, is intended to encourage high-quality construction and promote affordable housing in these same neighborhoods.

Residents of East New York are concerned that despite the stricter affordable housing requirements, the ENYCP will precipitate gentrification and residential displacement in the mostly low- to moderate-income area.

 

Though the ENYCP does not offer an exact breakdown of housing distribution by income, Housing New York, the city’s housing policy framework released in 2014, gives insight into potential numbers. That document outlines the city’s intention to preserve or create 20 percent of 200,000 units of affordable housing for very low to extremely low-income households (households earning 50 to 30 percent of AMI, respectively).

Policy analysts at Real Affordability for All (RAFA), a division of ALIGN, and an umbrella group of 50 organizations that advocate for low-income New Yorkers, claim that the new provisions will not provide enough affordable options for East New York residents or the city at large. Using Census data, RAFA contends that, citywide, there’s a lack of affordable housing for households making less than 50 percent of the AMI ($43,150 for a household of four in 2015). Excluding households that receive housing vouchers, there’s a shortage of 403,932 units for the 710,649 households in this income range.

The city’s percentages of affordable housing under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing are derived from averages. To attract a range of incomes, for example, apartments could be available at the 30, 80, 40, and 90 percent affordability thresholds for an average of 60 percent affordability. In East New York, there is more overall demand for apartments in the 40 percent or lower range. Incentives like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, however, incentivize the creation of units in the 60 percent range.

 

Maritza Silva-Farrell, campaign director at ALIGN, stated that the plan is not addressing the needs of low-income individuals, and will lead to “more displacement [of residents] and gentrification of East New York.”

Finding affordable housing in New York is a struggle for many. Housing New York cites an “affordability crisis”: almost 55 percent of households spend more than one third of their income on rent.

Rachaele Raynoff, press secretary for the DCP, emphasized that the East New York Community Plan goes beyond the proposed requirements, requiring 50 percent of new units in the rezoning area to be affordable to area residents. Raynoff stressed that “to get affordable housing as a zoning regulation, the rates [we] have proposed are the best ones.” Moreover, the ENYCP, according to Raynoff, is part of a “jigsaw” of legislation and policy between the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development, and state and federal entities to promote sustainable growth in select neighborhoods.

If the ENYCP is adopted, 1,200 units will be built by both nonprofit and for-profit developers over the next two years, though there are no developers selected as of yet. First, the plan must undergo a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (which includes a public comment period) and gain approval from all 59 Community Boards, five borough presidents, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council.

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NYC Retrofit Accelerator to help building owners reduce greenhouse gas emissions
To avoid total inundation and more of those hot, sticky summer days, New York City is trying hard to forestall the impact of global warming. While tackling coastal resiliency, the city is turning its focus to buildings, the source of 75 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions. To address the issue, last month Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, a program that will provide consulting and support, for free, to building owners who would like to conserve electricity and water, and upgrade to clean energy systems. Officials hope that, in addition to slashing emissions, energy retrofits will reduce building owner's operating costs. This program builds on the success of 2012's NYC Clean Heat, a component of PlaNYC that was introduced by the Bloomberg administration. The program works towards goals outlined in 2014's One City: Built to Last, which set a goal of reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050. By 2025, officials hope the accelerator will serve over 1,000 buildings per year, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one million metric tons each year. This would save property owners $350 million per year in utility costs. The biggest climate offenders are buildings that burn heavy heating oil. Consequently, the program primarily serves these buildings, as well as any building that participates in a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) or a Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) program. Efficiency experts at the Retrofit Accelerator will help owners select appropriate retrofits, conduct energy audits, apply for related permits, get financing, apply for tax credits, train maintenance staff, measure energy efficiency over time, and comply with local laws. Interested property owners can visit the Retrofit Accelerator's website or call 311 to determine their eligibility.
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Affordable South Bronx
Via Verde in South Bronx, by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects.
David Sundberg/Esto

“The Times Square of the South Bronx” is an apt moniker for a place more commonly known as “the Hub”. Situated at the crossing of subway lines, bus routes, and major thoroughfares, the Hub is one of the busiest commercial districts in New York City. The corner of East 149th Street and Third Avenue constitutes the center of this half-mile, spoke-like network of traffic arteries that radiate into the Melrose and Mott Haven neighborhoods. You cannot stand in one place here: Hordes of commuters boarding buses and entering and exiting narrow subway entrances sweep you along. Street vendors occupy much of the sidewalk selling everything from sunglasses to sodas. Salsa music blares from curbside radios and the heavy smell of food being fried at street stands wafts through the air. On a weekday afternoon in June, virtually all passersby were Hispanic or African American, and a great many were wearing jeans and sneakers. No hipsters were apparent, and no one was wearing a suit.

Throughout this bustling area there are still stately old masonry theaters from the era when the magician Harry Houdini and actors such as Lionel Barrymore performed here. Today, many of these historic buildings are bedecked in a riot of awnings and signs advertising beauty parlors, pawnshops, and electronics stores. In some cases, billboards and posters—such as a long brown one advertising Envy Nails—cover entire rows of second story windows. Alongside the faded Beaux-Arts buildings are more recent arrivals—Lego-like cinderblock structures with plate glass windows. You can see unfulfilled potential in the dusty upper story windows of 149th Street‘s sturdy old loft buildings decorated with faded “Offices for Rent” signs that might be appropriate for tenants such as tech startups or design studios.

 

Today’s Hub

In many ways the Hub is still recovering from the dark days of the 1970s, when the South Bronx became the most notorious symbol of urban blight in the country. Community District 1, which includes the Hub, lost 43 percent of its population during that decade. Fires and abandonment destroyed up to 97 percent of the building stock in some census tracts. Take a turn off East 149th Street, one of the Hub’s main drags, and north on Bergen Avenue and you will find trash-strewn sidewalks and fenced-off, weed-covered lots abandoned for so long that small trees have taken root. Back when the Bronx was burning, many property owners stopped paying taxes, and the city used foreclosures and eminent domain to acquire a vast inventory of such properties. However, the area as a whole has improved recently, thanks in part to better policing, say local residents such as Tanjy Davis, a former restaurant owner out for a walk with her daughter. “Brook Avenue has changed so much,” she said. “They used to have prostitution over there and young kids were shooting guns.”

 

There are signs that the South Bronx as a whole is reviving. In 2013, the Opera House Hotel, the Bronx’s first luxury boutique hotel opened for business in a renovated 1913 theater on 149th Street. And in the past year there has been a tremendous amount of real estate speculation in the Bronx. According to the New York Daily News, multifamily sales rose 67 percent and sales of development sites were up by 85 percent. However in the area around the Hub virtually all the new residential buildings have been built as affordable housing, and they owe their existence to generous government subsidy programs that generally include the sale of city owned land to private developers for nominal sums of money. A case in point is Via Verde, the award-winning affordable housing development completed in 2012 at the corner of 156th Street, just beyond the empty lots on Brook Avenue. Via Verde received a slew of subsidies from the New York City Council, NYC Housing Development Corporation, The New York State Affordable Housing Corporation, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and other government agencies.

Much of the new City-subsidized development in and around the Hub is targeted toward alleviating poverty. The 88,000-square-foot Triangle Plaza Hub is currently under construction on the site of a former municipal parking lot at 149th Street. The $40 million development will provide the South Bronx with essential goods and services that most Manhattan neighborhoods take for granted, including a primary care medical center for the federally designated medically underserved community. Triangle Plaza Hub will also house a Fine Fare Supermarket, which will benefit from tax incentives under the City’s FRESH program for grocery stores selling nutritious, affordable produce and meats in underserved communities.

La Central apartments in the South Bronx, by FXFOWLE and MHG Architects.
Courtesy FXFOWLE
 

La Central

The potential capstone to the Hub’s redevelopment is a proposed $345 million project called La Central, slated for the last large assemblage of vacant city-owned land in the South Bronx. A draft proposal for the project calls for a mixed-income affordable housing development of five buildings with 992 rental apartments, 2.2 acres of publicly accessible open space, and a host of new ground-level retail spaces. The project, which spans three existing blocks including a superblock created years ago by the de-mapping of a city street, will fill in the gaping hole between the residential developments along Brook Avenue, such as Via Verde, and the commercially-oriented areas around the Hub.

With so many government approvals and so many government subsidies required for such a large project to move forward, community support is critical. The draft proposal was presented at Bronx Community Board 1’s land use committee in June by a development team that packed the hearing room. There were representatives from La Central’s lead developer, the Hudson Companies, as well as the non-profit development partners for the project, which include Common Ground and the YMCA. In addition, there were representatives from a large design team that included FXFOWLE, MHG Architects, and Future Green Studio.

Aaron Koffman, a principal at the Hudson Companies, told the community board that La Central’s facilities and amenities were intended to provide services and recreational opportunities for the entire neighborhood. “It is about community, education, and affordable housing—those are the three pillars,” he said. One such space is a 10,000-square-foot studio and classroom space for BronxNet, a non-profit public access television station devoted to community-based programming and broadcast skills trainings for local residents. BronxNet would be joined by spaces for other non-profits, including music education program Music Has No Enemies, a day care center, and the South Bronx’s first YMCA, home to a diabetes prevention program run by Montefiore Medical Center.

 

FXFOWLE partner Dan Kaplan described how the project was designed to enhance the Hub with substantial open space within the development and a public plaza on an adjacent lot. Its street walls with ground-level retail seek to connect the buildings to the existing neighborhood fabric, and a pedestrian thoroughfare will reestablish a neighborhood connection lost when a section of East 152nd Street was de-mapped years ago. The massing ranges from a 25-story tower on the northern part of the site to 12-story buildings with two-story attached maisonettes. Articulated facades with recessed sections and bands of different colored bricks are intended to break down the scale of the development into smaller elements so as not to overwhelm immediate neighbors, among them low-lying warehouses along Bergen Avenue.

Because HPD is in charge of selling the land, the critical subsidy for such developments, it is able to exact a great many concessions in return. For La Central, HPD is mandating that the developers meet special green design standards established for affordable housing, setting the terms on the affordability of the units, and even requirements that the units be larger than those currently required by the city’s building code. The city‘s various stipulations might appear to be a difficult proposition for a private developer, except for the fact that the taxpayer will undoubtedly be picking up the tab for many of the features and amenities described in the draft development proposal. If the La Central deal goes through, the Hudson Companies and its non-profit partners will be able to buy the land for their development for a dollar per tax lot and potentially benefit from a number of subsidies that could include various government loans, tax-exempt bonds, and tax abatement programs that can last for up to 40 years.

Building state-of-the-art affordable housing can be quite profitable for private developers according to housing advocates. “The Hudson Company is certainly going to make money off of this and off of anything that is city sponsored,” said Moses Gates, Director of Planning & Community Development for the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, “If you have all of these great design elements, it is not the developer paying for them,” said Gates. “It is the public paying for them that is how it works, the developer has their return in mind and if they want to do all of this cool fancy stuff, they find funding for it and that funding is various subsidy programs.”

 

The proposed rents for La Central are designed to be affordable for households from a wide range of the income scale: between 30 percent and 100 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or equivalent to an annual income of $18,150 to $60,500 for an individual or $23,350 to $77,700 for a family of three. The housing units awarded through government run lotteries that generally attract a tremendous number of applicants. In 2014, the tenant lottery for 2,500 subsidized apartments in New York City drew 1.5 million applications—a 600 applicant to unit ratio. To help preserve the neighborhood, the city is requiring the developers to fill 50 percent of the units at La Central with local residents from Community District 1.

However, despite being given preference on 50 percent of the units, for many Community District 1 residents, the rents will be unaffordable. According to data from New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, in 2013 Community District 1 had a 16 percent unemployment rate and half of household incomes were under $21,600. Further, close to a third of households in Community District 1 are “severely rent burdened”—which means that their rent equals at least 50 percent of their monthly pretax income.

 

Although his organization is focused on helping the poorest New Yorkers find housing, Anthony Winn, Chief Operating Officer of the influential local housing advocacy organization Nos Quedamos (We Stay), said that it is critical to have developments that can accommodate a variety of income ranges. “Often times you get an overemphasis on housing for the poor, which is important,” said Winn. “But when you are trying to grow and develop a community, you want to keep a balance between making sure that those with the most need are served while also making sure that you are not creating a concentration of poverty.”

For La Central to move forward, the land that it is slated to occupy must be rezoned from its current manufacturing designation to allow a residential use. And because the project involves a rezoning, the sale of city owned land and other government actions, the plan must pass through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a lengthy process that requires approvals from various agencies and public hearings before the New York City Council and the local community board. At the CB1 hearing on La Central, residents expressed concern about the building slated to be solely owned by the non-profits Common Ground and Communal Life, which would provide 96 studios at 30 percent AMI, 60 percent of which would be set aside for veterans with mental illness and low-income elderly people with HIV/ AIDS from throughout the city. Several board members said that the proposed supportive housing should address the needs of local elderly residents rather than accommodate populations with serious problems from across the city. Hudson’s Koffman responded that government financing was not available for an alternative supportive housing program and that his company was addressing guidelines set by the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD): “We are doing nothing different from what they [HPD] are doing all over the city.” However, many at the hearing said that their community already bears too much of that burden. “There is and there has been a concern with an oversaturation of particular populations that cause major quality of life issues,” said Bronx Community Board 1 Land Use Chair Arlene Parks, “and the burden on a police department, the 40th Precinct, who already is so overburdened that they cannot respond to all of things we have going on here.”

Although the supportive housing component of the proposed La Central project remains contentious, the overall program wins praise from community members. “We are looking to have a diverse population in the district and for different persons of different incomes to be able to afford to live here,” said Cedric Loftin, District Manger of Community Board 1. “Those portions are going to have to be discussed, but we feel that the project will meet those needs.”

Melrose Commons

“It looks like a very exciting project in terms of what it is going to do for the community dynamic,” said Winn from Nos Quedamos, although he noted that his organization has not yet taken a formal position on the project. “There is diversity in what the structures are going to look like,” added Winn. “They are bringing in a diversity of formats in terms of the housing units, and it is looking at community use and community resources that go beyond the residents of the building—that YMCA, for example, is going to serve the greater Bronx community.”

Community-based organizations in Melrose, especially Nos Quedamos, have a formidable track record when it comes to influencing development outcomes. In the early 1990s, city officials made plans to raze the remains of a 30-block swath of Melrose and replace it with massive new developments. Neighborhood leaders found out about the City’s tabula rasa plan and formed Nos Quedamos to preserve what was left of their neighborhood. The New York City firm Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP) worked pro bono with the group to produce the alternative Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Plan in 1993. The plan, which included local residents in the design process and prioritized their housing needs, was adopted by the city the following year. “The vision was for a mixed-income neighborhood,” said Magnus Magnusson, Principal of MAP. “And although it was very hard to envision middle income there originally, we felt that it was very important to make the buildings look like middle income.”

The South Bronx is still one of the five poorest congressional districts in the country. But some of the government subsidized housing built in Melrose Commons over the past decade undoubtedly would attract a long line of prospective affluent tenants were they located in one of the city’s pricier precincts. One such development is the MAP-designed Aurora, an eight-story, 91-unit condominium building located on a tree-lined block of Washington Avenue. The boxy, brick-faced building is a good neighbor—it features setbacks to break up the massing and a supermarket and restaurant featuring Mexican food made from family recipes at ground level. The Aurora, which received subsidies from the Affordable Housing Corporation and the Bronx Borough president’s office, has every amenity on a checklist for middle income housing: bamboo floors, ceramic bathroom fixtures, and a gracious landscaped terrace for residents with play equipment for children.

According to the architects and developers who designed the recently completed Melrose Commons, because city-subsidized affordable apartments are built to guidelines imposed by HPD and are generally larger, they are also often are of better quality than market-rate units under construction in wealthier neighborhoods. And as opposed to the tower-in-the-park typology prevalent in other urban renewal areas, the affordable housing developed in Melrose typically relates to the street, with ground-level retail along the avenues and lower-scale townhouse buildings along side streets.

Although the South Bronx has not yet managed to attract much market-rate housing, the population moving into its affordable housing has become increasingly income diverse. “For many years the top income level at the typical new building in the South Bronx was 60 percent of AMI,” said Ted Weinstein, HPD’s Bronx director. In the case of La Central, the development proposal calls for half of the units to be between 80 percent and 100 percent AMI.

The city’s development policies in the South Bronx have also won support from affordable housing advocates. “On the whole it has been an unqualified success,” said Moses Gates from ANHD. “However, the availability of City-owned land has been critical to subsidizing that success,” explained Gates. “When you have land that is government-owned, you can go from the ground up and say how do we make it happen, rather than everybody throwing out bids and just taking the highest one.”

Frank Rivera
 

Sustainable Building

Over the past decade, in addition to shepherding the construction of thousands of units of rent stabilized affordable housing in the South Bronx, HPD has promoted the use of environmentally friendly designs and materials by awarding competitive points for green features in requests for proposals and by instituting minimum green building standards. “In the old days it was how many units and how cheap,” said Les Bluestone, a developer who in 2009 completed the Eltona in Melrose Commons, the first LEED Platinum affordable rental building in New York State. Bluestone credits the city for raising the bar: “The Bloomberg administration started looking at quality issues that weren’t studied so much in the past, and that is continuing under the present [de Blasio] administration.” Melrose Commons became the first neighborhood in the city to join the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Program (LEED-ND) in 2010.

Sustainable design certainly provides a host of benefits for people from any socio-economic group. But in the South Bronx, green features can be critical to the physical and economic health of low- and moderate-income residents. “In affordable housing, when it is a family of three and every dollar counts, the fact that utility bills could be knocked down by a significant percentage makes a difference,” said Kaplan, the architect from FXFowle. The development, which is aiming to achieve a LEED Silver rating, also includes a plethora of green features, such as solar panels to power a co-generation plant, which will reduce reliance on the city’s electric grid by 50 percent. A rooftop variable refrigerant flow system will eliminate the need for wall air conditioning units, allowing for tighter sealing throughout the building.

One of the primary ways La Central will reduce energy loads is through traditional block and plank construction, which utilizes precast concrete planks for the floor system and concrete cinderblocks for bearing walls, in contrast to the steel-beamed, market-rate buildings with glass facades being built in other parts of the city. “With market-rate housing you are trying to maximize the amount of glass that you have within the confines of the energy code and that generally means 45 percent glass,” said Kaplan. “La Central and other affordable housing projects we are designing are probably within 20 to 25 percent range for glass,” he said, noting that despite advances in glazing, glass generally is the biggest source of heat transfer in residential buildings.

Courtesy The All-Nite
 

The green features at new developments like La Central also have the potential to reduce the South Bronx’s high rates of asthma, linked in part to substandard building conditions like mold infestations. At The Eltona, developer Les Bluestone prohibited smoking and installed continuous background ventilation to reduce the impact of formaldehyde off gassing from residents’ furniture. In addition, non-toxic pest control systems such as non-cellulose wall structures and steel mesh termite barriers prevent the infestations like the recent ones that have been linked to repertory problems in New York City public housing projects. According to a recent Mount Sinai study, The Eltona’s features appear to have substantially reduced asthma attacks among residents. “It was absolutely amazing,” said Bluestone. ”People who were being hospitalized multiple times a month all of a sudden weren’t going to the hospital.”

La Central will not be the most high-tech or environmentally sustainable building in the area around the Hub. Across Brook Avenue from the fenced off vacant lots where La Central is slated for construction is the aforementioned Via Verde, designed by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects. Via Verde is the most state-of-the art affordable housing development in New York City. With its colorful prefabricated aluminum, cement and wood panel facade, and rooftop farm, it can hold its own against the new iconic buildings along the High Line in Manhattan. Further, although it features ground-level retail and a community health center, Via Verde is a relatively self-contained development—a gated courtyard, although originally intended for public use, is generally open only to residents. And with 222-mixed income residential units, Via Verde is much smaller than the La Central development, which with its commercial spaces, public thoroughfare, and large public greensward promises to redefine the neighborhood. “One of the reasons that we like La Central from a design point of view is that it is bigger than a single building,” said Kaplan, “and we had an opportunity to create a neighborhood.”

With close to half of its units slated for renters making above 80 percent AMI and 11 percent slated for renters making up to 100 percent AMI, La Central promises to alter the demographics of this poverty stricken community. However, there is no way that the proposed development with its low- and moderate-income guidelines and its supportive housing component can be construed as being an agent for the kind of gentrification that is sweeping other New York City neighborhoods. “Somebody like me, who doesn’t make that much money, still makes too much money for buildings like these,” said Winn from Nos Quedamos. “If you make halfway decent money, you cannot get in because you make too much for the rental requirements and the number [of units] available at 100 percent AMI usually is just a fraction of the building, and then there is competition for those units.”

The developers hope to complete the ULURP process by April 2016 and purchase the property from the city the following month. Much about the project’s design could change as a result of the various reviews required under the city’s land review process.  However, neighborhood leaders say that things are off to a good start. “Community-based organizations are aware of what will be happening on the site and I am sure that there will be interactions short-term and long-term,” said Loftin from Community Board 1. “People are going to be looking at bringing educational engagement to the process and also seeing involvement long term, once the project is developed—so we are very excited.”

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A Big Interesting Mess
Columbia University professor Richard Plunz discusses New York City affordable housing as part of an Inventory of What's Possible..
Courtesy IPA

On April 9 and 10, the Institute for Public Architecture and Pratt Institute School of Architecture held “An Inventory of What’s Possible,” a symposium organized to discern what can be done to implement Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plan to build 200,000 affordable housing units in the next ten years. The event consisted of visits to a variety of different public and supportive housing projects from various eras throughout the city, in addition to talks by professors, students, city officials, community activists, and the president of a residents’ association. They discussed new ideas, historic projects, problems, possible solutions, and opportunities that the current affordable housing crisis presents.

On April 9, participants toured housing ranging in time from Strivers Row by James Brown Lord, Bruce Price, and Stanford White (1893) to Via Verde by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw (2012) and in space from Roland Wank’s Grand Street housing in Lower Manhattan to Clarence Stein and Henry Wright’s Sunnyside Gardens in Queens and Twin Parks in the north Bronx. Richard Meier; Prentice, Chan & Olhausen; and Giovanni Pasanella all have buildings at Twin Parks. The tour drove home the point that New York City’s legacy is remarkable for its range, quality, and continuing success. It also showed that there are lessons to be learned—both positive and negative—from what has been built in the past.

After welcomes by Pratt Dean Thomas Hanrahan, and professor and AN editor-in-chief William Menking, panel discussions furthered historical perspectives, provided views of neighborhood activists, and presented new ideas about ways to attack the affordable housing crisis.

Jonathan Kirschenfeld, the founder of the Institute for Public Architecture, who had designed some of the housing visited the day before, noted, “We have 50 years of research on the public realm at Pratt in the institute founded by Ron Shiffman (Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, or PICCED) and now directed by Adam Freeman. Housing—and the way we think about the public realm and the interior realm—defines our humanity as a city. New York is the quintessential innovator in thinking about housing in a dense place, willing to take chances and create new types of housing.”

Karen Kubey, who directs the Institute for Public Architecture, mentioned "Total Reset" an Institute Fellows residency program on public and below-market housing that took place last summer, noting that Michael Kimmelman had covered it enthusiastically in “Trading Parking Lots for Affordable Housing,” in The New York Times on September 14.

Later in the day, when Institute Fellows presented the findings from their work, Miriam Peterson, Nathan Rich, and Sagi Golan described the “9 x 18” plan that Kimmelman had praised. They proposed a new parking policy, especially in areas near pubic transportation, an attempt to create streets that promote an active lifestyle.

“There is much more parking on NYCHA sites than on other urban blocks. The idea is to replace parking lots with parking structures that house community facilities,” said Golan.

“A lot of the residents were willing to trade parking space for other amenities.” Another Institute Fellow, Kaja Kuhl, a Columbia GSAPP professor who goes to five neighborhoods every year with the 5 Borough Studio, talked about the importance of starting a conversation with each community. She uses “Postcards from Home” to learn how the residents view “home” and found that they see it as “neighborhood and community,” “privacy,” and even “food.” She said, “We heard that housing should be affordable,” and she showed some of the student projects that were inspired by these conversations. At the Forest Houses in the Bronx, students looked at the schools that surround the NYCHA development as a place to share school facilities like a library, a gymnasium, and computer labs with each other and with NYCHA residents by putting them on the housing authority campus.

Frederick Biehle, a Pratt professor and principal of VIA Architecture, had also considered restoring streets and reshaping the urban fabric in his studio that focused on the Ingersoll and Whitman Houses in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He suggested “delineating public, semipublic, and private spaces” to counter the “sameness and banality” of the existing buildings. The studio proposed a new two-story base connecting two existing towers with semi-private space for residents and an interior courtyard with new institutional programs—a skating rink, a school, stores. “Each individual building gets to determine its own block. The metastasized scheme doubles the number of units, but the buildings’ lower floors become more porous. Townhouses face the street.” He described a number of possibilities and noted, “It’s amazing that so many successful, doable projects were proposed.”

In a morning session on “Stabilizing Neighborhoods,” the moderator was Daniel Hernandez, the Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and a Pratt professor. He noted the importance of early engagement in identifying issues and then implementing them, since “it’s a moment when there is a lot of cultural change going on in the agencies.”

NYIT Professor Nicholas Bloom described the promise of subsidized coops and said, “The word ownership comes up often in the mayor’s document.” He talked about the success of earlier subsidized coops, such as Village View in Manhattan and the Luna Park Co-op in Coney Island, which encouraged residents to take care of their neighborhoods. He proposed that NYCHA create a subsidiary to build some of these on their land on a nonprofit model, similar to what is done in Singapore. They might be built with FEMA funds in some areas, would “put more eyes on the street,” and might be step-up housing for some NYCHA families. “There has to be a less strident conversation about underused land in NYCHA communities,” he said.

Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, a principal of Buscada who teaches at the New School for Public Engagement, discussed the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). She described it as “a big mess but one that is interesting.” In 1967, families were driven out but told that they could return when new housing was built. However, not enough was built for many families to return. She emphasized the importance of perpetuity in communities.

Benjamin Dulchin, who is a community organizer, not an architect, represents the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Developmentan, an umbrella organization for 101 community development groups. He is trying to help neighborhoods set agendas and develop policies by studying what has worked and what conditions made success possible. He said that while it is important to build permanently affordable housing, it is also necessary to focus on crime, economic development, and institutions to sustain a community.

Paula Segal, the executive director of 596 Acres, an organization that advocates for community gardens spoke, unsurprisingly, in favor of their preservation and of ownership of land by communities. She is particularly opposed to giving gardens to for-profit developers.

In a discussion period after their talks, Ron Shiffman said, “Displacement and speculation on land has become palpable in every neighborhood of New York. A lot of good planning came from neighborhood-based organizations. Let’s start integrating some of the wealthiest communities.”
Pratt faculty member Meredith TenHoor chaired a panel on Enabling Quality Design. She noted that in the 1970s, when cities were seen as failing, it was often the design of housing that was blamed.

Suzanne Schindler, who teaches at Columbia, discussed another historic example—Twin Parks in the Bronx (1967–75), which participants had visited the day before. She described the interesting variety of buildings, built by a group of 15 churches and synagogues with help from the state and federal governments and designed by well-known architects. The 2,300 apartments ranging from studios to five bedrooms “were created to stabilize the neighborhood but gang warfare happened right there.” She asked, “What can we learn?” and answered, “It all depends, not just on design but on how a project is managed,” showing a single loaded corridor completely blocked, plazas fenced in, she added, “You need to think about design along with management, security, and other factors.”

Pratt professor David Burney commissioned innovative community centers from celebrated, mostly young architects when he was in charge of architecture at NYCHA in the 1990s and then headed the city’s Department of Design and Construction during the Bloomberg Administration. “When I got to NYCHA, I found that there was still some money left for buildings but it was hard to spend. You couldn’t build unless you could provide free land and use the low income tax credit. The Reagan Administration insisted on private developers, and the early attempts had been disastrous,” he said. They found a community garden on West 84th Street and hired Castro-Blanco Piscioneri Architects to build 35 permanently affordable units. With Becker + Becker, they built two- and three-bedroom apartments in a contextual walkup building on 8th Street; at 189 Stanton Street they built supportive housing for families with AIDS designed by James McCullar. “There are ways of doing things that are different. All these projects are completely integrated into their neighborhoods,” he pointed out.

TenHoor then asked the speakers, “How do we get quality? Who defines those standards?” Menking said, “At Sunnyside, the architects were deeply committed to quality and social scientists were part of it.” He also noted the role that philanthropy had played in the past, citing Phipps Houses, The Robin Hood Foundation, and Common Ground. Burney suggested, “Reverse the notion that design costs money, that design is only for the wealthy.” He also said, “As every architect knows, when you get to the end of the project, it’s the landscaping that gets cut.” He noted the importance of “health and the built environment. We are not number one in many things, but we are number one in obesity.” TenHoor mentioned the role of the private sector, noting that Mayor Lindsay advocated it and that it attracted architects of the caliber who designed Twin Parks. Schindler mentioned “long term issues and short term issues. If someone is going to maintain it, they may build it differently.”

Toward the end of the day, the president of the residents association at the five-story walkup First Houses (1936), Brendaliz Santiago, presented the tenants’ point of view. “NYCHA doesn’t communicate with tenants,” she said, “but we want community residents involved in planning.” Since New Years Eve 2014, though, she has been working closely with NYCHA. “With unity there is power.”

Karina Totah, Senior Advisor to the Chair of the New York City Housing Authority, explained, “The mayor gave the chair two directions: Reset your relationship with key stakeholders and create a plan for how you are going to make NYCHA survive.”She said, “Safe, clean, and connected is the goal,” and that engaging residents like Santiago to get resident input is a priority as well as dealing with short term financial problems, rehabilitating, and harnessing the real estate NYCHA already owns, and operating 138,000 units. “We are the largest landlord in New York City,” she added.

The two-day event brought together architects, professors, students, community organizers, residents, and managers of housing projects. The conversation necessary to jumpstart Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious housing plan has begun.

 

 

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Piece by piece, Watch as New York City's first micro-unit housing complex by nArchitects takes shape
New York City's first-ever entirely micro-unit housing complex is being stacked together on Manhattan's East Side. Back in February, we wrote that the modules for the nARCHITECTS-designed building were being assembled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and now we can report that they have begun arriving at their permanent home in Kips Bay. https://vimeo.com/129103128 The project, which is being developed by Monadnock, won Michael Bloomberg's adAPT NYC Competition in 2013 and was originally known as My Micro NY. It has since since been given the more conventional-sounding name: Carmel Place. Each of Carmel Place's units measure between 260 and 360 square feet and offer nine-and-a-half-foot-tall ceilings. If tenants are feeling a bit cramped, they can lean over their Juliette balconies for some air, or step into one of Carmel Place's (non-micro) communal spaces like the gym, lounge, or terrace. "While there are currently micro-apartments in buildings throughout the city, regulations do not allow an entire building to be comprised only of micro-units," the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development said in a statement. "This pilot project will help inform potential regulatory changes that could allow the development of micro-unit apartment buildings in appropriate locations." The 11-story building is slated to be completed by the end of the year and will have a mix of market-rate and subsidized units, and housing for veterans. The market-rate units will be listed between $2,000–3,000. You can watch the installation process in the video above, made by Lloyd Alter of Treehugger.
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Could New York learn from these temporary affordable prefab homes in the Netherlands?
Affordable housing has been a critical part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda since taking office, promising to create or preserve 200,000 affordable units over the next decade. At a press conference last week, the mayor announced that his administration has made headway toward achieving this ambitious goal, financing over 17,300 affordable homes in the last year (whether his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, should have received some credit for this accomplishment has spurred debate). But even with this good news, the demand for affordable housing continues to grow. To help fix this shortage, the administration might want to take a cue from Dutch developer, Heijmans ONE, which has come up with its own win-win idea for alleviating the housing crunch in the Netherlands: putting vacant land to good use with temporary, portable housing. Heijmans ONE designed a one-bedroom prefab house that can be easily assembled in just one day. The house, which rents for  700 euros or $900, kills two birds with one stone: provides an affordable dwelling and activates empty land while construction is stalled on a project. These sleek, pentagonal-shaped homes are designed to have a small carbon footprint, using sustainable wood and solar panels. Once constructed, the house can be connected to the city’s water and sewage, but also designed to operate off the grid. New York City, with its paucity of affordable housing and glut of vacant land, could benefit from this model. Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Housing Preservation & Development have already started rolling out a plan to develop over a 1,000 city-owned properties. In the meantime, why not bring some temporary, affordable housing to sites waiting for long-term development?