New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

CHINATOWN

Chinatown group is latest to flex co-ops’ newfound political muscle.

Kenmare parking garage joins list of Manhattan's endangered species. 

Two recent developments highlight the maddening difficulty of preserving affordable housing in New York City.

Last week the City Council’s Affordable Housing Preservation Task Force introduced three bills to tighten requirements on low-income HDFC co-ops, in an effort to keep them affordable. The bills would require HDFCs to report on shareholder income, resale prices, monthly maintenance and tax arrears. Since some HDFC apartments have recently sold for more than $1 million, a cap on resale prices may also be in the works.

On the heels of that development, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has come out with an audit showing that there were 230 tenants earning $250,000 a year or more in the city’s subsidized “middle-income” Mitchell-Lama co-ops in 2012, the New York Post reports. One resident earned $1.4 million, another earned $1.1 million. The Mitchell-Lama program was inaugurated in 1955 to provide housing for people who didn’t qualify for public housing but couldn’t afford market rates.

Some Mitchell-Lama residents who initially met income limits have seen their incomes rise sharply over the years. Vickie Been, the department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) commissioner, notes that Mitchell-Lamas provide affordable homes for 100,000 New Yorkers, and she insists that the number of residents earning more than $250,000 is “quite small.”

But large enough to illustrate why it’s so difficult to find affordable housing in New York City.

Speaking of white-glove buildings, it looks like the "poor door" is making headlines again. According to the New York Daily News, Extell Development wants to build a 56-story luxury tower near the Manhattan Bridge, the former site of a Pathmark supermarket. Next to it would be a 13-story "poor door" building where the low-income population in the complex would live. Activists are saying hell no. The "poor door," they say, "reeks of discrimination." The Daily News reports that last Wednesday, "hundreds of Chinatown and Lower East Side residents gathered in front of the 227 Cherry St. construction site to demand that [Mayor Bill] de Blasio protect their waterfront community." They mean business, too, planning to carry on the protests on the last Wednesday of every month. They are calling on the mayor to stand by the promise he made in 2014 to end the use of the poor doors. Scheduled to be completed by 2018, the luxury tower would be located in the midst of several public housing projects — so this fight is more than just saying no to the segregation affecting the low-income population. This fight is also about a city that, according to many, doesn't seem to have its priorities in check. One activist points out that what the city needs are schools, not (more) luxury towers. And it's also about gentrification: "Luxury buildings push rents through the roof and displace low-income people; the loss of local, affordable businesses such as Pathmark also forces people out," adds another activist. For them, scrapping plans for a poor door isn't enough. They want to stop the entire development in its tracks. "We put you in office," they say to the mayor for whom affordable housing is so high on the agenda. "So we demand that you stop the Extell project!" They're mad as hell, and they're not going take it anymore.

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