Two Harlem projects approved despite opposition

Council member for the district supported projects. On May 30, 2007, the City Council approved two housing projects proposed for Harlem by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development despite residents’ criticisms over the affordable housing components.

HPD submitted a proposal by BRP Development for a 38-unit condominium project called The Savannah to be built at 2110 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. The nine-story mixed-use building would also include 5,273 sq.ft. of commercial space and 815 sq.ft. of community space. BRP proposed to reserve eight of the 38 residential units for persons with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area median income.

The second project, proposed for 21 West 128th Street, would contain 26 rental units in a six-story building to be developed by the Phipps Houses Group. The affordable housing plan called for eight units to be targeted to formerly homeless families and reserved for persons earning 30 percent of the median income. Phipps would also reserve the remaining 18 units for persons earning under 60 percent of the median income.

When the projects reached the City Council’s Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions & Concessions, Council Member Inez E. Dickens, who represents the district, immediately voiced her support for both projects. Dickens emphasized that she negotiated an agreement with The Savannah’s developers to set rental limits on the community space at $35 per square foot and $40 to $50 per square foot for the commercial space. BRP also agreed to provide an additional 1,500 sq.ft. of commercial space to benefit local community-based businesses at its Strivers West development, located at 2601 Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Two Harlem residents testified in opposition to the proposals. Kay Samuels from the Harlem Platform Committee opposed The Savannah, arguing that, as a condo project for middle-income residents, it failed to alleviate Harlem residents’ affordable housing needs. Samuels said that Harlem “has a glut of condo development,” which local residents could not afford. By continuing this trend, HPD was pushing “Harlemites out of Harlem.” Since only eight of the 38 units would be subject to income restrictions, and the limit would expire after 15 years, Samuels said the project failed to provide permanent housing solutions.

Harlem resident Julius Tegerdine, although supportive of the goals of the West 128th Street Apartments to serve formerly homeless families, said that “the numbers simply don’t add up.” Tegerdine pointed out that 15 of the 26 units would be one-bedroom and studio apartments, and only one of the units offered at 30 percent of the median income would be a three-bedroom. Tegerdine argued that the small units would be ineffective in tackling the project’s family housing goals.

Council Member Dickens responded by saying, “You can please some of the people, some of the time, but you can’t please all people all of the time.” Dickens reemphasized that The Savannah, unlike other affordable housing projects, would provide needed space for Harlem businesses and the West 128th Street project met the needs of very low-income persons. She voiced her continued support for both projects, and recommended that both be approved.

The subcommittee approved both proposals, passing them onto the full Council, which voted 47-0-5 in favor of both projects.

ULURP Process
The Savannah
Lead Agency: HPD, no review
Comm.Bd: MN 10, App’d, 25-4-3
Boro. Pres: App’d
CPC: App’d, 11-0-1

West 128th Street Apartments
Lead Agency: HPD, no review
Comm.Bd: MN 10, App’d, 28-2-1
Boro. Pres: App’d
CPC: App’d, 13-0-0

Council: The Savannah (May 30, 2007); Council: West 128th Street Apartments (May 30, 2007).

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