Housing Preservation in Harlem and Washington Heights
In 2003, Settlement Housing Fund acquired ten buildings from the city that had been in receivership for years, needed major repairs and owed millions of dollars in taxes. We formed a partnership with the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board and New York City to rehabilitate the buildings, convert them to cooperatives, and sell the occupied apartments to the residents as very affordable limited equity cooperatives. The buildings, all structurally sound, contain large, irreplaceable apartments of which at least 80% are occupied primarily by low income families. In every case, the neighborhoods demographics indicate very low incomes, but there is pressure from gentrification with nearby buildings experiencing successful conversion to luxury use. We sold two buildings as cooperatives with a total of 100 units in 2007 and 2008.
The remaining buildings containing 362 apartments and their residents (over 1,000) have suffered from years of neglect. The apartments are large with excellent layouts that will remain intact. However, the roofs leak, the plumbing needs to be replaced, the wiring needs to be upgraded, energy efficient windows and boilers need to be installed, along with heat timers and heat sensors, and hook-ups for washers and dryers need to be provided to enhance the long range use as cooperatives. All of the units need new kitchens and bathrooms installed, and most need walls and ceilings resurfaced and floors refinished. In addition, all of the public areas need to be refurbished and all of the facades require repair.
There is an urgent need to save the buildings in our program for low and moderate income residents who otherwise would not be able to stay in their neighborhoods. Typically, the cost of renovation is $100,000 per apartment. Today it costs over $350,000 to build a new two bedroom apartment that would be much smaller than the units in the buildings we are renovating. With municipal funds provided through the City’s Third Party Transfer Program, the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development is providing loans at no more than one percent interest to cover most of the costs. These funds are scarce, and it is important to use them wisely. It is complicated work, but with a bright outcome. Two buildings are now limited equity cooperatives, making homeownership a reality for 87 low-income, former renters and new residents alike.