BY Annie Zak
In Midtown West, the Chelsea Houses, Elliott Houses, Harborview Terrace, Fulton Houses and Amsterdam Houses, scattered from West 15th Street to West 61st Street, provide apartments through the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for an estimated 6,182 New Yorkers. But both city officials and NYCHA residents wonder about the future of New York’s storied projects, especially in Midtown West, where development is imminent.
On Sept. 24, NYCHA Chairman John B. Rhea announced initiatives to bring life—and revenue—back to the city’s projects. His main plan: To build private housing on underbuilt, NYCHA-owned land, both affordable and more expensive market rate units.
Rhea made the announcement at a breakfast sponsored by the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), which is, according to Deputy Director Jordan Isenstadt, a “non-profit, non-partisan organization” that joins the business, civic, labor and government communities of New York City “to come up with innovative solutions to the problems of the day.” It has “no formal role” in the process of building developments on NYCHA land.
The release by NYCHA stated, “this new initiative would offer NYCHA-owned sites for the development of market rate and affordable housing, and, in some cases, ground-floor commercial and retail development.” NYCHA hopes to generate more revenue by integrating market rate private housing into the plan.
Beyond that statement of intent, there were few specifics. “We know there are certainly real estate developers in our network who would be interested in the proposal,” said Isenstadt. “I wouldn’t be comfortable saying who that might be if they actually are interested. [I’m] thinking about real estate developers who have historically built affordable housing or built in the outer boroughs.”
ABNY’s chairman is Bill Rudin, also the President of Rudin Management Company, Inc., a real estate company which ABNY’s website says “has championed the convergence of old properties, both residential and commercial, into technology smart buildings.” Rudin Management Company, Inc.’s Executive Vice President John J. Gilbert III said in an e-mail response to a question about whether the company would seek to put in a bid to build on NYCHA land, “We do not comment on this type of request.”
A source familiar with the city’s real estate market said he does not think Rudin Management Company, Inc. will be involved in bidding to build housing or commercial property on NYCHA land, but that Muss Development LLC, located on East 119th Street, might be a prospective bidder. Russ Colchamiro at the Marino Organization handles public relations for Muss, and said, “We don’t have anything to contribute to your story.”
This isn’t the first time NYCHA has built private housing on its land. Earlier this year, the private Elliott-Chelsea affordable housing—not to be confused with the public housing projects, Chelsea Houses and Elliott Houses just around the corner—was built on NYCHA land at 401 West 25th St., at the corner of Ninth Ave., by Artimus Construction. This affordable housing development created 168 new apartments for low- and middle-income residents.
The announcement does, however, mark a much larger private housing construction project than NYCHA has previously undertaken, and the unprecedented inclusion of market rate apartments along with affordable housing.
ABNY’s website said that the land to be built upon may include NYCHA-owned parking lots and park land. Rhea said that no public housing will be demolished and no residents displaced in the process of building this new housing. When asked whether NYCHA has decided to develop on any of its lots in Midtown West, specifically, a NYCHA spokesperson said, “we are still in the process of engaging residents, elected officials and other stakeholders,” but the organization could not specify how they are reaching out to residents.
John Lee Compton, a neighborhood resident who sits on the Land Use Committee of Community Board 4, said he was unaware that NYCHA had announced plans to build market rate housing on the land it owns; he had only heard about plans to build affordable housing. “We hope to build a building on the Fulton [Houses] parking lot,” said Compton, though he mentioned it was intended to be affordable housing much like the Elliott-Chelsea units. Other than that, he isn’t sure which lots might be open to construction.
Pamela Wolff, who sits on the Housing, Health and Human Services Committee in Community Board 4 and is also co-chair of the Landmarks Committee, says she opposes the housing authority’s plans to build market rate housing on land they own. However, she also acknowledges that finding a place to live is an issue in Midtown West.
“[We’ve] always been trying to find ways to build affordable housing for low-income and middle-income residents,” said Wolff.