Local leaders push to keep Harborview Terrace 100 percent affordable



View of Harborview Terrace parking lot from West 56th Street. Photo: Sophia Ahmadi.

As new plans for Harborview Terrace surfaced in August — when the mayor’s office presented local officials with a proposal to change the supposedly 100 percent affordable housing project into a building with 75 percent market-rate units — it became clear how long-term developments could be easily compromised.

In response to the mayor’s revised proposal, which was discussed at a Community Board 4 Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee meeting in September, CB4 members are drafting a letter urging that the mayor’s office finally fulfill its 13-year-old promise of making Harborview Terrace 100 percent affordable.

Local officials who had been involved since the project’s inception in 2005 were confused by the proposed change of plans, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “You just don’t break a promise,” she said in a phone call, referring to a 2014 meeting when de Blasio’s administration reassured local elected leaders it would fulfill the “100 percent affordable” promise made under the Bloomberg administration for Harborview Terrace.

But the New York City Housing Authority currently faces a projected $31.8 billion deficit in unmet capital repairs, according to its latest Physical Needs Assessment Report. At the presentation the mayor’s office proposed it would take a look at the capital needs for Harborview, before agreeing to make the building 100 percent affordable.

By charging market rates in the new building, the mayor’s office suggested some of the profits could be used to renovate the existing Harborview towers, an incentive the community board and local leaders never agreed on, said Joe Restuccia, a CB4 member who attended the presentation in August.

“No one has ever talked about (how) the Harborview site is meant to renovate the Harborview houses,” he said. “They kept stressing it was just an idea, but it was not an idea, it was very much a pitch to say here’s how we should proceed.”

“This is not the place where NYCHA needs to make money,” said Brewer. “It was an agreement for 100 percent and they should stick to it.”

The original plan included building a third and entirely affordable apartment tower on top of a parking lot that currently exists next to the two Harborview Terrace houses, operated by NYCHA, located between West 54th to West 56th streets from 10th  to 11th avenues. The plans to build date back to 2005 and were put forward during the Bloomberg administration as a point of agreement in Hudson Yards re-zoning.

Tenants of Harborview Terrace originally agreed to the plans to build on the parking lot on the promise it would be entirely affordable. “One of their concerns was that their children cannot afford to live in Manhattan,” said Jean Daniel Noland, Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee Chair. “To come in and say sorry, it’s going to be 50 stories high and not affordable is a slap in the face.”

City Council member Helen Rosenthal recently announced plans that both she and other officials were working on getting the administration to visit the Harborview site, so that they themselves could explain their thinking directly to the tenants. “We are still working on getting a date,” she said. “I think they are going to get an earful from the tenants.”

Miguel Acevedo, president of the Fulton Houses Tenant’s Association in Chelsea, has been advocating for more affordable housing in the area for decades. “There are generations and generations of families that have been here 50 plus years,” he said in a phone call, adding that it changes the neighborhood when housing is only available to people with high incomes.  “It starts becoming a community only for the rich and doesn’t give an opportunity for a kid from a working class family to stay where he was born and raised.”

Current tenants at Harborview are also worried, including Jacqueline Arias, 21, who moved to Harborview with her family six years ago when her previous residence in Washington Heights burned down. Arias sees the proposal for market-rate units as a threat to not just the two existing buildings at Harborview, but what’s left of affordable housing in the area. “I’m assuming they want all the low-income people to (eventually) move out, so that way people with higher-income can afford more. It’s really unfair for us,” she said.

Tabetha Quiles lives in Harborview with her husband and mother-in-law and has witnessed the rapid gentrification of the area and its buildings. “Not a lot of them have affordable housing in them and pretty soon it’s probably going to be all those nice fancy buildings with doormen,” she said.

A two-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood now rents on average at $5639 a month, according to statistics published by RentCafé, a nationwide rental-listing site.

“This is just the beginning of the end of public housing. That’s the panic that you see in people,” said Acevedo.

The fate of Harborview Terrace might come down to a set of procedural reviews for land use in the city. The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — where applications from developers are publicly reviewed — is a required step. During this process, the local community board, borough president and city planning commission are required to weigh in through a public hearing. Their recommendations, however, are solely advisory. It is the city council who ultimately has the final say regarding the proposal’s approval.

Brewer remains adamant that she would reject the ULURP for Harborview Terrace unless it was 100 percent affordable as promised.

The full community board will vote on the final language of the Harborview letter to the mayor in a full board meeting in November. In the meantime, Brewer is unshakable on seeing Harborview’s promise full-filled. “I would rather wait longer if it means waiting for the affordable,” she said.