Affordable Housing Gets Back Burner in Chelsea


Some sour on affordable housing as Chelsea Market deal sweetener 

Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 12:47 PM CDT 

On September 5, the City Planning Commission (CPC) gave its unanimous approval to a plan which would allow the vertical expansion of Chelsea Market — after the iconic building’s owner, Jamestown Properties, agreed to a number of scalebacks and sweeteners. 

 Most significantly, the CPC further clarified plans — first proposed by Community Board 4 (CB4) during its June 6 full board vote — to build affordable housing somewhere in the CB4 area, preferably in Chelsea. Funding for such an effort would be drawn from money long ago earmarked for the High Line Improvement Fund (HLIF). Seen by some as a palatable local “get” in exchange for the City Council’s approval of Jamestown’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application, other community and tenant advocacy groups are sour on the deal — calling it an unlikely scenario, given the fact that housing promised during the creation of 2005’s Special West Chelsea District (SWCD) never materialized.

 “It’s not that we all don’t want affordable housing in Chelsea,” stated Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, “but we shouldn’t have to pay for it twice with two upzonings that this neighborhood doesn’t want or need.” 

 At a rally held on September 28 at the 15th Street and Tenth Avenue side of Chelsea Market, Berman was joined by more than two dozen activists from such wide-ranging groups as Save Chelsea, Tenant PAC, London Terrace Tenants Association, Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s club), Chelsea Coalition on Housing, Greenwich Village Community Task Force and Council of Chelsea Block Associations. They met to express solidarity in their opposition to the “two egregious towers” which Jamestown seeks to build on the Ninth and Tenth Avenue ends of the block-long complex. Berman noted that such construction is prohibited by the current zoning, but allowed by the CPC-approved upzoning. 

Berman is a former member of CB4’s Affordable Housing Task Force, which was charged with overseeing the fulfillment of the city’s affordable housing commitments from the massive West Chelsea and Hudson Yards rezonings of 2005. But he said that the city did not keep its word. 

 At that time, Berman explained, the city promised that in return for rezoning the SWCD area, “filling it with huge buildings of luxury housing,” they would generate 27 percent affordable housing: 100 units targeted for middle- and moderate-income families. The designated location was on West 18th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenue — a parking lot on Fulton Houses, which was then (and still is) owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 

 Set forth in the Special West Chelsea Points of Agreement, as reached between the mayor and the City Council, “All units will be permanently affordable…A portion to be developed may be set aside for NYCHA residents or households on the waiting list through Section 8.” (Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937 authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of low-income households.) 

 However, after the City Council passed the upzoning, the community was informed there was no money to build it. “They said, ‘We didn’t know it was going to cost money to purchase the land. We can’t deliver,’ ” recalled Berman. “Now the city is saying, ‘If you let us upzone more of your neighborhood, with more unwanted towers in Chelsea, we’ll finally give you the money.’ They are asking us to pay a second time for what was owed us seven years ago.”  [Emphasis added]

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