By Brian J. Pape, AIA
In the April and May issues of WestView News, I reviewed the history of West Village Houses (WVH), beginning with their 1960s inception as residences to replace dilapidated industrial buildings along the elevated railroad on Washington Street. The railroad had erected the elevated tracks, starting slowly in 1929, due to public outcry after years of deaths on the surface tracks leading from the St. John’s Terminal building at Clarkson Street to various manufacturers on the far west side of Manhattan.
The City-sponsored WVH residences got off to a rough start, both financially and aesthetically. Heavy-handed simplification of construction was forced onto it to save costs. During the quarter-century under the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, residents saw the change from a rough-and-tumble maritime work area to a highly improved and desirable residential neighborhood. Since 2006, WVH maintained its affordability as a City-supported tenant-centered 420-unit complex—a housing development fund corporation (HDFC) cooperative increasingly surrounded by expensive condo towers.
Recently, WVH has embarked on significant façade repairs and changes, including the addition of large picture windows in the stairwell walls, opening light and views. Bricks have been tuck-pointed and replaced where needed; work on many of the 42 buildings has been phased over numerous months, at budget-busting cost. Superstorm Sandy flooded some WVH buildings, but those damages have been repaired with insurance coverage. The co-op has purchased a flood protection system for its most vulnerable buildings.
Shareholders of WVH also mention the garage at Washington and Perry Streets, which produces some income for WVH, but could also be sold for revenue. But to whom and for what type of development should it be sold? A meeting to discuss those options will be held in May.
Facing the expiration of its tax abatement in March 2018, which will significantly raise everyone’s tax bill (one shareholder says it will double his monthly charges), WVH residents have mobilized information meetings. On April 20th, Julie Walpert and Jim Charleton of the City’s Housing and Preservation Development (HPD) Department presented a ‘Proposal to Extend the HDFC,’ which would create a condo of two co-ops. One co-op would need to have at least 40 units committed to the HDFC option for at least 20 years, while the other co-op would contain units that revert to market-rate ownership, without restrictions.
The HDFC co-op maintains current monthly charges, but caps sales prices and income restrictions for buyers (even if they are family members) as well as the 25% flip tax.
Rumors have circulated that WVH could be sold to a private developer, who could then build new condo towers at market rate. That would require a majority vote by shareholders, as well as major zoning and land use changes. However, this is unlikely and not getting serious consideration from shareholder groups.
What is clear to officials is how difficult it is to develop and maintain affordable housing. So, Mayor de Blasio’s goal of 200,000 affordable units over 10 years is indeed an aggressive goal. Can it be achieved?