West Village Houses Threat: Developer’s Takeover Bid Considered

By Brian J Pape, AIA

A DECISION MUST BE MADE SOON TO SAVE THE WEST VILLAGE HOUSES: Looking northeast from West Street at Morton Street, these waterfront West Village Houses are enveloped with the “Platinum Coast” of newer condominiums, making them a tempting target. Note the window work currently in progress. Photo by Brian J. Pape

In four recent issues starting in April 2017, WestView News has covered the West Village Houses (WVH)—a 420-unit cooperative (co-op), 380 of which are owned by WVH residents and 40 of which are investor-owned. The 42 buildings were built as four-to-five-story walk-ups with the Mitchell-Lama subsidized affordable housing program in the early 1970s. In the September 2017 issue of WestView, I reported on the July 20th Community Board 2 (CB2) meeting, where the CB2 requested another effort by the WVH to preserve long-term affordability despite a March 2018 expiration of the WVH tax abatement. Fortunately, the City’s reserved parking requirement has been lifted from WVH, allowing the co-op to sell the Perry Street Garage it owns.

Previous boards proposed a plan to sell the Garage for approximately $60 million, put $10 million into the capital improvement account, pay off the underlying co-op mortgage (thus eliminating $2.1 million in annual interest payments), and substantially mitigate the 2018 tax increase for any market-rate units. For those shareholders wishing to continue in the City’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) program, which circumscribes sale prices, the HPD proposed to extend the existing tax abatement agreement, keeping their costs affordable. Without such plans, typical maintenance will in-crease by 38% or more next year.

The board submitted this plan to a vote by shareholders (WVH bylaws require a two-thirds majority of shares’ votes for any disposition of real estate), but ballots won’t be counted by the board until more options are explored. According to a board member, voters are allowed to change their votes later if they wish.

Meanwhile, co-op board officer Jim Bozart stated that the board is entertaining ideas, keeping all options “on the table” for consideration, and arranging informational meetings with residents to explain various proposals, even though no formal request for proposals has been issued by the WVH.

The unsolicited proposal that has many upset originates from a company called Madison Equities, to “redevelop” the West Village Houses. That would involve tearing the Houses down and replacing them with high-rise buildings and ‘modern amenities,’ such as elevators, roof decks, a fitness center, concierge service, etc. This would probably occur under the 421-a program, providing only 20% affordable units in exchange for a condo tax abatement for the market-rate units.

Jeff Lydon is a past board member of the West Village Houses, an architect, and has been actively involved with the recent maintenance and improvements undertaken by the co-op. The co-op even had the Local Office Landscape Architecture firm do thorough resiliency research and plan for all six blocks of sites to combat a future ‘Superstorm Sandy’ flood.

According to Mr. Lydon, “The proposal now being entertained by the board is destructive to all the diverse interests of our community: It’s illegal, it worsens affordability, it forces people out of their homes, and it will make our apartments impossible to sell.”

“There is no constituency here that is not harmed by this,” Mr. Lydon wrote to shareholders, adding, “Now we’re being asked to vote to throw people out of their homes. Regardless of your own feelings about the West Village Houses, you are living in the only existing expression of Jane Jacobs’ vision of low-rise, low-density, neighborly city living.” Jacobs’ concept borrowed the historic townhouse building type as inspiration, with its leafy backyard. Many walk-up townhouse residences, even the plainer Federal style, still enhance the character of this neigh-borhood. “More than anything,” Mr. Lydon queries, “we wonder why anyone would want to destroy the fruits of Jane Jacobs’ dream.”

The maintenance fees currently paid by most residents are fairly modest, Mr. Lydon stated, yet their re-roofing, facade brick repointing, engineering studies, energy efficiency improvements, and new window installations have all been accomplished within their budget; this is all part of a long-term maintenance plan. Owners are even allowed to add more windows in their apartments. Some vulnerable buildings have new ‘aqua-fence’ flood-protection systems purchased from insurance proceeds.

Yet Mr. Bozart explains that the aging Houses will require major capital repairs and improvements that can’t be financed within their budget. However, the right development plan might cover those costs for those who want to remain in the older homes. Temporary relocation during construction years is a necessary requirement.

Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to save the West Village Houses, which he conveyed at his March 2017 Town Hall Meeting, seems to go unheeded. Surrounding real estate prices continue to increase for apartment re-sales in all building types. The redevelopment plans are completely self-defeating for the afford-ability community, and while this proposal is on the table, no prospective buyer will want to buy in a building threatened to be torn down. Stability is essential. March 2018 will be here shortly, and a decision must be made soon to save the West Village Houses.

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