By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
West Village Houses Residents Fight Back
The West Village House (WVH) co-op board reportedly spent $300,000 exploring the feasibility of an unsolicited Madison developer’s offer.
How can the WVH board spend that when they now say it “never was on the table,” when there is so much pressure to reduce monthly charges after they lost their tax abatement, and to develop their own plan to move forward?
Jeff Lydon, a former board member, agrees, adding, “a large number of owners agree as well. They formed a group… which has been successful in redirecting the board… after many months when they should have been working on exiting the Article XI and HDFC—I think because they were blinded by the profits of redevelopment.”
Attorney Jack Lester was recently retained by Shareholders for the Preservation of West Village Houses (SPWVH), a group of co-op owners fighting to develop their own plan.
The West Village Houses did begin the process of transitioning from an affordable housing co-op to market-rate on March 9th, when it officially lost its tax-exempt status, raising the coop’s tax bill to $3 million annually from $500,000. According to Lester, after reconstitution, which could take nine months to complete, it will continue to be affordable for those already living there, including the renters.
Then, according to Real Estate Weekly, a WVH group recently filed a complaint accusing Governor Andrew Cuomo of misleading them about the affordability of their homes while he allegedly engaged in “pay-to-play” politics with former WVH property owner Andrew Farkas in 2006. The WVH group says that after leaving HUD in 2001, Cuomo was hired as a vice president of Farkas’ Island Capital firm.
Attorney Massimo D’Angelo, who is representing the WVH group, says that his clients have a solid argument, since the West Village Houses used a J-51 tax abatement, which has stipulations that require developments to remain affordable. The group is calling upon Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the conversion of the West Village Houses from the Mitchell-Lama program into market-rate housing in 2002.
These 42 low-scale walk-up buildings are airy, with light-filled courtyards, but they are quickly being surrounded by luxury high-rises that capture the allure of the nearby Hudson River Park. In 2002, 380 of 420 tenants were able buy their apartments for about $150,000, while the other 40 retained low rents as long as their apartment was their primary residence. Section 16.7.B requires the purchaser to be an immediate family member or a ‘natural person—meaning not a corporation—to reside in the apartment. Attorney Erica Buckley, of the law firm Nixon Peabody, representing the West Village Houses board, said that she agreed the proprietary lease’s stipulation of residency would make it impossible for Madison (or another corporation) to buy the complex.
“There is still a low-income requirement to buy… you have to submit an affidavit that it’s your primary residence,” Lester explained. Waivers are available for 76 apartments that would allow these units to be sold to buyers of any income level.
Many residents are getting elderly and need elevators, but Lester said elevators could be added without doing a mega-development project. Certainly, a sale of the coop’s Perry Street garage, worth an estimated $60-63 million, would go a long way toward making improvements for all the owners.
Center for Architecture Hosts Social Housing Exhibit
How can architects work with local conditions to tackle the growing need for well-designed affordable housing, including social inclusion, sustainability and the vitality of public space?
Some of the best and most innovative examples of not-for-profit housing in Europe are part of a new exhibit at the Center for Architecture Gallery (free to the public and open through May 19th), which includes examples by a new generation of architecture practice transforming affordable housing, in both renovation and new building, offering a challenge to America to rethink how we build.
Following news of another affordable housing project—West Village Houses—going the way of market-rate coops, we wonder what will be left for our workers.
Commonly known here as “public housing,” our society, professionals and governments, continue to be challenged to meet the growing need for accessible, low-cost housing in the life and function of our cities.
How will architects in American cities approach the design of affordable housing? Perhaps this exhibit will show us the future.
14th Street Coalition Expands Efforts
The 14th Street Coalition is expanding its efforts to include the east side as well as the west side in countering and offering positive suggestions for improvements over the MTA/DOT plans to redesign the streets for the L train shutdown period and beyond.
Community Board 2 held a public meeting March 1st dedicated to sharing a progress report from MTA & DOT with the public, yet they have not shown proof that their projections are accurate, since their plan is premised on very dubious projections of catastrophic increases in pedestrian, bicyclers, and most of all, bus riders, when the L Train shuts down. Bus riders are projected to balloon from 30,000 riders to 84,000 riders on 14th Street, due to commuters going crosstown. Bikers are projected to double or triple coming over the Williamsburg Bridge, from the present 7,100 riders.
Where are these increases coming from?
Logic says that when the L Train isn’t running there, about 225,000 people will no longer be riding under 14th Street daily. They will plan their trip on the best routes available, so with 15 other subway lines crossing 14th Street from 3rd Avenue to 8th Avenue, they will choose one to exit that is closest to their destination, just as they do now.
Why get out at a station where you have to wait for a bus in the rain to go across town if you don’t have to? Bikers nor other vehicles crossing our bridges surely don’t all go to 14th Street.
The MTA website highlights these key points and the Coalition has offered commentary, below:
MTA: Buses need dedicated lanes.
The Coalition supports a full range of travel options, such as combinations currently used on Manhattan avenues and major cross-streets as good examples; Standard Select Bus Service can be added to regular buses on 14th Street. Claims of vast ridership are unproven, as are claims for vast sidewalk additions. More likely, the heavy pedestrian volumes on 14th Street under current conditions will decrease during the L train shutdown, allowing current sidewalks to handle the load.
MTA: Provide multiple options, including ferry and simple, direct inter-borough bus routing, connecting to subways.
The balance of transportation options for all commuters, residents, visitors that the MTA is offering is supported by the Coalition.
MTA: Bike lanes should be physically separated.
Bike lanes ideally are separated, but the Coalition recognizes that our narrow streets don’t always allow it. When traffic on side streets is low and slow, bikes can travel with the traffic. Safety demands the 2-way bike lanes only occur at pedestrian areas of parks as separate bikeways, not on city streets that violate the design and safety standards of the city, traveling opposite directions from the traffic. 13th Street, like most of the other side streets and 14th Street, can remain mixed mode, without a separate bike lane.
MTA: Street treatments should take emergency vehicle and delivery access needs into consideration.
The Coalition supports the full access of our emergency services, and for timely deliveries for our businesses, without additional costs for extended delivery hours. Blocking car traffic on 14th Street only creates more problems on this and other streets.
MTA: Manhattan residents fear traffic spillover on narrow, mostly residential side streets.
Any plan that displaces traffic onto side streets or ignores the needs of the residents, commuters, visitors and businesses must be avoided. No proofs that traffic will increase enough to warrant major changes have been shown.
MTA: Balance the needs of riders, residents and businesses.
The best balance must include pedestrians that are visually, audibly and mobility impaired, with better access to the subways that will stay in operation and for the restored L train stations. Preparation for better bus routes and ferry service and HOV3+ is needed, but there really doesn’t seem to be any cause for the big changes proposed for the streets. There are many travel choices that criss-cross our city. We are all for better bus service, better bike lanes, and less congestion, but drastically changing neighborhood streets is not warranted.
We expect that our Community Boards, elected officials and others that represent us will do their own due diligence to consider options that are reasoned and fair, not this MTA/DOT plan as is, with its unsubstantiated predictions.
More important than changing street designs, would be implemented congestion strategies for all downtown Manhattan, not just the 14th Street corridor.
Brian J. Pape is an architectural consultant in private practice, serves as Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects New York Design for Aging Committee, and as WestView News’ Architectural Editor. He is also an officer of the health consultancy firm EnJOY Life!