By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Every year in June, West Village Houses (WVH) elects the entire board to a one-year term. This June 26th election saw several members leave and new members join the board.
As our readers know, the issues facing the 420 shareholders, in the 42 buildings of WVH lining the west side of Washington Street, revolve around the continuing affordability of these unique homes.
Faced with financial challenges, some board members support only a plan with no forced relocation or eviction, but it is not known if they are the majority. Even under the best of circumstances, redevelopment plans could take several years to implement, and residents will be lost to the neighborhood during those limbo years, perhaps never to return.
As of July 1, 2018, the taxes on WVH owners increased to $2.8 million per year from $500,000 per year, which has been known for a decade. Since the beginning of 2018, potential sales of co-op apartments have gone dry, hindered by uncertainty for buyers looking for long-term stability for their investments, not knowing if the board will decide to sell their co-op to the highest bidder.
The WVH owns a large parking garage on Washington and Perry Streets and it has received legitimate offers of $62 million from developers. However, some shareholders would rather have WVH redevelop the property for WVH, thus allowing some WVH residents to relocate to that new location so further development can take place in existing co-op building sites. Site three between 10th and Charles Streets is particularly attractive for such co-op redevelopment, since it was not down-zoned with the rest of the neighborhood, and therefore could be rebuilt as a much larger building as of right. Advocates say this approach would earn the co-op needed revenue to off-balance the rising taxes.
Opponents say this is just a way to get developers’ feet-in-the-door, leading to piecemeal sell-off of the co-op, ending all affordable housing at WVH. If the larger buildings replace the co-op apartments, then the intimate connection with the gardens and playgrounds will also be lost, along with the friendly interactions found in smaller buildings.
Time will tell how WVH will resolve its future. For now, many options are still “on the table.”
Many aspects of the WVH struggle are reflected in the larger community. Rising and unevenly meted real estate taxes, rising municipal overhead costs and pension plans, disappearing federal funding for public housing programs, and a rapidly changing character of the evermore expensive neighborhood, are all issues that we all must recognize in order to find remedies.
Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Green Architect & Historic Specialist
WestView News Architectural Editor