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Renters eagerly await affordable housing

The mayor’s plan to build 80,000 affordable apartments is badly needed, say residents, but sky-high demand and median income guidelines have some worried they won’t be able to take advantage.

The building at 899 Westchester Ave. where affordable apartments are planned.

Housing advocates say median income target is too high for Hunts Point

Peter Rosado has lived in the same apartment complex in Longwood with his mother since he was three years-old. Now that he’s 28, he wants to live in a place of his own.

“I’m a young professional,” said Rosado, who is a member of Community Board 2’s housing committee. “Living at home is tough.”

Rosado says he has applied for more than 20 apartments in the past few years through the city’s Housing Connect website, where applicants compete in a lottery for affordable units. He says he routinely wades through reams of paperwork—and sits for the occasional interview when he’s lucky enough to get that far—while anxiously awaiting word on whether he has been selected to receive one of the city’s in-demand affordable apartments.

He checks the website frequently for updates on an apartment he applied for in 2013, but its status remains frozen on “tenant selection in process.”

Like many New York renters, Rosado says he was encouraged when Mayor de Blasio promised to add 80,000 new affordable apartments by the end of 2024. So he and other Hunts Point residents were eager to hear more details when representatives from the city’s planning department gave a presentation describing the plan at an October meeting of Board 2.

The officials presented a two-part proposal: first, the city will eliminate parking spaces on the grounds of public housing complexes, in order to create more space; and second, it will require developers in some neighborhoods to set aside at least 25 percent of their units for low-income residents.

But the board was skeptical.

“We gave a thumbs-down to both ideas,” said Rosado. The board argued that the income requirements were set higher than economic realities allow in neighborhoods like Hunts Point. Though a quarter of new buildings would be reserved for household incomes around $50,000 under the mayor’s plan, and another 30 percent for household incomes around $65,000, many local residents would still be ineligible because they earn the minimum wage.
Community Board 2 says it won’t approve of the new zoning provisions until the income requirements are lowered. All 59 of the city’s community boards will have to approve the new zoning plan before it can be implemented.

“We need income levels targeted to the area they’ll be built in,” said longtime local housing advocate and housing committee chair, Joyce Campbell-Culler, pointing out that many Hunts Point residents earn less than $18,000 per year.

City planners counter that they had to establish a median income based on rents and incomes across the city for the mayor’s plan to work. But despite that restriction, the city can take measures to help residents from low-income neighborhoods like the South Bronx access new apartments under the plan.

“Where necessary, we can add subsidy dollars to deepen the affordability beyond the zoning requirement,” said Rachaele Raynoff, the planning department’s press secretary, adding that implementation is still a few years away. “Nothing is happening overnight.”

In the meantime, tenants will continue to wait. On the NYC Housing Preservation and Development’s Facebook page, one commenter, Sanjoy Semper-Edwards, posted: “I am tired of applying, and taking time off from my job. Guess what? I was never called.”

Another, Nicole Ladson, wrote: “I’ll be in my grave by the time they call me.”

Morrisania resident Jeanette Guzman was excited to learn that a sleek new project boasting affordable units will be going up in the empty lot next to her building. In the faded brick building she lives in now, weary tenants have been without cooking gas for over six months.

“I applied as soon as the info was posted, but never received a response,”  said Guzman.  The application deadline for CrossRoads Plaza III at 535 Union Ave. passed in February 2014.

“If you’re number 4,000, and there’s only 40 apartments, you just need to be lucky,” said Lisa Thompson, a Longwood resident, adding she waited a year to receive responses to her own applications. “They need to build more buildings.”

In Peter Rosado’s most recent attempt to secure a new home, he drew lottery ticket #34,000 for a place in a 140-apartment building at 899 Westchester Avenue in Longwood.

“You could be a dollar under and they’d deny you,” he said. The management company for a building where he applied cautioned him, saying if he worked even one hour less, he’d no longer qualify for an apartment in their complex. At the time, he was working seven days a week as a security guard.

Income requirements aren’t the only barriers to affordable housing.

“A lot of folks have bad credit,” said Susanna Blankley, director of housing organizing for CASA-New Settlement Apartments in Highbridge. “They can’t qualify from the credit or background checks.”

Rosado said he has friends who were asked to provide a list of acquaintances, a personal schedule and a medical history—all as part of the application process.

“They couldn’t have picked a better word: lottery,” he said. “I feel better about winning the Powerball.”


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