Housing advocates and residents hope that a market-rate development scheduled for construction in Longwood is not a sign of worrying things to come in the area.
Propco Holdings, a Manhattan-based developer, announced last year that it plans to build a 29-unit building at 915 Dawson Avenue, without city subsidies. That would exempt the company from being required to build affordable housing.
But since last summer, Propco’s asset manager Alfred Popaj has failed to show up at three Board 2 meetings he had agreed to attend to answer questions from concerned board members about the company’s intentions. That concerns members of Board 2 who wonder what the landlord may be up to.
Neither Popaj nor a spokesman for Propco has returned calls from The Express. Some Longwood residents say that if the new development on Dawson Street turns out to be what the developer says it is—-housing for more affluent tenants—-that’s fine.
“I’m not against it,” said 45-year-old wellness professional Deena Clemente. “Our world is changing minute by minute and we need to be surrendering with the flow of it.”
Others are not as keen on the idea. In a community district where the median household income is $18,219, residents worry that market-rate housing can pose a threat to low-income residents.
“This is a poor area,” said Feliciano Gamboa, a 56-year-old doorman who thinks that a market-rate building would hurt the community. “There are few jobs or they only pay minimum wage.”
Still others are concerned that the project on Dawson Street is not quite what it seems. Community Board 2 said that Propco Holdings informed them that it has filed a 420-c form, which allows landlords to receive federal low income housing tax credits to develop affordable housing. They fear that the developer could eventually try to profit by converting the new building into a homeless shelter if it is unable to rent out the apartments at market rates.
“Here’s the problem: they are going to build it and they’re going to ask the state for money,” said Board 2’s Chairman Roberto Crespo.
Wanda Salaman, executive director of Longwood-based housing advocacy group Mothers on the Move, said that Community Board 2 is right to worry.
“People build for one thing and use it for something else,” said Salaman, using the example of a hotel on Southern Boulevard that was converted into a homeless shelter without the community’s knowledge in recent years.
Salaman said she is encouraged, however, by a new policy Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in December, to forcibly convert some apartments where the homeless are being temporarily housed, into permanent, affordable housing for the formerly homeless.
Some Longwood residents say that if the developer is avoiding public scrutiny so it can quietly convert the new building into scatter-site apartments in the future, that could worsen a problem that already exists in the area.
Holding her steaming Styrofoam cup of herbal tea, Karina Vivar said she worries about the safety of her three children. The 36-year-old mother and jewelry vendor said that incidents of violence in Rainey Park involving temporary residents from a nearby shelter give her pause about bringing her kids to the park. She recalled a recent sexual assault incident in the park, among others.
Looking out from the Herbalife shop where she comes for her morning tea and nutritional smoothie, Vivar tells her friend Blanca Rivera, 49, that her brother was robbed a few months ago while standing on the street. Rivera says she is eager to see more affordable apartments built for rent-paying tenants.
“People receive help, then they just hang out and bother people who pay rent,” she said.
Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. is confident about the city’s commitment not to open any new shelters in the district.
“Council Member Salamanca would fight any efforts to open a shelter here,” Salamanca’s spokesman Ryan Monnell said in an email.
Vivar said that the city should use its money to create after-school programming instead of creating new shelters, gazing at the Intervale Avenue building across the street from the Herbalife shop, that has served as a shelter for several years and was the scene of a fire set by an unsupervised child in the building in 2012.
“It looks like a normal building,” she said. “But we don’t know what’s inside.”