|This lot, at East Tremont Avenue and Lebanon Street, is the proposed site of a controversial affordable housing project. (Photo by J. Evelly)|
By JEANMARIE EVELLY
A not-for-profit developer’s plans to build three affordable housing complexes in the West Farms neighborhood has upset a number of residents who live nearby.
The project, approved by Community Board 6 at a tense public hearing on Dec. 8, is planned for lots on both sides of East Tremont Avenue, bordered by East 178th and Lebanon streets, on what was once the site of train tracks owned by the MTA—steel trestles still sit on the property’s overgrown grass lot.
Phipps Houses, the developer, is one of the city’s largest affordable housing owners. Its affiliate group, Phipps Community Development Corporation, runs a number of social service programs in the immediate area, like GED courses and career training.
“I know Phipps. I’m a product of Phipps,” said Sandra Carter, who said she lived in another Phipps-owned building. “They develop the community. They’re good for people. If they don’t get the application, someone else will, and we’ll get some shelter. We have enough of that here—we need affordable housing.”
But a group of homeowners adamantly opposed the plan, saying that the proposed 141 affordable housing units will decrease their property values and add to already serious litter and crime problems around their homes.
“With more units comes more people, and with more people comes more crime,” said Stefan Leonard, who lives on nearby Bronx Park Avenue.
“I’ve never seen anything good come from affordable housing,” said another neighbor, Yasmin Yvelisse. “Every day, I’m cleaning up my street, picking up crack vials and needles. This is only going to add to the problem.”
Phipps Houses President and CEO Adam Weinstein assured residents that the buildings would be clean and well lit, and have an attractive landscaped courtyard. An architect presented sketches of a tree-lined sidewalk and tall buildings with large windows. “This is not a supportive housing development. This is not a shelter,” he said. “This is for hard working New Yorkers, like you. We have every interest in having good tenants.”
The apartments would be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, equipped with dishwashers and energy efficient heating and lighting systems. Each building would have an on-premise laundry and security cameras, and rent will range from $475 to $1,127 a month. The developments will receive funding subsidies from the city, and units will be rented out through the Department of Housing and Preservation’s open lottery system.
Weinstein rejected some concerned residents’ request to lower the height of the buildings, saying the project is too expensive to justify decreasing the number of apartments. He denied that the development would have any effect on nearby property values, pointing out that the site of the project is currently a fenced-in space filled with overgrown weeds. “I’m a real estate person, and your property values are negatively impacted, 100 percent, by having a creepy, abandoned lot there,” he said.
After much debate, Community Board 6 voted in favor of the plan, with 10 board members supporting the project, five voting against it and another five choosing to abstain from the vote.
The community board’s opinion is only advisory, but is taken into account during the rest of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The borough president will vote on the project next month, then the City Council and the mayor.
If approved, Phipps predicts that construction will begin this June and to have the buildings completed by the spring of 2013.