C.B. 1 nears completion of affordable housing guide

Few might know that residential life in Lower Manhattan is rooted in affordable housing, at least according to Community Board 1 member Tom Goodkind, chair of the board’s Affordable Housing Task Force. The board is hoping to spread the word and to encourage low-income housing in Downtown with the publication of its affordable housing guide.

Low-income housing units are becoming fewer and further between as landlords get more aggressive about charging market-rate rents, according to Goodkind. The group convened in late April to discuss additions and revisions to the guide, which will be released to the public in July.

The task force found that there are less than 1,000 new rental affordable units in the entire C.B. 1 district. Battery Park City Authority founder Charles Urstadt’s vision for the neighborhood entailed at least 20 percent low-income apartments, which has not materialized, according to Goodkind – part of a seeming trend Downtown.

“Affordable housing should go into our neighborhood,” not just to others in the Lower East Side and elsewhere, Goodkind said. “We need to retain what we have and use the [other] money that has been put toward the rebuilding of our community [for affordable housing].”

The 50-page manual will include an inventory of Downtown’s affordable housing stock, along with first-hand accounts from the area’s original low-income dwellers.

“It has fascinating stories about what it was like to live here when the neighborhood was forming – day-to-day stuff, like getting groceries,” said Goodkind.

The guide will also have definitions of low- and middle-income housing, as established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; as well as a directory of affordable housing agencies and their contact information.

“What we understand is that most of these affordable housing units have time limits, and [in other cases,] there are issues with some agencies and management companies in implementation,” said guide contributor Heather Anderson, C.B. 1’s Community Planning Fellows Intern.

The purpose of the guide, Anderson said, is to help preserve the affordable housing that is left, and to mobilize the community to extend the affordability of units that are set to expire.

Downtown affordable housing residences include Independence Plaza North (I.P.N.), a Tribeca residence previously in the state Mitchell-Lama program that is now starting to deregulate apartments for incoming tenants.

The task force is lobbying for the future building at 130 Liberty St., the site of the former Deutsche Bank tower, to be reserved entirely for affordable housing.

Mixed-income developments often prove to be ineffective, according to Goodkind. “We found out that, when you throw in a handful of affordable tenants at the bottom of a building, the treatment is such that it doesn’t present a happy atmosphere for those neighbors,” said Goodkind. “Also, we found that a lot of times, they get the worst apartments in the building.”

The first round of copies of the guide will be released to the press in late May or early June.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he applauds C.B. 1 for “[creating] this important guide, which gives us a clear picture of the stock of affordable housing in Lower Manhattan.”

“It is crucially important,” Silver continued, “that we continue our efforts to preserve and protect affordable housing.”

The task force’s next project is to help set up Downtown services for neighborhood seniors so they can more easily age in place. The nonprofit the group hopes to launch, tentatively called “Manhattan Seniors,” would be a concrete follow-up to the senior guide the task force published last year.

“Everyone says that seniors should age in place, but there seems to be no services that are affordable to allow them to,” said Goodkind, noting that full-time domestic care can cost upwards of $150,000 a year. “You want seniors to be part of your community, not all cast aside in one area.”

Goodkind and his team hope to have the organization up and running by May of next year, at which point they would hand off management responsibilities to a local community member they would name director.

Article BY Aline Reynolds

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