Independence Plaza opens gym to low-rent tenants

BY KAITLYN MEADE   | Independence Plaza North backed away from plans to deny the use of a new gym in the building to its lower rent tenants.

When the small gym facility and playroom on the second floor of the Tribeca complex’s building at 40 Harrison St. opened earlier this month, an email went out announcing the opening to market rate tenants — but not to those who are part of the landlord assistance program (LAP) or Section 8 “sticky” voucher program. When they called to ask about getting access to it, they were told the gym was not going to be available to them.

One resident said that when she called the leasing office on May 16, she was told she was not allowed to get an access card because she was a LAP tenant.

“Before [the leasing office employee] answered my question, she asked for my building and apartment number. Once she looked me up, she came back on the line and told me, ‘The gym is only for fair market tenants.’ I said, ‘Geez, I’ve lived here since 1984.’ She was sympathetic and said, ‘I was told to say that we are within our legal rights,’ ” the resident said, under the condition of anonymity.

It was especially galling, she said, because statements had been made previously that implied that the gym would be open to all tenants. When she asked if she could pay a fee to use the gym, she was told no.

Since then, the operators, landlord Lawrence Gluck’s Stellar Management, have backpedalled to include all tenants, with an unspecified fee.

A spokesperson for I.P.N.’s Stellar Management, who did not want to be identified, did not dispute the resident’s account, but issued a statement Tues., May 21 saying the gym would be available to all tenants.

“As part of our continued improvements to Independence Plaza, a new gym and children’s playroom have been added to the property’s amenity package,” the statement read. “These amenities are open to all residents — including market rate tenants, those utilizing Section 8 housing vouchers, and those who participate in the building’s landlord assistance program (LAP) — on an annual fee basis. We encourage all residents to contact our on site management team to learn how they can utilize these new facilities.”

When the landlord bought out of the Mitchell-Lama middle income housing program in 2004, a deal was negotiated that allowed many tenants to maintain some form of rent protection, but also allowed him to open market rate housing in the building. Those rent protections include “sticky” vouchers that allow residents to pay a percentage of their income toward housing and have the rest subsidized by federal dollars and city-regulated LAP, which set rents at existing levels and regulates increases over 12 years.

Diane Lapson, the head of the tenant’s association, said in an email to Downtown Express, “After contacting the management office and hearing [the gym] was for Free Market Tenants use only; I wrote again saying I felt it was discriminatory. I was then told, days later, that management wanted to meet with the tenant association and that there was a miscommunication.”

When the resident called the management office back the following week to ask about their change of heart, she said she was told that there will be a fee for non-market rate tenants but that the fee was still under discussion. “I think what they’re saying is that the fee is included in the fair market rate and that the rest of us have to pay a fee,” she said.

Now, she said she feels as though the management no longer sees non-market rate residents as tenants. She also wondered why Section 8 tenants would be charged a fee if the landlord is still receiving nearly market rate for the apartments, subsidized by government funding.

“It’s just going to cause tension,” she said.

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