$50 million for affordable housing Downtown

By Josh Rogers

The governor and mayor announced a $50 million program to build 315 affordable apartments in Lower Manhattan over the next few years.

The apartments will be for people earning between $50,000 and $85,000 a year and are expected to make up 20 percent of the units in four new buildings on or south of Canal St., East Broadway or Grand St.

Mel Martinez, secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, said the $50 million of HUD money will be “the beginning of another anchor of affordable housing.”

Martinez, Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced the new program July 21at Thomas Paine Park — catty-corner to a new 80-20, 330-apartment building at Lafayette and Worth Sts.

The $50 million of federal money will be combined with tax-free Liberty Bonds to encourage developers to build the affordable units.

Housing advocates said 300 affordable apartments represents a small percentage of the new apartments expected to be constructed in Lower Manhattan over the next few years.

“The good side is they are finally realizing that there is a lack of affordable housing in Lower Manhattan,” said Bettina Damiani, project director of Good Jobs New York, which has formed a coalition to oppose the use of Liberty Bonds for market-rate housing. “The bad side is it’s a drop in a big empty bucket.”

The city estimates that 1,500 apartments are now being built Downtown and Bloomberg repeated his goal of building 10,000 new apartments in Lower Manhattan. Liberty Bonds have already been approved to construct 400 apartments and there are pending bond applications to build over 5,000 units. About five percent of the apartments being built with the bonds are for middle-income tenants.

Bloomberg said it “would be great” if 20 percent of all of the new apartments were affordable to middle income people, although he did not specify how the city would get to this goal of 2,000 affordable apartments in Lower Manhattan.

Citywide, the mayor has a goal of preserving or creating 65,000 affordable units. Bloomberg said construction on 1,800 of these apartments has already started and he expects construction on 8,000 to begin in the fiscal year that has just begun. “Affordable housing is fundamental to New York’s long-term economic prosperity,” said Bloomberg.

Pataki said the tax-free bonds, which were created by Congress to help Lower Manhattan recover from the Sept. 11 attack, were not enough of an incentive to encourage 80-20 buildings.

After the announcement, Damiani said, “the real issue is who was at the table when they created the Liberty Bonds.”

The $50 million comes out of the $2 billion of HUD money being administered by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. According to some news reports, the city had been seeking about $200 million from the fund for affordable housing, but the L.M.D.C., which is controlled by Pataki, had resisted. The L.M.D.C. will use whatever money is left from its grant program to encourage residents to move and stay in Lower Manhattan, for the new affordable housing fund. L.M.D.C. officials said that there would probably be at least $10 million left from the residential grant fund and the rest of the money for affordable housing will be authorized by the L.M.D.C. board.

Bloomberg said the grant program has helped bring Downtown from an apartment occupancy rate below 50 percent after the 2001 terror attack to a 95 percent rate today and that Lower Manhattan was now the place to be. “To many people, particularly young people, Lower Manhattan is where it’s at,” he said.


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