Elite Prep School Could Hike Rent Rates Under City Deal

By Leslie Albrecht on March 15, 2011 8:14am 

In 2007, locals protested Trinity School's attempt to sell Trinity House to a private developer.
In 2007, locals protested Trinity School's attempt to sell Trinity House to a private developer.
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Courtesy of Trinity House Tenants Association

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Tenants at Trinity House — the apartment building owned by the elite Trinity School —  could see their rents increase by as much as 85 percent over the next few years if a new deal with the city goes through.

Officials from Trinity School, which was named the best prep school in America by Forbes last year, defend the arrangement, saying it will preserve affordable housing at the 199-unit complex at 92nd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues while also helping Trinity School achieve its financial goals.

"The school's primary mission is education and the school's assets should all be applied in support of that," said Director of Development and Alumni Relations Myles Amend at a contentious Community Board 7 meeting Monday night.

The school has a $40.4 million endowment, but that's not sufficient to meet its future needs, according to the school's website.

But tenants are fighting the plan, saying they hope to buy the property from the 302-year-old private school. They already resisted a plan by the school in 2007 to try to sell the building to a private developer.

"The reason we've succeeded against this incredibly rich and powerful institution is that we're very united," said Trinity House Tenants Association co-chair Jim Paul, who lives at Trinity House with his wife.

Under the deal, Trinity House would increase rents — which currently cost an average of $600 a month — for the first time since 1995, according to the school and the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The increase would come over the course of five years and would not affect all tenants equally, because residents have varying income levels, school officials said. The school owns 39 apartments in the building which it rents to teachers. The school would preserve the housing as affordable units for the next 15 years, school officials said.

Trinity School has promised to subsidize the rent increase for tenants who can't afford it, and no one in the building will pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, according to Chuck Brass, a consultant working with the school.

Elite Trinity School on West 91st Street owns an apartment building on the next block.
Elite Trinity School on West 91st Street owns an apartment building on the next block.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

In exchange, the school would siphon off the income from a parking garage in the Trinity House building — about $600,000 a year.

The private school stoked a neighborhood uproar in 2007 when it tried to sell Trinity House to a private developer. The deal fell through in the end, but not before tenants picketed outside the school.

Many feared developer Pembroke Properties would turn Trinity House, which is part of the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program, into high-priced condos. Trinity House is thought to be among the last remaining buildings on the Upper West Side where residents pay discounted rent under the Mitchell-Lama program, which was created in 1955 to provide affordable housing in the city for working-class residents.

On Monday night, about five dozen Trinity House tenants packed Community Board 7's meeting room to hear Trinity School outline its new deal with the city.

Tenants question the legality of the school's plan to shift revenue from the parking garage to the school, and asked for six months to come up with an offer to buy Trinity House and turn it into affordable housing forever.

Community Board 7's housing committee backed that request with a unanimous vote Monday night. The committee will send a letter to the city asking for a six-month halt to negotiations on Trinity House.

Trinity School built Trinity House in the late 1960s, during a period of urban renewal on the Upper West Side when the city was trying to encourage development in the neighborhood, a school official said Monday.

In exchange for land to build on, the school agreed to construct the residential Trinity House and maintain it as housing for low and middle income tenants for 20 years.

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