By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — A developer looking to build housing in East Harlem has agreed to enter four other area properties into long-term affordability agreements in exchange for a letter of support from Community Board 11 for the new project.
The letter is considered an important step for Joseph Tahl and Tahl Propp Equities to purchase the city-owned plot next to its Lexington Gardens complex on East 107th Street, near Lexington Avenue, where the developer wants to build a 175-unit, 12-story addition.
Tahl's efforts have been opposed by elected officials and some tenants at several other Tahl Propp buildings, who have urged the board not to support the developer. They say his buildings are in poor condition and that he also pushes tenants out of affordable properties to raise the rent.
Alvin Johnson, the chair of Community Board 11's Housing committee and a resident at a Tahl Propp building, has recused himself from voting on the matter but has called Tahl Propp a "predatory developer."
Tahl has adamantly denied the accusations.
Until now, the company has only entered into 5-year contracts for its affordable housing programs, such as Section 8 housing. That's the shortest length of time available.
Because of that, East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito has withheld her support. The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which owns the land, generally will not proceed on a project of this nature without the support of the area city council representative.
But Mark-Viverito said she has met with the developer several times and agrees with the framework that CB 11 has established.
However, she will not signal her approval to HPD until Tahl Propp provides proof that its East Harlem buildings will enter into long-term affordability agreements, usually 20 years.
"I have spoken with the commissioner of HPD and indicated that I was on the same page as the board in wanting long-term affordability," Mark-Viverito said. "If long-term contracts are not in place by the time the [land review] process begins, I will not support it."
Tahl said he has already offered HUD a letter stating that he will enter the other East Harlem properties into long-term affordability agreements. That would mean 600 to 700 units entered into the long-term affordability program.
Tahl said the proposed building will be 100 percent affordable housing and will also be entered into a long-term affordability agreement. The project could house up to 500 people and may break ground in two years.
"It supports our efforts to provide affordable housing," Tahl said.
Tahl said entering into short-term affordability agreements provides more flexibility and negotiating leverage with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and does not mean he is withdrawing from providing affordable housing.
"I absolutely understand the concerns about affordability but there is a fair argument to make that a 20-year contract is not better than a five-year contract," Tahl said.
Most community groups disagree with that sentiment.
Eric Alugas, a member of Harlem Tenants Against Tahl Propp, said many of the group's concerns are still unresolved and that they would have preferred for the board to withhold its support.
"We want to shut the whole thing down but we couldn't convince the board to do anything better," Alugas said. "If they come through with the 20-year plan, it's great. It's only a small step but it's the only step for us right now."