HARLEM — The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce's development arm will sell a narrow, vacant plot of land near 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue for $1.2 million to pay for repairs to its troubled portfolio of more than 100 units of affordable housing in Central Harlem.
"This project is needed to preserve 117 units of affordable housing and 11 units of affordable commercial space," said Charles Powell, senior project manager for the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation, which is part of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.
F-Lot Development, a startup firm led by longtime Harlem architect Tony Crusor, will build 12 luxury condominium units on the 24-by-100-foot lot at 318 W. 135th St. between St. Nicholas Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
Prices will range from $490,000 for a 600-square-foot one-bedroom apartment to $900,000 for a 1,400-square-foot three-bedroom apartment. The ground floor will contain commercial space.
The prices raised groans during a meeting of Community Board 10 last Wednesday night, where the board overwhelmingly approved the sale as part of the city's uniform land use review procedure.
Before the vote, some CB10 board members and members of the public questioned why the new condominiums would not contain any affordable housing.
Julius Tajiddin, founder of the grassroots group Preserve Harlem's Legacy, questioned why the rent from the 117 units the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce owns is not enough to support their maintenance.
"Continuing to give property away toward luxury housing at a higher rate than affordable housing will eventually create a hostile environment toward the low-income population to the point of creating an atmosphere for its demise," Tajiddin said.
Crusor said his firm was proud of the fact that the money the company is paying for the lot would be used to preserve affordable housing and affordable commercial space.
"The lot is being sold at market rate and because the lot is so small the economics of affordability didn't work out," Crusor said. "They need to sell it for market rate to have additional money to sustain the affordable housing," he added.
Crusor also told CB 10's economic development committee last year that he was confident there would be a market for the new units at the proposed price points. The lot, on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 135th Street, is right next to a subway stop.
The lot was transferred to the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation from the city's department of Housing Preservation Development in 1994 as part of an effort to build affordable housing in existing buildings near 135th Street.
The vacant lot was left undeveloped to preserve murals that had been painted on the adjacent buildings, but the walls eventually suffered water damage and the murals were covered as repairs were made.
A private, HPD-approved deal for the land was in the works until lawyers discovered that the property had been transferred to the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation without a land-use review.
Without a land-use review for the new project, the maximum number of units that could be built is four, said Eric Bederman, an HPD spokesman.
The 117 affordable housing units in the development corporation's portfolio are located between 134th and 136th streets between St. Nicholas Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and have a history of code violations and financing issues.
In 2010, The New York Times reported that despite millions of dollars in investment from the city, including a $2.55 million forgivable loan, the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation was still unable to successfully manage the properties.
In their 2011 tax filings, the most recent available, the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation reported a deficit of $3.6 million. The agency has blamed expiring tax breaks and rising sewer bills for some of its problems.
Lloyd Williams, a Harlem power broker who runs the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, was listed as president of the development corporation in its 2010 tax filings.
Despite the troubled financial history of the units, the group stands to receive more city funds, say HPD officials.
"The proceeds from the sale of the lot will be used in conjunction with other affordable housing loan programs as part of a larger preservation strategy to help renovate and update those other affordable properties while bringing their long-term finances into good standing," said Bederman, the HPD spokesman.
Tenants at one Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation building, speaking only on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they were skeptical of the plan given past maintenance issues.
"I don't even bother to call [Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation] for repairs anymore," said one man on his way home from work who has lived in the building since the 1990s.
When told of his landlord's plan to sell the lot and make repairs, he laughed.
"Sounds like a scam to me," he said.
Another woman wondered if her apartment would ever get the new stove and windows she says Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation promised to provide two years ago.
"I don't think we are going to see any of that money," she said.
All 117 units of housing, along with the commercial units, were listed for sale or a joint venture last year by Ariel Property Advisors. Listed among the portfolio's benefits were "rental upside" proximity to public transportation and city tax abatements.
The portfolio is now in contract for a joint venture, Gail Mitchell Donovan, a spokeswoman for Ariel Property Advisors, confirmed. She declined comment further.
Powell said the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation is still dealing with some code violation issues in the affordable housing buildings, but hopes to use the money to make repairs and bring everything up to code while stabilizing the group's finances.
"Right now it's a vacant lot that's not benefiting anyone," said Lucille McEwen, a member of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce's board.