Randolph Houses to Be Refurbished After Decades-Long Wait
HARLEM — When she moves into her newly renovated apartment at A. Phillip Randolph Houses in Harlem, Yolanda Uddin will be fulfilling one of her mother's dreams.
City, state and federal officials have been promising to renovate 36 dilapidated yet historic tenement buildings on the north and south sides of 114th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard for almost three decades.
"My mother was so excited that she was going to be getting a new place," said Uddin who has lived in the buildings, built in the 1890s, for 34 years.
Time after time the plans fell through, disappointing residents and leaving them stuck with terrible living conditions including rodents, drug sales and deadly gun violence even as the surrounding neighborhood rolled through a rapid cycle of gentrification.
Today, million dollar apartments sit right around the corner and Frederick Douglass Boulevard has turned into a restaurant row for Harlem. Some Randolph Houses residents moved away, others, like Uddin's mother, died.
On Monday, officials said the long-awaited renovation plans will finally come to fruition as part of a public and private partnership that will create 314 units of affordable housing.
"I wanted to stay here for her, to see this realized," Uddin said of her mother who died in 2001. "I didn't abandon ship. I stayed, and now I'm a survivor."
Not that she and others like her didn't consider leaving after promises to repair the buildings repeatedly fell through.
Robertus Coleman, president of the A. Phillip Randolph Tenants Association, has lived in the buildings for 42 years. She listed all of the initiatives that were supposed to transform the tenements that failed.
There was the Hope VI program that was supposed to repair some of the worst public housing in the country. They were deemed ineligible for that program. Years later, another NYCHA initiative failed. The current project was announced in 2011.
Rep. Charles Rangel and Councilwoman Inez Dickens recalled making late night phone calls to help secure federal funding for the project that suddenly came in jeopardy. Donald Notice, executive director of West Harlem Group Assistance, a partner on the project, recalled how the recent government shutdown jeopardized a waiver that was needed for the project to go forward.
"We wanted to stay here to make sure we got what we were promised," said Coleman.
Financing for the $95.5 million first phase of the project closed at the end of December. NYCHA will contribute $40 million in federal capital funding for the project. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development will add $3.4 million in city money.
Under the proposal, 22 tenement buildings on the south side of 114th Street will be renovated. Elevators and new pathways will be added to connect the buildings that contain 167 units, including 147 units of public housing and 20 units of affordable housing. There will be landscaped outdoor space and 3,000 square feet of community space.
Because the buildings are eligible for historic designation, certain details such as the stoops and some interior details will be preserved, said Kenan Bigby, vice president of Trinity Financial, one of the partners on the project.
The 147 units of public housing will be given to current and former Randolph Houses residents and the remainder will be made available to residents on NYCHA's wait list. There are currently 105 families from Randolph Houses that will return. A lottery will be used to choose tenants for the affordable units.
Almost all of the apartments, 152, will be available to individuals making between $36,120 up to $51,540 for a family of four. Another 15 units will be open to individuals making $48,100 up to $68,700 for a family of four.
Once the units on the south side of the street are finished, a second phase will redevelop the 14 tenement buildings on the north side of the street where the remaining Randolph Houses tenants are currently living.
The New York City Housing Development Corporation will provide $47 million for the total project in construction financing through tax exempt bonds. Enterprise, a finance firm, is providing $50.1 million in low income housing and historic tax credit equity.
NYCHA Chairwoman and CEO Shola Olatoye said the mixed financing development is one of the largest in recent memory and also important because it is preserving public housing units.
"Thank you for not giving up on us. This has been an incredibly long road for you," Olatoye told residents at a kickoff Monday.
Now, Bigby said the company is feeling the pressure to deliver completely renovated units in August or September of 2015.
Moving about gingerly with her walker, Randolph Houses tenant president Coleman said she's praying that she lives to see the day tenants move into their new homes.
"If some of us do not make it across this street it's not because we gave up, but because God called us home," she said.