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Residents Fear ‘Micro-Unit’ Building Will Become Student Dorm

By Mary Johnson | October 12, 2012 12:24pm

KIPS BAY —The city’s first building made up of tiny 350-foot apartments is close to being built in Kips Bay after 33 proposals from developers were received.

The “micro-units" are planned for East 27th Street and Mount Carmel Place, across the street from Bellevue Hospital, officials from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development told members of Community Board 6 this week.

But the plan, which officials said could help ease the city’s housing crisis, met with significant backlash from residents who worried that the micro-units could become pseudo dorms for college students, or a haven for subletters looking to turn out the units to a rotating cast of transient tenants.

They were also concerned the city’s request for proposals does not require potential developers to designate a portion of the building’s units as affordable housing.

“There’s no real deal affordable housing element of this project,” said Nicole Paikoff, a member of Community Board 6 who attended the meeting on Tuesday and lives in the neighborhood.

“You’re putting people into places where they’re not going to take ownership of their homes. We’re going to be stuck with the fallout from this.”

The city first announced the micro-unit concept and the project’s pilot site location back in July as a way to cope with a housing shortage. The city estimates that there are roughly 1.8 million one- and two-person households in New York City and only 1 million studios and one-bedroom apartments.

About 75 percent of the structure planned for East 27th Street is intended to be comprised of micro-units, along with commercial space on the ground floor of the building.

Bea de la Torre, from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, explained that the process of selecting a developer for the site strongly favors those bidders who include affordable housing as part of their proposals.

“For us, it’s very important to create affordable housing here,” de la Torre said. “That is our mission, and that is what we want.”

The plan requires zoning changes and is therefore subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which requires community input, but members of city government attended the meeting of the CB6 housing, homeless and human rights committee on Tuesday to get an early round of feedback.

Aaron Humphrey, a CB6 member who lives next door to the proposed site, worried that the mature trees that currently ring it would be removed to make way for the new development.

City representatives assured him that, although the trees may be trimmed, they would not be removed.

Kathy Thompson, a real estate agent and CB6 member, cautioned that the small size of the units would likely draw students and those eager to sublet the units to temporary visitors.

“I know that’s not what you’re intentions are going to be, but that’s how it’s going to be,” Thompson said. “Management is not going to be able to keep up with who’s coming and going, and it’s going to be a free-for-all.”

Several people at the meeting suggested ways to avoid the possibility of students and subletters dominating the new building, such as leasing only to those who will make the micro-units their primary residence and not allowing guarantors.

They also suggested giving preference to prospective tenants who cannot afford existing housing in the neighborhood.

“This neighborhood has been invaded by NYU,” said Maxine McIntosh, a CB6 member who referenced the NYU dorm on Third Avenue in Gramercy and the hoards of students who frequent the bars nearby.

“The fact that we sound a little skeptical is because it’s happening on a regular basis.”

Representatives from HPD assured the community board members that the goal of the housing unit is to provide housing for those who need it, not to create a new dorm for NYU or create a market for subletters.

“That’s is absolutely not the intent,” de la Torre said. “We absolutely promise you that.”