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Disabled Man Denied Affordable Apartment for Living on Wrong Side of Street

By Mathew Katz | March 18, 2014 7:08am
 Stephen Redford, 53, says rent on his apartment on West 26th Street eats up 85 percent of his monthly income. 
Stephen Redford, 53, says rent on his apartment on West 26th Street eats up 85 percent of his monthly income. 
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — When Stephen Redford heard about affordable apartments earmarked for Chelsea residents and disabled New Yorkers, he figured he would be a shoo-in.

Redford, 53, is partially deaf and HIV-positive, and has lived in Chelsea for nearly two decades, most recently on West 26th Street.

But when Redford recently interviewed for an affordable apartment in AvalonBay's AVA High Line building at 525 W. 28th St., just a few blocks from his home, he was told he lived on the wrong side of West 26th Street and therefore did not qualify for priority.

"Everything I know is Chelsea. I've always thought I lived in Chelsea," Redford told DNAinfo New York.

The AVA High Line defines Chelsea based on Community Board 4's boundaries, which means that those who live on the north side of 26th Street, like Redford, do not qualify for priority, officials said.

At Redford's March 5 interview, staffers from Phipps Housing Services initially told Redford his application looked good, but then they double-checked his address and promptly ended the interview, he said.

"Surely these lines are not drawn for this purpose, for excluding someone from affordable housing," Redford said. "I've lived in the area for 20 years and now I live on the wrong side of the street."

Redford — who suffers from Ménière's Disease, a disorder that caused him to go deaf in one ear and causes intense attacks of vertigo that can take two or three days to recover from — was hoping to win one of the AVA High Line's affordable apartments because he spends almost all of his income on rent.

He receives a $2,000 federal disability check each month, and spends $1,700 of it on his rent-stabilized apartment. An affordable apartment at the AVA High Line would cost him just $870 a month.

According to city documents, the development set aside a total of 142 units for affordable housing. Of those, 71 apartments were earmarked for Community Board 4 residents, seven were set aside for mobility-impaired New Yorkers, seven are reserved for New York City employees and three will go to New Yorkers with visual or auditory impairments.

By the time Redford was interviewed, the 10 apartments for disabled New Yorkers had already filled up, and since he wound up not qualifying for the CB4 priority, his application will now go into a broader lottery for the remaining 54 affordable apartments, said Josephine Perrella, vice president at Phipps.

The development has received approximately 52,000 applications for those spots, Perrella said.

A spokeswoman for HDC said Redford was initially contacted because he indicated that he lived in Chelsea and qualified for a preference, but that the developer later realized he did not.

Redford — who said that until his diagnosis in 2006 he handled multi-million-dollar accounts as a director of sales and marketing for hotels, including the Gansevoort Hotel — said he reached out to City Councilman Corey Johnson's office, which could do little to help.

"This unfortunate situation highlights the drastic need for the city to immediately adopt mandatory inclusionary zoning. 80/20 developments [like AVA High Line] generate affordable housing for particular neighborhoods and in doing so, subject others to a more difficult time getting into the buildings, whether or not they are income-eligible," Johnson said in a statement.

"Requiring affordable housing through mandatory [inclusion] will be a step in the right direction in expanding the affordable housing stock across the entire city, and this is a priority of mine in the Council."

The West Side is set to see many new affordable and partially affordable developments over the next few years, but Redford fears that because he lives just outside of CB4, he won't be eligible for any of them.

"Somebody drew this line and now it's having a real impact on me," Redford said. "I want to be an honorary member of CB4. I want there to be some flexibility. There should be some leeway when you're talking about affordable housing."