HARLEM — The troubled Abyssinian Development Corporation is on track to restart construction on a half-finished low-income housing development in Central Harlem that has been stalled for almost a year, said the Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church.
But neighbors on 123rd Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard say they'll believe it when they see it.
"With all due respect to Rev. Butts, we don't believe any of it for no other reason than we've heard it before," said Joshua Bauchner, a member of Friends of West 123rd Street.
Under the proposal, the new eight-story, 60-unit building with 37 underground parking spaces was supposed to be finished this January so that residents from the decrepit low-rise Ennis Frances Houses on 124th Street could relocate to the new building.
Residents at Ennis Francis, which Abyssinian Development Corporation acquired in 2005 with the goal of turning it around, have previously complained that they live in terrible conditions with mold and no heat. Abyssinian Development Corporation is the development arm of the church.
"They were supposed to move years ago and they are suffering because of Abyssinian Development Corporation," Bauchner said.
Once residents are moved from Ennis Francis, Abyssinian Development Corporation will begin construction on another eight-story 220-unit building on that site, also located between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
The project ran into serious financial issues when Abyssinian was unable to pay the construction company that has placed liens on the property. Construction halted in July 2013. The building now sits unfinished with some boarded-up windows and battered fencing.
The financial trouble is part of a larger financial issue facing Abyssinian Development Corporation, which has developed projects such as a Pathmark and a K-12 school.
According to Abyssinian's 2011 tax return, the most recent available, the group had $24.2 million in expenses but just $23 million in revenue despite having holdings valued at $101 million.
"What really hit our development corporation was the recession and real estate deals that we had gotten into and all of a sudden the banks shut down on us and started demanding payment and we had to meet certain obligations," Butts said. "That is the real nitty gritty of real estate."
Butts now says construction should begin by mid-May and be finished in eight or nine months.
"The stalling of the tower left people in the low-rise, which is the one in pretty bad condition. The people of the low-rise were supposed to move into the tower and they will. But we got caught in the recession," Butts said in an interview.
He said Abyssinian received the money to restart the construction from "negotiating a development deal that would build more housing," but he would not be more specific about the project.
Bauchner said he's concerned to hear that Abyssinian might get the money from a deal to develop more housing since they have trouble managing their current projects.
"They should take care of the housing they have," said Bauchner. "We said from the very beginning that Abyssinian did not have the financial resources to complete this project."
Another worry is that Abyssinian might not have the money to build a new building where the low-rises currently stand.
"There could be a half-block in the middle of Harlem that will be completely abandoned. That's not helping Harlem," Bauchner said.
Butts said he's confident both projects will be completed.
"Everybody went through the recession," said Butts. "That wreaked havoc on a lot of nonprofits. We managed to stay afloat, downsize a little bit, reorganize a little bit."