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Sugar Hill Affordable Housing Organizers Praised by De Blasio

By Jeff Mays | June 10, 2014 11:21am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the 124 permanently affordable units at Broadway Housing Communities' building at 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Sugar Hill as the type he wants to build as part of his goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
Broadway Housing Communities Building in Sugar Hill Praised by De Blasio
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SUGAR HILL — When he moves into his brand new studio apartment at Broadway Housing Communities' Sugar Hill development this summer, Kent Brown feels like he'll be returning home.

The high school basketball and football coach, who grew up in northern Manhattan and has lived in Virginia, Texas and the South Bronx, had fallen on tough times when the lottery opened for affordable housing in the David Adjaye-designed building at 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.

Tens of thousands of applications were received and Brown was one of the lucky few to be chosen.

"I'm so happy to be selected because my life is in this area," said Brown, who also applied to affordable housing projects in The Bronx and Brooklyn. "Plus it'll put a few more dollars in my pocket."

Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the 124 permanently affordable units as what he wants to build as part of his goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

The mixed-use building will also will contain the 17,000 square-foot Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling and an early childhood learning center, De Blasio said. It also adds to his other mission of creating universal free pre-K. Up to 100 children will be served, including 54 4-year-olds in full-day sessions.

"Let's look at these numbers: 124 affordable units for low-income families, 25 set aside for formerly homeless individuals, affordable units even for folks at the lowest-income level," de Blasio said. "A family of five making $28,000 dollars — $28,000 — can live in a three-bedroom here for a little over $500 a month. That's extraordinary."

Ellen Baxter, founder and executive director of Broadway Housing Communities, said the building "has been designed to center on children and their families."

Fifty apartments are reserved for families of four earning less than $41,500 and 12 for those earning less than $24,900. Even though the project was launched under his predecessor, de Blasio said it will count toward fulfilling his 200,000 unit affordable housing goal.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development provided $13 million during the Bloomberg administration, and an additional $3 million since, and the City Council gave $3 million to complete the $80.2 million project.

Adjaye was on hand to give tours of the building, whose appearance has raised concerns from long-time Sugar Hill rowhouse and townhouse owners because they feel it is out of character with the neighborhood.

Adjaye said the intention of the building is to "reflect the diversity" of the neighborhood. The dark masonry, which drew some of the most criticism, is part of that effort.

"People look at Sugar Hill and think every building is brown but it's actually a mosaic of colors," said Adjaye, an internationally recognized architect who is also the designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

The rose impressions on the concrete become visible depending on the viewing angle and weather conditions. The rose is an important nod to the neighborhood, which is also known as Heritage Rose District.

"I'm inventing but I'm not inventing out of the blue," said Adjaye. "I'm taking things that are often ignored and referencing them."

But some of his critics, such as Michael Henry Adams, an architectural historian who is the author of "Harlem Lost and Found" and is an expert on Harlem architecture, disagrees.

"Do I think it might have been all right someplace else? Yes. Am I against housing for low-income people? No. Am I opposed to modern architecture? No. But this building is wrong and shouldn't have been allowed to happen," he said.

De Blasio called the building "beautiful" and acknowledged that aesthetics are important, but so is functionality.

Inside, the walls of the stairwell are painted a bright green and the hallways have a slight bend to them. The children's classrooms and play areas are in light-filled spaces that constitute some of the building's prime real estate.

The apartments have hardwood floors, porcelain tiles and brass hardware for the door, unusual for a low-income structure.

"For low-income housing," Adjaye said, "we've managed to get a lot in here."