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More than 53,000 Artists Apply for 89 Affordable Harlem Apartments

By Emilia David | July 31, 2014 4:13pm | Updated on August 1, 2014 5:54pm
 More than 53,000 people applied for 89 units of affordable housing designated for Harlem artists, developers said.
More than 53,000 people applied for 89 units of affordable housing designated for Harlem artists, developers said.
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DNAinfo/Emilia David

EAST HARLEM — More than 53,000 artists have applied for one of just 89 new units of subsidized living and working space in a former public school on E. 99th Street, organizers announced.

Developers for the space, known as El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 and located between Second and Third avenues, fielded 51,313 online applications via a city website by the July 14 deadline, officials said. That’s on top of more than 2,000 paper applications filed.

“Quality affordable housing is hard to come by in East Harlem and people are desperate for spaces,” said applicant Marina Ortiz, a poet and founder of East Harlem Preservation, which works to preserve El Barrio’s cultural identity.

Tenants will be chosen by lottery for a move-in date later this year. There are strict income eligibility requirements: A single person must make no more than $35,300 annually and there’s a $50,000 limit on families of four. Priority will be given to East Harlem residents.

Monthly rents range from $494 for a 420-square-foot studio to $1,022 for a 1,135-square-foot two-bedroom apartment. One-bedroom units, which come in 640- and 975-square-foot versions, go for $844 a month.

There are 50 studios, 18 one-bedrooms and 21 two-bedrooms being offered. Another apartment will be set aside for a live-in superintendent.

The five-story building was formerly a school that was the center of controversy when it was closed in the late 1990s amid escalating complaints of leaky roofs, structural damage to the top-floor gym and building pieces tumbling onto the schoolyard.

The building was set for demolition but a coalition of community members called Save PS 109 managed to get the 1898 Gothic structure listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The city sold the property in 2012 for $1 to Artspace, a Minnesota-based nonprofit group that has developed similar projects in other cities, including Los Angeles. Artspace worked with El Barrio’s Operation Fight Back, an East Harlem local development group, as a co-sponsor.

Renovation costs totaled $52.2 million, according to Artspace. The developers received $3.4 million from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and $3.5 million from the Department of Cultural Affairs. In addition, Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and then-Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer put up $1.75 million and $1 million, respectively, according to their budgets.

City officials said applications for subsidized housing have surged since the housing agency created an online portal making it simpler for people to apply.

The more than 50,000 applications “is generally on par with the number of applications we receive for most of our NYC Housing Connect lotteries” since the website opened in 2012, said housing officials, who did not give numbers of applications for recent drawings.

While most recent lotteries have been for affordable units in luxury building, the East Harlem project marks the first subsidized housing exclusively for artists in years.
“We are not at all surprised with the amount of interest the project has generated because we know that there is a great need for artists’ housing,” said Shawn McLearen, project manager for El Barrio’s Artspace.

Located near several large public housing buildings, PS 109 boasts wide courtyards, tall windows and copper spires that were in vogue when it was built in the late 19th century. The H-shaped building’s facade had been covered in terracotta bricks until antique collectors plucked them in the early 2000s.

Most of the apartments are large enough to provide a workspace for artists. Non-residential units will be available for use by community groups as well as for gallery spaces. The El Taller Latino Americano cultural center announced earlier this month that it will be moving to the PS 109 building after being priced out of its Upper West Side home.

HPD will randomly select eligible applicants for an interview. The first 89 determined to meet all criteria will be given spaces in PS 109 to work and live.

“We are very pleased that the project has received so much interest and hope that our constituents will make up at least half, if not more, of the residents of the building,” said Angel D. Mescain, deputy district manager of Community Board 11, which covers 96th to 142nd streets, from Fifth Avenue to the East and Harlem rivers.