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Chinatown Building Receiving Sustainable Upgrades, Extended Affordability

By Allegra Hobbs | October 14, 2016 2:38pm | Updated on October 16, 2016 1:32pm
 81 Madison St. is a 5-story, 20-apartment building in Chinatown.
81 Madison St. is a 5-story, 20-apartment building in Chinatown.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

CHINATOWN — A 20-unit building filled with rent-stabilized tenants is getting a bunch of green upgrades that will also keep the apartments affordable for decades.

Enterprise Community Partners, a real estate company geared towards securing affordable housing for low-income individuals, has partnered with the city's department of Housing and Preservation Development and community nonprofit Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) to bring a host of sustainable upgrades to 81 Madison St., lowering utility costs while also keeping the units rent-stabilized. 

"It will lock in longer-term affordability, which is really important, especially in higher opportunity neighborhoods and neighborhoods facing a lot of displacement," said Judi Kende, vice president of Enterprise, which helped secure the low-interest loan making the project possible.

With a $1.26 million loan from Enterprise and a $993 thousand loan from HPD — one of the first loans made through HPD's new Green Housing Preservation Program — the building will be rehabilitated with new heating, electric, and plumbing upgrades, asbestos abatement, interior wall replacement, and new tiling in kitchens and bathrooms.

Cost-saving upgrades will include thermostatic radiator valves — self-regulating valves that sense the temperature of a room and only uses heat when needed — and low-flow water fixtures to conserve water, according to HPD. 

Apartments and common areas will receive energy-efficient fixtures and bulbs to significantly reduce electricity usage, while the building's roof will receive a solar-reflective "white roof" to prevent less solar energy from being absorbed as heat, according to AAFE. 

HPD reps estimate the upgrades could allow tenants to save up to 40 percent in utility costs annually.

And while generally such extensive upgrades to a crumbling apartment building would signal a hike in rent, the city's loan secures the units' rent-stabilized status until 2067, while they had been set to expire in 2042.

Activists with AAFE first bought the building in 2012 as part of its Rebuild Chinatown initiative, in which the organization buys up rent-stabilized buildings to preserve their affordability, preventing them from falling into the hands of developers who might seek to put in market-rate tenants.

"You see more predatory buyers buy up these buildings, and because existing rents are so low they would hike up the price a lot of the time and you see illegal eviction," said AAFE executive director Christopher Kui. "When somebody buys them, they buy them with the notion they really want to evict these tenants that have been living there for a long time."

Through the initiative, the organization has acquired 152 units across six buildings in Chinatown and the Lower East Side — buildings Kui suspects would have ultimately been purchased for other purposes.

"I can see how some of these buildings would have fallen into that category," Kui said.