Preservation, Creation and Investment in District 8
The creation and retention of affordable housing in District 8 is a cornerstone of Melissa’s work. Throughout her nearly 12 years of office, Melissa has effectively advocated for housing that reflects the real needs of constituents, fought to preserve, add and invest in more than 13,000 affordable units, and sponsored landmark legislation to help tenants fight harassment. Melissa and her team’s successful championing of repairs, upgrades and services at the 19 public housing developments in the district has also demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the security and stability of residents.
Highlights of This Work
Protecting countless tenants against displacement
Melissa sponsored the Tenant Protection Act in 2008 to give tenants adequate protection against harassment by landlords or their representatives. Before this legislation was enacted, tenants had to fight one-by-one repeated interruptions of service, threats, or other acts that undermined their well-being. The Tenant Protection Act for the first time created a violation for harassment, with a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each dwelling where a tenant has been a victim of harassment. It also includes safeguards for landlords in cases where a tenant has brought unfounded claims of harassment at least twice within 10 years.
Less than a year after the law was enacted, hundreds of tenants across the City reported that Melissa’s Tenant Protection Act helped them stand up to unscrupulous practices and stay in their homes.
Under Melissa’s leadership, the Council introduced in summer 2017 a package of legislation will further empower tenants facing harassment. The measures introduced significantly expand protections for tenants by
- Making it easier to prove harassment in certain cases
- Preventing landlords from visiting or contacting them at odd hours without consent
- Allowing victims of harassment to recover damages and reasonable attorney fees
The map below shows the distribution of the thousands of affordable units that Melissa and her District 8 team have fought to preserve, create or invest in.
Raising the bar for community deliverables
Another major milestone was the points of agreement that Team Melissa helped secure around the development of mostly City-owned property located at 125 to 127th streets between Second and Third Avenues, or what is known as the Media, Entertainment, and Cultural Center project (MEC).
After forcing the Bloomberg Administration to come back to the drawing board, Melissa initiated in 2006 a community task force that included Community Board 11, local non-profit developers, businesses, and community organizations, to work with the City and develop an RFP (request for proposals) for development that would substantively respond to local needs. When a winning proposal was selected in 2008, Melissa and the task force created a Points of Agreement (POA) document with the City that outlined key commitments around affordable housing —including home ownership— and other top community priorities:
- A minimum of 80% of housing units must be affordable to individuals of families earning up to 150 percent of the Area Median Income* (AMI), with the distribution of these units reflecting a range in incomes:
- A minimum of 200 units affordable to individuals or families earning up to 60% of AMI, including 50 units affordable to individuals or families earning up to 40% of the AMI.
- A minimum of 200 units affordable to individuals or families earning 61% to 100% of the AMI
- A minimum of 200 units affordable to individuals or families earning 101 to 150% of the AMI
- Approximately 50 percent of the affordable units will be home ownership units.
- 50,000 square feet of space must be set aside for locally owned businesses, with below market rent and preferences for those within the area of Community Board 11
- 30,000 square feet in cultural space will reflect East Harlem/El Barrio’s communities
- The project must include a variety of store sizes from 300 to 5,000 square feet
- The development and implementation of an MWBE and targeted hiring workforce plan
The East 125th Street Points of Agreement (PDF), and the bar it raised for development principles and community deliverables, remains in place.
Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines the *Area Median Income or AMI for the New York metropolitan region, which includes all of New York City as well as nearby suburban counties. As the median household income of East Harlem/El Barrio residents is below the AMI of the region, it is necessary to build and preserve income-targeted housing at levels reflective of local incomes.
Supporting the arts community – Artspace P.S. 109
With a decommissioned school building sitting empty for years and veteran artists struggling to make ends meet, Melissa saw a unique opportunity to develop affordable housing.
In 2012, Melissa successfully brokered a partnership between community-minded co-developers—Artspace Projects and the local nonprofit Operation Fightback— and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to redevelop the former site of P.S. 109. (The City had deemed the building too costly to be transformed into a modern, functional school.)
At the groundbreaking in 2012, Melissa announced with the City, developers and other partners that residential units would be reserved for artists whose household income was less than 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), include a 40% AMI income band and that at least 50% of the units would be set aside for artists already residing in East Harlem.
Two years later, Artspace P.S. 109 opened with 90 units of permanently affordable live-work housing, 3,000 square feet for a resident gallery and 10,000 square feet for arts organizations.
The commitment to affordability and maintaining the cultural and historic integrity of East Harlem demonstrated that new developments could be a win all around, instead of a source of division.
Preserving affordability at Ciena and Hobbs
Melissa and her D8 team worked with City agencies and developers to ensure that a redevelopment on East 100th street would preserve Section 8 units, maintain its overall affordability, and provide job opportunities to local workers.
In 2009, Phipps Houses and the Urban Builders Collaborative began working on the redevelopment of two Metro-North public housing sites in East Harlem. The $143.5 million affordable housing project consisted of an eight-story building with 261 units, called Hobbs Court, and the rehabilitation of five existing vacant walk-up buildings called The Ciena.
The resulting Ciena and Hobbs Court created a total of 339 units with a range of affordable apartments. Melissa and the D8 team attended community meetings to monitor work and make certain that residents from the original Metro-North buildings had the first opportunity to live at the reconfigured development, which includes a community facility, green space and programming, and services from neighboring organizations such as Union Settlement.
Championing and investing in Community Land Trusts
Melissa has been a strong proponent of community stewardship of land as a means of sustaining affordable housing. As a result of Melissa’s support, as well as advocacy from many local nonprofit developers, the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) initiated a process to qualify groups across the city to create Community Land Trusts (CLT’s). Under the CLT model, non-profit community organizations retain ownership of the land beneath the development projects to ensure their permanent affordability.
The implementation of a community land trust emerged as one of the priorities of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan. To launch this major effort, Melissa allocated $500,000 in capital funds for the East Harlem/ El Barrio Community Land Trust (EHEBCLT), which is comprised of local residents and stakeholders invested in renovating city-owned buildings in disrepair and transforming them into permanently affordable housing for low and moderate income residents.
Funding for the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning
By appropriating $1,778,000 in funding, Melissa backed another innovative partnership between the local nonprofit DREAM, private developers and the City that delivered 100% income-targeted housing in the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning. This mixed-use development provides:
- 89 affordable units –known as Yomo Toro Apartments
- the DREAM K-8 charter school, with dedicated seats for NYCHA residents
- 6,000 square feet of office space for not-for-profit organizations
- an adjacent renovated park
Because the Center sits on once vacant NYCHA land at George Washington Houses, residents of that development were given priority in the housing lottery selection. All apartments are allocated to residents earning 40% to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
Negotiating Lexington Gardens II
Under a land use agreement that Melissa negotiated with the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Lexington Gardens, an existing affordable housing development on Lexington Avenue between 107th and 108th Streets, will be expanded with approximately 400 new units of affordable housing and space for two neighborhood institutions. In keeping with recommendations of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, Melissa successfully advocated to ensure that 20% of the units would be affordable to residents earning up to $25,750. Additionally, the District 8 team secured new permanent locations for both Union Settlement Association and the Northside Center for Child Development.
But prior to even considering any expansion of Lexington Gardens, Melissa insisted that the developers — Tahl Propp — engage in a preservation deal on their existing buildings. As a result of her negotiation, they delivered on preserving low-income housing at:
- 1775 Houses, 107-129 East 126th Street (255 Units)
- AK Houses, 112-126 East 128th Street (157 units)
- Lexington Gardens, 127 E. 107th Street (107 Units)
- MS Houses, 107-123 East 129th Street (131 Units)
Taking care of seniors at Borinquen Court
Recognizing the need for affordable housing for our senior population in the Bronx, Melissa supported a proposal by the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) to not only fully rehabilitate Borinquen Court on East 138th Street for its existing residents, but to also build more than 350 new units of affordable senior housing on the site. She invested $2 million in capital funds in the project, and also supported a land use measure to facilitate this development.