Tenants, pols protest conversion of affordable Harlem rentals

By David Jones | March 04, 2008 05:18PM

As six subsidized apartment buildings in north central Harlem face either a sale or market-rate conversion, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Charlie Rangel are urging the various owners of the properties to re-consider, saying more than 1,000 low-income tenants could be forced out by huge rent hikes.

Advocates hope that the buildings, which house a combined total of 551 apartments, will be sold to a nonprofit developer. 

“I think both Chuck and I agree that this is the time for the real estate industry to come forward and come to the table and negotiate what is in the best interest of our community, our city,” Rangel said at a Sunday protest organized by the Harlem Tenants United Coalition.

Abyssinian Development Corp., a local nonprofit founded by Abyssinian Baptist Church, has offered to buy out the owners of the six buildings and has pledged to keep them in the affordable housing program.

Developer Irving Langer owns one Harlem apartment building and manages another that could be pulled out of the Section 8 program starting at the end of March. Langer owns Mother Zion Apartments at 2640 Frederick Douglass Boulevard and manages Hudson Piers at 695 Riverside Drive on behalf of the Hudson Piers Associates’ owner Michael Spielman.

Baruch Singer owns one complex embroiled in the controversy: the Gloria B. Harding Apartments at 617 West 143rd Street and 707 and 770 St. Nicholas Avenue. He told The Real Deal that by converting those buildings to market rates, rents would reach at least $1,300 a month for one-bedrooms and $1,800 for two-bedrooms, prices he said would still be affordable. Singer said he does not plan on selling the buildings.

Protesters at Sunday’s rally included tenants from several other Harlem buildings that could lose their Section 8 subsidies, including Canaan IV Towers at 95 Lenox Avenue, where a Section 8 contract expires in May; Morningside Apartments at 107 West 109th Street, where it expires in October and Hudson View I Apartments at 532-536 and 540-544 West 145th Streets, where it expires in November. Morningside is owned by Tahl-Propp Equities, while Hudson View is owned by SB&W Realty Corp. Canaan IV Towers are owned by Church Home Associates.

Harlem has lost 4,500 affordable units to market-rate conversions over the past three years, according to Tenants & Neighbors, a tenants rights advocacy group that also helped organize the protest. The Community Service Society, an anti-poverty organization, reported that the average household income in subsidized Harlem households is only $10,248 per year.

Shimon Shkury, managing director at Massey Knakal, said that condos in the area could fetch between $650 to $800 per square foot.