SUNSET PARK, Brooklyn (PIX11) — It’s an affordable housing concept that’s never been done before in New York. Now, though, there’s a high-rise building made up of apartments intended to house working New Yorkers with the greatest need for homes they can afford, and it’s located above a public library. That co-location helped to make construction more efficient and affordable, which has in turn helped to put the rent prices in a range that most working residents can pay.
Still, the building’s rarity speaks to how severe the challenge to provide affordable housing is. It also provides an indication that the problem can be addressed, albeit glacially.
A search for market rate rent prices in the Sunset Park neighborhood, where the new building is located, yielded results ranging from $1,600 to $3,600. The new building, above the Sunset Park Branch of The Brooklyn Library, is designed to be much lower cost, for people who qualify to live there.
“I got called, thank God, for the one in my area,” said Miguelina Minier, a resident of the building at the corner of 51st Street and 4th Avenue. “I feel grateful, and I thank God every day.”
She won the lottery — literally — in order to get a place in the building. It was through a city-run lottery that eligible applicants were selected to become tenants for 40 of the 49 apartments. The other nine tenants were selected through a program created to house formerly homeless families.
Even some of the people who were able to get housing through the lottery, rather than the homeless relocation program, had been unhoused and employed.
Leslie Rodriguez was one of them. She’d managed to get one of the apartments, and did an interview from her living room.
“It’s incredible,” she said, through a translator, “especially based on where I came from, to have a home where I’m stable, and is large enough for my family.”
She has a three bedroom apartment for family of four, with a baby on the way in January. Like all of the units in the building, her home has oak hardwood floors, and large windows.
She also said that she was thankful to God for getting the opportunity to live in the building. The opportunity is very rare, indeed.
For the 40 apartments available, the demand was high, to say the least, according to the executive director of the organization that conceived and led construction of the building.
“We had over 60,000 people apply,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the 5th Avenue Committee.
The number of applicants may very well have been higher if there weren’t income restrictions.
In order to be eligible, each applicant had to have an income below the area median income, or AMI.
AMI is the midpoint of what people in the Sunset Park neighborhood earn. The AMI is about $57,000 a year. Most tenants in the new building were eligible to try to get an apartment if they make 30 to 80 percent of AMI, or about $17,000 to $46,000 a year in income.
Also, nobody in the building can be charged more than a third of their income in rent, which meant that rents are in the range of $428 to $1,140.
Rents that low, relative to people’s income, are the very rare exception in the city, as Hayley Raetz, the data and policy director at NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, pointed out.
“About 80 percent of New Yorkers in poverty right now are rent burdened,” Raetz said in an interview. “They’re paying more than they should, of their income, on rent.”
She said that the need for housing that’s as affordable as the Sunset Park Library Branch apartments is great.
Creating them, according to de la Uz, the project’s main organizer, was a long time coming.
To be more precise, it took 17 years to use the air rights above a 50-year-old, decaying, one-story library building, and convert it into homes, as well as a brand new library that was more than twice the size of the old one.
At that rate of speed, the outlook for carrying out another project like this is not so positive.
However, said de la Uz, the rate of completing buildings like the one she oversaw is likely to increase. She said that there had been a lot of regulatory issues to overcome in order to make the idea for the building a reality.
Now that her organization and others like it know how to handle those regulatory challenges, de la Uz said, they’re looking for other one-story public buildings like the old library branch that the new residential structure was built to replace.
“It took a while, honestly,” she said, “but now that it’s been done, it can be replicated easily.