(New York, NY) - March 18, 2005 - The senior citizen residents of 450 West 131st Street will breathe a bit easier tonight knowing that their efforts to bring responsible ownership to their 104-unit building have been successful. Thanks to the support of the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Representative Charles B. Rangel and other elected and community leaders, the title to their building was transferred on Wednesday to the newly created Logan Gardens Housing Development Fund Company, Inc., a local affiliate of the citywide mutual housing group CATCH (Community Assisted Tenant Controlled Housing, Inc.).
Logan Gardens was originally rehabilitated in 1985 through the Federal Section 202 Elderly Housing Assistance Program. Property tax and mortgage arrears as well as deferred maintenance and haphazard repairs have plagued the building in recent years, on occasion leaving tenants without heat and hot water. Faced with HUD foreclosure of the building, the senior citizen residents organized in the hopes of preventing more of the same bad service or even worse at the hands of a different owner. James Lewis of Harlem Operation Take Back and Sarah McDermott and Dina Levy of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board spent countless evenings and weekends assisting Logan Gardens tenants to strategize and recruit partners and advocates in government and the community to help. The city successfully lobbied HUD to restrict bidding to preclude participation in the bidding process by irresponsible owners and also exercised a right of first refusal to acquire the building. U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Representative Charles Rangel personally advocated for a transfer of title that would ensure that Logan Gardens residents would be protected.
Finally, on Wednesday over 20 elderly and disabled residents took a bus to New York County Supreme Court where the HUD foreclosure auction took place to advocate for their cause and discourage speculators.
According to Patricia Lewis, local community leader and long-term resident, "It was imperative that we sustain the project-based subsidy for this and for all subsidized low income housing in Harlem. Now, we can applaud HUD for finally realizing this necessity."
Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, Chairman of Manhattan Community Board 9 and Vice Chairman of CATCH, the mutual housing association that arranged for the title transfer, concurred, "We have seen buildings that have affordably housed successive generations of working class and retired residents disappear overnight. Preservation is the key and if that can be achieved while also allowing residents the opportunity to participate in running their own buildings, then we will be working to ensure the preservation of affordable and decent housing for generations still to come."
The story of this success, however, did not occur overnight. For more than a year the office of Senator Charles Schumer has championed this issue assisting residents and local community based organizations in trying to create a systematic solution to preservation of at-risk HUD-subsidized housing in New York.
"If HUD continued with its original plans, these tenants would have been thrown out in the cold. At the last minute, with a lot of encouragement, HUD decided to do the right thing," said Senator Schumer. We worked hard to get this done, now we have to make sure that HUD does the right thing for the thousands of other tenants who live in the nearly 80 other at-risk properties."
And according to Congressman Charles Rangel, "Today we mark a victory for affordable housing in New York City, but we still have a long way to go. Affordable housing continues to be under attack but in this case the dedication of the tenants and hard work of the community paid off."
Local elected officials, including State Senator David Patterson, Councilmember Robert Jackson, and State Assemblyman Keith Wright also worked on the residents' behalf.
Critical to the new not-for-profit ownership was the financing to fund needed repairs. Over 80% of the apartments in the building currently fail to meet federal housing quality standards. The City has worked with CATCH to ensure that financing will be available to pay for the needed repairs at the building. The New York City Housing Development Corporation, the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, local banks and the Enterprise Foundation have helped put together a financing package that will ensure the long-term viability of this valuable housing resource. Necessary upgrades, thanks to a funding commitment from the Enterprise Foundation, will start almost immediately. Substantial renovation work will begin before the end of the year.
HPD, through the leadership of its Commissioner Shaun Donovan worked for the transfer of title in the most responsible and effective manner.
"Preserving buildings for another generation of New Yorkers is at the heart of Mayor Bloomberg's housing plan," said Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Shaun Donovan. "We thank HUD for their efforts - they got tough with the prior owner, and ensured that the new owner would do the right thing. The City hopes to continue working with HUD to transfer properties in upcoming foreclosures to responsible new owners who will ensure the long-term affordability of safe, decent housing for tenants."
According to Marcia Evans, "This is why we are in business. As a CATCH board member, President of the Central Harlem MHA and resident of a building that once was threatened with abandonment and demolition, I have learned how to work with my neighbors and with our city-wide sponsor, CATCH, to ensure that residents have a say in how our buildings are run but also are held responsible for working collectively to mutually ensure the long term viability of our homes. I look forward to working with our new mutual housing members."