A huge crowd converged on Grand Street Settlement last night for an information session on affordable housing opportunities at Essex Crossing, the large development project in the former Seward Park urban renewal area. While it was a vivid illustration of the pressing demand for low- and middle-income apartments on the Lower East Side, the chaotic session also showed how unprepared city officials were to handle the situation.
It was standing room only inside the meeting room on Pitt Street. A large group was prevented from even coming inside due to the large turnout. The event was moderated by representatives from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Housing Development Corp. (which is financing portions of the project). Delancey Street Associates, the development consortium, was also on hand. Notices were sent to about 200 people who have identified themselves as former Seward Park site tenants. Some of them were in attendance last night, along with lots of other people from every demographic group on the LES.
Essex Crossing includes 1000 apartments; 500 will be affordable to low-, middle- and -moderate-income families. 311 of those affordable units will be built in the first phase of construction, beginning this summer and fall on the first four development parcels. People won’t be able to apply for the affordable housing lottery for another year to a year-and-a-half. But given the high interest from the public, city officials agreed to hold the informational session well in advance.
From the moment their presentation began in the sweltering meeting room, things did not go according to plan. Residents yelled at the officials to speak more clearly. There was no Spanish or Chinese translation in a room with a substantial number of non-English speakers. After several minutes, people rushed to the front of the room to get their hands on informational handouts. At that point, the city representatives lost control of the proceedings, they were heckled and the meeting was cut short before a question & answer period could even begin.
The handout (which was available in multiple languages) did contain some useful details. It explained that a former site tenant is defined as any individual who lived in the Seward Park Extension Urban Renewal Area in the years 1965-1973. The area was bounded by Delancey Street, Essex Street, Grand Street and Willett Street. In order to qualify, people must show government-issued documents to prove their address (passports, voter id cards, etc.)
The handout emphasized that even former site tenants are not guaranteed of an affordable apartment at Essex Crossing. They must meet family income requirements. In the lottery, residents of Community District 3 will receive priority for 50% of the apartments. Within that allotment, approved former site tenants will have an additional priority. The officials urged residents to sign up for alerts on the NYC Housing Connect website, where the application will eventually be available. Applications may also be requested by mail.
There was also a chart that detailed affordable housing availabilities in the first phase of construction. These numbers are based on Area Median Income (AMI), as determined by the federal government, which for New York this year is $86,300. Here’s a summary:
- Site 1: 11 Condominium apartments – available at 110% of AMI. Family of 1: $66,550 household income; Family of 4 $94,930 household income.
- Site 2: 98 rental apartments – available between 40-155% of AMI. Family of 1: $24,200-93,775 household income. Family of 4: $34,520-133,765 household income.
- Site 5: 104 rental apartments – available between 40-155% of AMI. Family of 1: $24,200-93,775 household income. Family of 4: $34,520-133,765 household income.
- Site 6 (senior housing): 100 rental apartments – available at 40% and 80% of AMI. Family of 1: $24,200 or $48,350 household income. Family of 4: $34,520 or $69.050 household income.
The city officials suggested that people who need help determining whether they’re eligible contact two non-profit organizations on the Lower East Side:
UPDATE 4:15 p.m. A spokesperson from Grand Street Settlement tells us this afternoon that the fire department responded to the facility last night due to the large crowd that had assembled. Firefighters asked the city agencies to wrap up the meeting as soon as their agenda was complete. In response to growing interest in the Essex Crossing project, we’re told future events of this type will be held in meeting rooms that can accommodate larger crowds.