Affordable housing rare commodity

NEWBURGH: Aging public housing improves, but questions remain about affordability.

This is how hard it is for poor people to find an apartment in the city of Newburgh: 400 people are on a waiting list for federally subsidized, low-income housing run by the Newburgh Housing Authority.

It’s a tight market for the poorest residents, and while Newburgh’s public housing is improving, it’s not clear whether there’s enough to go around.

The problem, according to the city’s own Housing and Community Development Plan, places an “undue cost burden on households to find decent, affordable housing.”

About 65 percent of the city’s 2,253 extremely low-income households spend more than half of each month’s income just on rent, the plan said.

The city’s four housing complexes are home to some 800 people. Several years ago, after the agency accumulated more than $2 million in water and electric bills it couldn’t pay, it sold two of complexes to a private developer.

The developer, Sheldrake Corp. and its CEO, investor J. Christopher Daly, promised a $5.5 million renovation of

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the 120-unit John T. Kenney Apartments. He also promised $1 million in electrical and boiler work at the 85-unit Bourne Apartments.

But will privatization help solve the housing crunch? Some hail the idea as a triumph of efficiency. Others fear the profit-motivated private sector will displace the poorest.

Sonia Miranda, who has lived in the complex 20 years, praised Sheldrake’s renovations to her apartment.

“Everything, everything is new,” she said. Her apartment, like others, has new linoleum floors, fresh white walls and new appliances. They even removed the wall between the living room and what was once a cramped laundry room. Now she enjoys a spacious living/dining area.

“I

have no complaints,” Miranda said. “You tell them anything and they fix it real fast.”

But another tenant, a woman in her 30s who grew up in Kenney, has doubts.

“The rents went sky high,” said the woman, who holds a blue-collar job at a large company.

A three-bedroom is more than $900 a month, said the woman, who asked not to be identified. A two-bedroom costs between $600 and $775, too expensive for apartments constructed for the poor, she said.

The woman said the rent is a problem for people like her mother, a retired cleaning worker on Social Security. After paying rent on her one-bedroom her mother is left with $100.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said the woman.

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Covering 9/11: reflecting on images

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Editors note: Los Angeles Times photographers Gary Friedman and Robert Gauthier arrived in New York on Sept. 13, 2001, and immediately began covering the disaster. In today’s From the Archives post, Friedman and Gauthier reflect on some of their Sept. 11 images. Larger versions of the photos are in the gallery above.

A 6 a.m. phone call on Sept. 11 from Times photo editor Steve Stroud woke photographer Gary Friedman. After explaining the news, Stroud instructed Friedman to catch the next flight to New York. While he was on the phone making reservations, all flights were grounded.

It would be two more days before Friedman, fellow photographer Rob Gauthier and a group of Times journalist reached New York on a charter flight. They landed in New Jersey early in the evening of Thursday, Sept. 13, checked into a mid-town hotel, and immediately started covering the story.

Times reporter Hector Tobar and Friedman walked towards Lower Manhattan. Friedman carried only one camera body and two lenses. After getting past several barricades and heavy security they arrived at ground zero — the remains of the World Trade Center.

“There are no words to describe what we saw,” Friedman said. “It resembled an atom bomb blast, rescue workers everywhere.”

Friedman turned around and against the backdrop of glaring light saw a silhouetted group of firemen. They were looking at looking at “the Pile,” where 343 of their firehouse brothers had been lost.

Friedman opened his coat, brought his camera to his eye and made this image.

“I find this image haunting, yet beautiful,” says Friedman.

In the following weeks, Friedman concentrated on the New York Fire Department, a project recalled in his “Rescue 5″ story and the “Rescue 5: A photographer remembers” blog post last week. –Scott Harrison

Sept. 14, 2001: Some families waited for the inevitable confirmation that their loved ones were killed in the fall of the twin towers. Others pulled together in shock and sadness and began to mourn their loss.

This was the case with the family of Daniel Lopez, a financial analyst at Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of the north tower. His wife, Elizabeth, after three days of searching, gathered her family and silently wept at a neighborhood vigil in Queens.

After hours of photographing the perimeter of ground zero and passing by thousands of missing persons posters, this moment brought the tragedy into focus for me. The somber stillness of this Queens neighborhood of apartment buildings, broken only by the hushed sobs of families and friends, provided a glimpse of an emptiness that would continue for them long after I left. –Robert Gauthier

Sept. 15, 2001: Exhausted from three solid days of searching, Ammo rests with a comforting hand from SPCA detective Michael Norkelun a few hundred yards from ground zero. As first responders from all over the country scoured the rubble for survivors and victims, so did numerous search and rescue dogs.

Nimble and determined, the dogs could be seen darting in and out, above and below piles of steel and debris as anxious handlers barked commands and flashed gestures. Trained to work and eager to please, the dogs worked endless hours, like the human rescue workers, to the point of exhaustion.

This photo of Ammo elicited more emails and letters than any

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other picture I took of destroyed buildings, grieving families and exhausted human rescue workers. I’m not surprised. Animals like Ammo are unconditionally devoted to their human handlers. That’s something all of us admire deeply. –Robert Gauthier

Sept. 21, 2001: Jack Hord, 7, puts on a brave face while fans cheer the national anthem during pregame ceremonies at the Mets – Braves game. Neighbor J. Christopher Daly, holds him as the first baseball game since the fall of the twin towers begins at Shea Stadium. Jack’s father, Monte Hord, an employee at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed in the attack.

This was one of a few defining moments during my Sept. 11 experience. It was obvious that young Jack Hord hadn’t begun to process what had happened; yet, like the rest of the country, people at the game were anxious to move forward with their lives. The stadium was filled with patriotism and enthusiasm. For a moment I felt a part of that community, but then I looked into Jack’s eyes and wondered how his life had changed, now that his father was gone. –Robert Gauthier

Tomorrow: Los Angeles Times photographer Mark Boster looks back on his two-week cross-country drive documenting America after Sept. 11.

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3 Nonprofit Groups Get a Manhattan Deal: $1 a Year

j christopher daly, j. christopher daly

Poets House, a comprehensive poetry library, with 50,000 books in its collection, has been squeezed into a tiny second-floor loft in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan for 16 years. It has been able to renew its lease at 72 Spring Street only in five-year intervals. So Lee Briccetti, the executive director of the group, has had to renegotiate the lease every few years.

“We’re poets, so this was an amazingly stressful situation for us,” said Ms. Briccetti, who is a published poet herself. She decided that securing the organization’s future “meant somehow getting off of the real estate treadmill.”

 

And that is exactly what Poets House will do next year, when it moves into a new space at the southern tip of Manhattan that will have sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The little nonprofit has signed a lease until 2069 for more than 12,000 square feet of raw space at Battery Park City. Poets House will pay $1 a year in rent.

 

This deal is all the more eye-popping because it is occurring as rents for street-level retail space in Manhattan are skyrocketing. That is somewhat less true in Battery Park City, which is not a major shopping district, said Alan Napack, a senior director in the retail services group at Cushman & Wakefield. Still, he estimated that street level space near the library’s future home might fetch $60 to $100 annually per square foot.

 

But Poets House was selected by the Battery Park City Authority as one of a handful of nonprofit groups to benefit from the authority’s public amenity program. All of them have been given leases with the same favorable terms — $1 a year rent until 2069.

 

“This is publicly owned land, and we think the public ought to continue to get some use of it,” said James E. Cavanaugh, president and chief executive of the Battery Park City Authority.

 

The 92 acres of land beneath Battery Park City, a surprisingly leafy residential neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, were created some 40 years ago out of landfill from the excavation for construction of the World Trade Center.

 

The Battery Park City Authority, a public agency with both city and state involvement, was created to manage the development of the reclaimed land. Today, developers own the buildings they put up there, but must lease the land beneath their buildings from the authority. These leases also run until 2069, exactly 100 years after the founding of the authority.

 

Whenever the Battery Park City Authority puts an undeveloped parcel of land up for bid, itrequires developers to include public amenity space in their proposals. Developers must agree to donate this space to the authority to compete for the right to build.

 

For example, over the last few years, the authority required the developers of three luxury rental apartment buildings — the Solaire, the Verdesian and Tribeca Green — to build public restrooms, public meeting rooms and a workshop for the authority’s Parks Conservancy. But at Riverhouse, a residential development under construction in Battery Park City, the authority has leased all of the public amenity space in the building to outside cultural institutions.

 

Three nonprofit groups will occupy most of the first and second floors of Riverhouse, a huge horseshoe-shaped 32-story, 264-unit luxury condominium that should be ready for occupancy later this year.

 

Besides Poets House, the New York Public Library will open its first branch in Lower Manhattan. And Mercy Corps, a relief agency based in Portland, Ore., with field offices in dozens of countries, including Iraq and Sudan, will have a small exhibition space highlighting global hunger.

 

The amenity program is not exactly free for the nonprofits. They have had to raise millions of dollars to build their spaces. Goldman Sachs, which is building its new headquarters one block away, donated $3.5 million for the public library. Poets House has already reached the $5.5 million needed to build its space, and is still raising money

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for an endowment and operating expenses. And Mercy Corps has raised $2 million of the $5.4 million that it will need for construction.

 

Mr. Cavanaugh said the libraries and exhibition space should contribute to a well-rounded experience for Lower Manhattan residents and tourists alike. He said Riverhouse would be two blocks from the memorial planned for Ground Zero. “We already see a lot of tourists who come down here to look at Ground Zero,” Mr. Cavanaugh said.

 

The Sheldrake Organization, the New York City developer that is building Riverhouse at Two River Terrace, just steps away from the World Financial Center, has carved out more than 27,000 square feet on the first and second floors for the three nonprofits.

 

The only street-level retail space is leased to City Bakery, an organic cafe with a restaurant on West 18th Street in Manhattan.

 

As part of its winning bid, Sheldrake paid $60 million to the authority before breaking ground, and has leased the land below the building for $1 million a year until 2069. J. Christopher Daly, the founder and president of Sheldrake, said the company would also spend tens of millions of dollars building the space that it would donate to the authority.

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New Partner J. Christopher Daly for Westview and Island House

j. christopher daly, j christopher daly, sheldrake

The new partner in Island House and Westview is The Sheldrake Organization.  Its founder is J. Christopher Daly.

The Sheldrake Organization describes itself as “the largest owner and manager of privatized public housing in New York State,” and says, “Through enduring partnerships with both government and non-profit agencies, Sheldrake now owns and operates more than 2,500 units of housing in seven counties throughout New York State.  Furthermore, Sheldrake currently has Federal and State applications pending, the approval of which will lead to the renovation and construction of an additional 1,500 units.”

In a related development, RIOC has received a proposal for extension of the ground leases for Westview and Island House.  

Daly did not respond to messages left this week at his office in Hempstead, Long Island.  The WIRE was not able to determine whether a deal has actually been made, nor to determine what stake Daly’s company will hold in the Roosevelt Island properties.  According to an aide to City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Daly has an appointment for a meeting with Miller.

Both Island House and Westview are currently Mitchell-Lama properties under the supervision of the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), which sets rental rates.  This week, in fact, DHCR held a hearing on the owner’s request for a rent hike for Westview. 

If the buildings are privatized – that is, privately mortgaged and removed from the Mitchell-Lama program – they are no longer under DHCR supervision, and owners are free to raise rents.  But on its website, Sheldrake makes a point of saying it maintains affordability in the housing it owns or manages:

The Sheldrake Organization is currently focusing on the development of affordable housing and, more specifically, the conversion of public housing to private ownership.  Through pro-active management of its more than 2,500 units throughout New York State, Sheldrake has become engrained in the economic, social, and cultural fabric of the communities it serves.  It is the mission of this Organization to preserve and maintain the welfare of our residents, to provide high-quality affordable housing to communities in need, and to continue being New York State’s leading developer of privatized public housing.

Sheldrake’s properties range in size from a 36-unit senior citizen building in Hempstead, Long Island, to a 496-unit building in Mount Vernon.  They range west to North Tonawanda, near Buffalo.

Sheldrake describes itself as a “driving force behind the revival of Hempstead Village… Originally founded by J. Christopher Daly in 1988 to develop distressed and blighted commercial properties in suburban Hempstead, the Sheldrake Organization has grown rapidly into a full-service real-estate firm which owns, manages, develops, and leases residential and commercial property throughout New York State.”

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