THE OTHER RENAISSANCE

Print More

Any regular reader of the Sunday New York Times will be familiar with that paper’s version of the nouveau Harlem–a neighborhood most noted for Fairway, Citarella and an upper middle class real estate boom. Stories feature happy young homeowners gushing over the cheap deals: “People are friendlier than on the Upper West Side,” burbles one new owner.

But there’s an engine of public policy and money behind that private-sector rebirth, one that now seems to be kicking into a higher gear. In the last few months, the city’s housing department has unleashed or reactivated a slew of programs for dilapidated apartment buildings. Harlem, which still has plenty of neglected properties, will be especially affected: Altogether, nearly two hundred buildings between 110th Street and 148th Street will be on the move within the year. Most will rent or sell for market rates.

The city’s new Vacant Buildings program, formally announced last week, will develop 87 city-owned buildings and seven vacant lots into condos, co-ops and rentals. Sixty of the buildings and five of the lots are in West Harlem’s Community Board 10. The new homes will have no income restrictions for renters or buyers.

Over the next year, the city will remove up to 80 run-down Harlem buildings from negligent private owners in the first full round of its Third Party Transfer initiative, handing them over to new owners that are specially approved by HPD.

Under Asset Sales, roughly a dozen city-owned Harlem buildings are now slated for sale. Through this program, tenants get the first shot at buying the building. If they can’t arrange the cash, the properties will be sold to the general public.

Tenant advocates worry that one of the last reservoirs of cheap housing is drying up. Another concern: That central Harlem, still a very poor neighborhood, will have a glut of market-rate condos and co-ops within a few years.

“The market is hot,” admitted one housing expert, “but adding huge amount of housing without any income guidelines [for residents] seems a little foolhardy.”