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The city’s housing chief is considering a shift away from the massive construction of suburban-style townhouses that has been the hallmark of New York’s affordable housing construction during the 1990s, Giuliani administration officials told City Limits.

The city will likely divert more of its increasingly scarce funding to the construction of more conventional high-rise buildings in inner-city neighborhoods, officials at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) said last week. The shift won’t mean halting construction of one- to three-family dwellings, but could signal an end to the near-monopoly that the New York City Housing Partnership and East Brooklyn Congregagtions’ Nehemiah Houses have enjoyed on the construction of subsidized housing in low-income neighborhoods.

“We have to consider other ways of doing things, other people, other sites,” said an administrator close to HPD commissioner Richard Roberts. “It’s a good time for us to think of other ways and other models…. We’re not looking to displace anybody or replace anybody, but we need to implement other kinds of models that make the best use of the resources we have.”

Details were sketchy, but officials say they will probably begin funding the construction of four- to seven-story buildings in poor neighborhoods, with ground-floor retail space where appropriate. The initiatives would still primarily focus on working families with incomes of $30,000 or more, they said.

Roberts has drawn recent criticism for pulling $5 million in promised infrastructure funding on Nehemiah’s proposed 500-house site at Spring Creek in East New York. Defending Roberts, Mayor Giuliani labeled Nehemiah “a sacred cow” last week, telling the Daily News: “Sacred cows make the best hamburger meat.” Still, the HPD official claims the planned shift, which may not take effect for months, has “nothing to do with Nehemiah-nothing at all.”

In addition, higher-ups did not rule out the possibility that changes could mean seeking developers other than the Partnership, the David Rockefeller-led nonprofit which has overseen the construction of nearly 13,000 homes since the early 1980s, many of them pre-fabricated townhouses. Since Giuliani took office in 1994, the Partnership has built or started work on $660 million in construction–about a third of which came from city subsidies. “This is somethig I haven’t heard about,” said the Partnership’s executive director Veronica White. “We have the capacity to do many different kinds of projects.”

HPD convened a task force last fall to investigate complaints of shoddy construction at Partnership sites in the South Bronx. The agency and the Partnership will soon release criteria for the use of building standards for new construction, officials said.

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