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‘Affordable’ Apartments – at $3,000 a Month – Loom for Staten Island

Bay Street is on tap for rezoning.
Bay Street is on tap for rezoning. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Affordable housing” – for upwards of $3,000 a month – could be coming to Staten Island’s Bay Street under a rezoning proposal up for a City Planning Commission vote Monday.

If the plan ultimately makes it through the City Council, the high-end apartments would count toward Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of creating 300,000 new affordable flats amid a citywide housing crunch. That would mark a first for a neighborhood rezoning spearheaded by City Hall.

Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo pushed for allowing developers to opt to build apartments for households earning as much as $127,000 a year for a family of three. He’s also advocating a range of options that includes less expensive residences for people earning about $38,000 or less annually.

“How do we tolerate approving a plan that excludes one particular group of Staten Islanders?” Oddo asked in a statement.

The Bay Street corridor — a stretch of 14 blocks in Tompkinsville and Stapleton on the North Shore — is among a half dozen areas de Blasio selected nearly five years ago as engines of his affordable housing plan.

City Planning projects 1,800 apartments, housing some 6,500 residents, will emerge from the revamp of Bay Street, a quiet commercial strip. Up to 30% of the new residential space would be set aside for people who meet affordable housing requirements.

Developers have various options that include targeting their affordable apartments to households earning up to $56,000 or up to around $65,000 annually for a family of three. That’s roughly in line with the median income on the North Shore.

But Oddo, in casting an advisory vote in opposition to all but one element of the plan in February, prevailed on City Planning to also allow developers to choose to build what city planners call “workforce housing.” Those are apartments aimed at middle-class professionals at higher income levels than others in the mayor’s affordable housing programs.

With rents set at 30% of household income, that would allow apartments that lease for as much as $3,169 a month for a family of three, based on a maximum income of $126,765.

That’s higher rent than most pay in Staten Island’s Community District 1, which covers the North Shore. Developers must give priority to district residents for half of the affordable units.

A Range of Rents

According the NYU Furman Center, a housing research group, the typical asking rent for an available apartment in the area was $1,950 in 2017, while tenants’ median rent was $1,240 in 2016.

Should developers choose the high-rent option, they are obligated to set aside 10% of their apartments for tenants with incomes below the median – and charge an average affordable housing rent of no more than about $2,700 for a family of three.

At Oddo’s request, the proposal going before the City Planning Commission also now permits developers to set aside some apartments for lower-income households, earning up to just shy of $38,000 a year.

“The proverbial nurse married to the proverbial teacher should have an opportunity to live along this corridor if they choose,” Oddo said. “So, allow there to be market rate units, units traversing a broad range of [incomes], and workforce housing.”

A rendering of how Staten Island's Bay Street could look under a rezoning plan.
A rendering of how Staten Island’s Bay Street could look under a rezoning plan. Photo: NYC City Planning Commission

But the term “workforce housing” is practically a dirty word for activists who work with lower-income tenants.

“We’re pretty much telling the low-income folks that we don’t care about them. We’re leaving them literally out of the equation if we’re going to do workforce housing,” said Ivan Garcia, a Staten Island-based organizer with the Housing Dignity Coalition and Make the Road New York.

Chris Walters, of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, said nothing prevents a developer from solely relying on workforce housing to fulfill affordable-apartment quotas.

“I understand the talking point that you then provide for a range of incomes, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that that’s what will play out on the ground,” said Walters, who’s advising Staten Islanders on the rezoning.

Council Member Gets Her Say Next

Tenant advocates aren’t alone in recoiling at the Bay Street proposal.

In January, Community Board 1 voted to oppose most elements, supporting only the conversion of a notorious Jersey Street Department of Sanitation garage into low-income senior housing.

Community board members said they were concerned that thousands of new residents would flood everything from bus lines to already packed classrooms.

“There’s barely room now,” said Shanna Davids, whose son attends Curtis High School in St. George, which has more than 2,500 students jammed into a building with an official capacity of 1,626.

Practically speaking, the sole decisive vote on Bay Street belongs to City Councilmember Debi Rose. By Council tradition, the other lawmakers would defer to Rose, who has expressed reservations about allowing higher-rent apartments to count as affordable housing.

“I think those people that you find in those [higher-income] brackets will have access to housing,” she said. “So I’m really concentrating on the mid-level and down.”

Staten Island Councilmember Debi Rose
Staten Island Councilmember Debi Rose Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The City Planning Commission could modify the housing mix in voting on the Bay Street plan. A City Council vote is expected next month.

Rose has so far focused on using her veto power over the Bay Street plan to extract city dollars for community improvements.

“I’ve been saying that I want to do this rezoning,” Rose told THE CITY in March. “But there are certain conditions that have to be met and they are the infrastructure.”

She’s already secured $31 million for pedestrian and public space improvements, including a new plaza at the Tompkinsville train station.

She’s also seeking a City Hall commitment to reconstruct the George Cromwell Recreation Center, a beloved Depression-era complex on a pier, that was demolished in 2013 after a section collapsed into the water.

“I’m still working on them,” said Rose, referring to the de Blasio administration. “At the end of the day, I have the final say.”

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