Housing / News

Fox Street co-op draws middle income residents

Gen. Colin Powell Apartments


Longwood building also makes room for Habitat for Humanity

Thanks to an innovative partnership between a non-profit Christian organization and an affordable housing developer, the first co-op apartment built in Hunts Point or Longwood in nearly a quarter of a century is now (almost) ready for occupancy.

The seven-story building at 715 Fox Street at the corner of Fox Street and Leggett Avenue has been named for Colin Powell, the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State who grew up on Fox Street.

The collaboration between Habitat for Humanity NYC and Blue Sea Development Company marks the first time anywhere in the nation that a Habitat affiliate has built affordable multi-family homes with a for-profit developer.

While the building is classified as affordable housing, most of its apartments will be occupied by families whose income is higher than the median income in Longwood. But because of the arrangement with Habitat, their neighbors will include lower income residents.

With 50 apartments, many offering elegant spiral balconies, the building stands out from the apartments nearby. Eight of the units will by occupied by families chosen by Habitat for Humanity.

To qualify, they must earn between $19,200 and $30,725, while those who occupy the rest of the apartments will have incomes between $51,710 and $76,010.

Apartments are priced from $89,800 for a studio to $188,506 for a three-bedroom.

The owners of the apartments to be sold by Blue Sea will be required to put at least 10 percent of the purchase price down, while the occupants of the Habitat apartments will have to put down just 1 percent and pay no more than a third of their monthly income in monthly housing expenses.

Jemaine Buchanan is one of the lucky eight. After submitting an application in late August 2009, he submitted to an extensive check of his background and credit, including a visit to his current residence in the Eastchester section of the Bronx, a telephone interview and a face-to-face interview with a panel from Habitat-NYC.

Like all Habitat homeowners, he put in days of labor. To earn their sweat equity, residents must either work on their own building, other Habitat projects or in homeless shelters dotted across the city. They must put in least 300 hours for every family member 16-years-old or older who will live apartment, up to a maximum of 600 hours.

A research and marketing analyst in the sports division of Nielsen Ratings, Buchanan said he is excited to be moving into this one-bedroom apartment. “I understood what it would take, but it was a great experience” he said.

CruzMaria Renvill, who currently lives in the Fordham Road section of the Bronx with her daughter, said she found the Habitat requirements, which also include a 50-hour course for first-time homebuyers devoted to home maintenance, to be rewarding. Renvill, who worked with Buchanan on one building project, said of the sweat equity obligation, “You get to meet a lot of people, and you work with people who you are also going to live with.”

All eight Habitat apartments are filled, but the occupants of the remaining apartments, who will be picked by a lottery, have just begun to be chosen. People who currently live in Hunts Point or Longwood will get preference for half the apartments.

Although planned to be completed by January, the project has taken longer than expected. Now prospective residents are being told they will not be able to move in until late August or early September.

The building includes a recreation room that will be shared by all its residents and sports a green roof, whose plantings are designed to capture rain water and to cut down on the need for air conditioning, lowering utility bills.

The apartments have proved to be a magnet for middle-income New Yorkers. More than 700 people have applied. According to Les Bluestone, Blue Sea’s president, many have been rejected because they earn more than the maximum income.

Community leaders have welcomed the prospect of higher-income residents. “We want to be and become a mixed-income community where people are able to afford more, have substantial jobs and bring more economic diversity to the neighborhood, not just poor and low-income people,” Community Board 2’s District Manager John Robert told The Express when construction began.

Asked whether the difference in income between those living in the Habitat apartments and those living in the remaining units might cause tensions, Buchanan dismissed the idea, saying, “From my perspective it’s not a big deal.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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