Renovating a Low-Income Yonkers Rental Complex
By Elsa Brenner
The New York Times
A towering five-building apartment complex here, built three decades ago under a federal assistance program, is being renovated and preserved for low- and moderate-income tenants. It is an exception to the trend in recent years of upgrading such publicly financed projects to market-rate and luxury units as government agreements that were struck 20 and 30 years ago expire. Soaring as high as 19 stories over this city, with views of the Hudson River to the west and a dense network of commuter highways to the north and east, the 311-unit Parkledge Apartments has been home since the early 1970’s to generations of residents like Terrance Hardy, an emergency medical technician with the New York City Fire Department. Mr. Hardy moved to a two-bedroom apartment here a decade ago with his mother and now lives in a four-bedroom unit with his wife, Denise, and four children. Under the deal struck by Parkledge’s new owner, the Wishcamper Group of Portland, Me., the complex will continue to offer below-market-rate units to income-eligible tenants. Wishcamper,a for-profit real estate development company that specializes in acquiring, rehabilitating and preserving housing for poor and moderate income tenants, purchased the five buildings last summer from the Ginsburg Development Companies of Hawthorne for about $30 million.
But Ginsburg had agreed to the sale, according to Brian Poulin, a Wishcamper principal, “only with the understanding that we continue its use.”
“The complex could have been repositioned,” Mr. Poulin said. “It’s located in a high demand area where you typically see the most intense push to convert. But that’s also often where affordable housing is needed the most.”
An example of the growing demand for upscale housing on the west side of Yonkers is seen on the waterfront, where Collins Enterprises, the first residential developer in Downtown Yonkers in more than 30 years, has built Hudson 266 one-and-two-bedroom apartments.
But Martin Ginsburg, president of Ginsburg Development, said that his company — which builds market-rate housing in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida — wanted the Parkledge property to remain available to low-income tenants.
“There’s a shortage of affordable housing as it is, and we certainly didn’t want to add to the problem” Mr. Ginsburg said. When first proposed in the early 1970’s, the complex met with resistance from residents in a nearby neighborhood, Nodine Hill, who did not want the imposing precast concrete low-income housing project erected next to single-family homes.
Situated on Yonkers Avenue next to the Saw Mill River Parkway and minutes from the New York City line, Parkledge has a 10-story apartment house and three smaller buildings, in addition to the main 19-story residential tower.
Wishcamper is spending $13 million for renovations that include replacing all windows and wall louvers, restoring the buildings’ facades, installing a security booth at the front entrance and replacing the building’s heating system. Each apartment will also receive new kitchen cabinets and appliances, new bathroom fixtures and new light fixtures. Like many other low-income apartment complexes of its vintage, Parkledge was built under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 program, which provided building subsidies on behalf of the poor.
With the expiration of those early HUD contracts as well as Federal Housing Administration mortgages and other long-term subsidies, owners of many low-income housing properties have had to rethink their financing, said Todd Trehubenko, a senior vice president for Recapitalization Advisors, a Boston-based affordable housing consulting firm.
In the last three years, Section 8 has shed about 2,000 of its 100,000 apartments nationally as building contracts have expired, and federal officials say that many more contracts will run out in the next two years.
“The loss of affordable housing is a severe problem and has been since the mid-1980’s,” Mr. Trehubenko said, explaining that his company uses a variety of federal, state and local resources to replace previous HUD resources. Its clients include non-profit as well as for-profit owners, sellers and purchasers of affordable housing throughout the United States.
The Wishcamper Group arranged its own financing package for the Parkledge project; it included the proceeds from about $40 million in tax-exempt New York State bonds along with federal tax credits. It sold tax credits for about $15 million to Sun America Life Insurance, Mr. Poulin said.
In addition to Parkledge, Wishcamper recently acquired and developed a 126-unit elderly housing complex in Kansas City for $8.8 million and a 150-unit complex in Columbus, Ga., for $13.5 million, among others.
At Parkledge, tenants in the older units pay about $500 to $850 a month, depending on their income, for apartments that range in size from one to four bedrooms. The rents are capped, so that even though a tenant’s income rises, the rent does not necessarily go up as well.
Under new guidelines, “the more you make, the more you pay, with the cap at higher levels,” Mr. Poulin said. To qualify for below-market rentals in the renovated project, a three-person household may not have income above $49,380, which is based on 60 percent of the area’s median income.
But no one who currently rents an apartment will have to leave because of the income guidelines. Some units will rent at market rates, “because HUD didn’t want anyone displaced,” Mr. Poulin said. For a two-bedroom unit at Parkledge, the rent is $1,260 a month under HUD guidelines, he said.
As the renovations proceed, tenants will be moved temporarily to empty apartments until their own units have been upgraded. There are about 25 apartments that have been become vacant during the past six months and set aside as temporary units. The waiting list for apartments, meanwhile, has grown to about 400, said Linda Blake, the project manager.
The Hardy family recently moved from the one-bedroom that Mr. Hardy rented after his mother moved out to a new four-bedroom apartment, one of the first to be renovated by the Wishcamper Group at Parkledge. At first, when Mr. Hardy learned the building was being sold, he worried that it would be converted to higher-priced units and began looking for a new place to live.
“But there wasn’t much available,” said Mr. Hardy, who worked at Ground Zero after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
In the newly renovated apartment, Mr. Hardy pays $860 a month, compared with $540 for the one-bedroom he recently occupied. HUD pays the difference between what tenants can afford and the unit’s market value to the owner of the property.
Also expressing concern about the availability of housing for low-income earners in Westchester, the developer Jon Halpern, a principal with Halpern Real Estate Development in Valhalla, has hired Recapitalization Advisors to determine the future of several below market-rate buildings that his company owns. “It’s one of the biggest challenges in markets like this,” Mr. Halpern said. “It’s compelling to convert to market rate units or condos, but it’s also essential to keep a labor pool here.”
Halpern Real Estate has decided to preserve the low-income status of at least one of its properties in Westchester, a complex for the elderly in Ossining that is among a group of buildings his late father, Joel Halpern, developed. The senior Mr. Halpern developed below market-rate housing in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Harlem, Brooklyn and Westchester, some in partnership with a company formed by the former Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson.
Because Parkledge, like many of those early projects, was built before the current era of energy conservation, the windows used throughout the five buildings were single-paned. “Similarly, the original heating system was costly and inefficient,” said Magnus Magnusson, a principal with Magnusson Architecture and Planning of Manhattan. The firm is the planner and architect for the project, which includes installing new thermal windows and replacing the electric baseboard heating.
“Over all, the property had become old and tired,” Mr. Magnusson said. “We’re starting from the outside and working our way in to restore it.”