By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Waterside Plaza tenants might want to consider early retirement to take full advantage of the affordability deal brokered between owner Richard Ravitch and the city.
Representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development told Waterside Plaza residents at a recent Community Board 6 meeting that only tenants who have retired by 2019 will be eligible to have their rent reset as part of the deal that was announced earlier this month.
Dozens of residents, including Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal and property manager Peter Davis, were at the Land Use and Waterfront committee meeting on Monday to learn additional details about the plan.
A number of residents at the meeting expressed concern about how much they would benefit through the plan, saying that they were eight to 10 years away from retirement and would ideally like to stay at Waterside Plaza for the foreseeable future but wanted to be eligible for a rent reduction.
Under the new agreement, 325 apartments occupied by tenants who entered into an agreement after the property left the Mitchell-Lama program in 2001 will be protected and the residents will all see some sort of relief. Tenants who are retiring in the same year that the ground lease for the property is amended, by the end 2019, will receive a one-time rent reduction to 30 percent of their household income. This arrangement will also apply to tenants who are paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent, but the benefit will not apply to tenants retiring after next year.
At least three residents at the meeting said they were hoping that the rent reset could apply to tenants retiring within the next 10 years instead of just the next year and another resident came up to Assembly Member Harvey Epstein following the meeting to express disappointment about the fact that there are a number of residents at the property not quite ready to retire by 2019.
Epstein, who was at the meeting along with Council Member Keith Powers, said that he and Powers have been asking the HPD for the last six months during these negotiations to allow eligibility for such residents but the agency hasn’t budged.
Jeremy Hoffman, executive director of multifamily preservation at HPD, said at the meeting that he was sympathetic to this specific situation but it isn’t something the agency can accommodate.
“The notion of a having a reset down to 30 percent of someone’s income is really novel for housing in general,” he said. “Having this reset for this population is unique. But it becomes very problematic in terms of maintaining equity across all the affordable housing where we’re not providing that benefit and so for that reason, for equity reasons across affordable housing, we can’t make that policy shift. We considered it heavily but at this point we made a decision that we’re moving forward with this plan.”
Committee member Kathleen Kelly also asked the HPD representatives what would happen to “empty nester” tenants who live in bigger apartments but might want to downsize because their children have moved away from home.
Hoffman explained that in these cases, tenants would most likely be required to move to a smaller apartment because they would be considered “over-housed” in a bigger apartment.
“(Four people in a three-bedroom) could stay and be eligible for a rent reduction if they’re rent-burdened with a household income of below 165 percent of AMI but if it’s a single person, we would say they’re over-housed being in a three-bedroom,” he said. “The owner would make a smaller unit available to that family and they would move into a new unit, and would get rent reduction based on their income.”
Kelly followed up to ask if that meant the apartment vacated by the settling tenant would then be phased out of the program, and Hoffman explained that the number of apartments in the program will stay at 325.
“The same number of units would be maintained in the program, but what the unit distribution is, meaning how many studios, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, that are part of the program, would largely be a product of if people are choosing to move to smaller or larger unit,” Hoffman said. “Some might want to move into a larger unit to have an in-house caretaker or something like that and that’s plausible as part of the plan also.”
Hoffman and Veanda Simmons, director of Manhattan planning at HPD, also announced additional benefits for settling tenants as part of the plan, including aging-in-place improvements, such as grab bars in bathrooms, easy-to-grip kitchen and bathroom hardware, lever handles on doors and changes to accommodate wheelchairs where practicable, based on safety considerations, building code requirements, cost and structural constraints.
Long-term affordability benefits also include income restrictions for the units even once the settling tenants vacate, limiting the rent to 120 percent of AMI ($112,680 income for a family of three and $2,759 rent for a two-bedroom apartment). The affordability restrictions will last for 75 years, after which the rent will phase up to market rate over five years.
As Town & Village previously reported, the agreement also stipulates that settling tenants whose income is at or below 165 percent of the area median income will be eligible for a permanent rent freeze, and tenants that earn above 165 percent of the AMI or who don’t apply for the rent freeze will be subject to rent stabilization increases with a floor of 2.25 percent and a maximum of 4.25 percent. If their income goes below 165 percent of the AMI, they can apply for a rent freeze.
The city will decrease the property’s payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT payments) and extend the lease to 99 years in exchange for the loss of rental income to the owner.
Committee chair Sandro Sherrod said prior to HPD’s presentation at the meeting was not a hearing for the plan, requesting that residents limit their comments to brief questions and noting that there will be opportunities in the future to testify before CB6 votes on the project.