On the morning of September 22nd, the UNHP Board and staff gathered at Rosehill Apartments to spend the morning touring four of our affordable housing projects, planned sites for the installation of solar panels, and renovation needs and challenges. Time on the van and at lunch allowed for discussions about past struggles and the issues that continue to threaten long-term affordability. Lunch was held at West Tremont Avenue - the site office for the Northwest Bronx Resource Center with delicious sandwiches from Arthur Avenue. The tour is part of our year-long 40th Anniversary celebration and provided an opportunity for board and staff to engage around our shared mission. This blog shares pictures from the tour, the current plans for the buildings, and some of the challenges, past and present that threaten decent, affordable multifamily rentals in our portfolio, the Bronx and NYC.
Rosehill Apartments - Low-Income Senior Citizen Housing
Our tour started at the edge of the beautiful Rose Hill campus of Fordham University, at Rosehill Apartments, a 119-unit affordable housing project for low-income senior citizens. Originally developed by Fordham University in 1994 on the outer edge of the Rosehill campus using HUD 202 funds, with former and current UNHP board members, Brian Byrne, Joe Muriana, and Nayda Alejandro in significant roles, Rosehill was refinanced using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits in 2009 via JPMorgan Chase. With UNHP in the role of the developer, renovations were completed by 2010 and included a new roof, windows, public areas, bathrooms, and kitchens
This 119-unit tax Credit Project, managed by Rose Hill Housing Management, is now at the end of the 15-year Tax Credit Compliance Period. UNHP is working to refinance existing debt and to finance the scope of work which will include solar power, battery backup power, facade repairs, public area floors, and weatherization items. This project, which has a very tight budget, is being significantly affected by rising insurance costs (+40%) and compliance costs related to Local Law 11 which addresses Façade Maintenance on buildings over 6 stories and requires an engineer inspection and scope of work every 5 years. NYC Local Law compliance has been increasingly burdensome to both owners and managers and while the Laws themselves were written and implemented with the best of intentions, underwriting on Rosehill and many other affordable housing projects did not account for the major capital expenses that come with these requirements. Under LL 11, Rosehill Apartments is currently facing $100,000 in consultant engineer costs and a proposed pointing scope of $600,000- items that will take away from other more urgent repair and maintenance needs.
Garden Street HDFC
If buildings could talk, Garden Street would have quite the story to tell! Today this 87-unit rent-stabilized project is currently well-managed and maintained by Sycamore Birch Management Corporation, but the property was abandoned by its owner in the early 80s who took the boiler with him, leaving tenants in the cold! The building was dismally run by the City of New York in the 80s and organized by the NWBCCC. Dalma De La Rosa emerged as a tenant leader and later chair of the NWBCCC City-Owned Building Committee. She was a pivotal neighborhood leader who advanced community development and reinvestment work among other issues. Time on the van during the tour allowed for a discussion on Dalma's role in preserving this building, highlighted here in this 1991 NYTimes article, it would have gone vacant, like so many other buildings in Crotona at that time, without her leadership and persistence. The building was initially renovated through the POMP program and later with an 8A loan. Purchased as a nonprofit entity with UNHP oversight in 1993, Garden Street has undergone many significant renovations over time including the most recent interior and exterior upgrades completed in 2019.
UNHP currently holds the mortgage following a fire in late 2017. Electrical work is currently underway as part of the installation of a 28.5 Kilo Watt Solar Panel Array which is projected to produce 34,000 KWH annually, enough to cover nearly all of the house usage for hallways, superintendent’s unit, elevator, and lobby. The system cost is $107,000 and while we are covering the upfront cost, nearly $75,000 or 74% of that cost is scheduled to come back to the project in incentives from the City, State, and Federal Government.
Reclaim HDFC (Build Crotona)
32 Units and 4 Commercial Stores make up Build Crotona which was formerly part of the first Tax Credit deal in the Bronx developed by BUILD. One of ten buildings that make up the Reclaim project, Build Crotona received a full exterior renovation in 2021 as well as an interior public area renovation including lobby/hallway tile, paint, and new mailboxes/package lockers. Affordability for this project was locked in for 60 years. As a result of the city’s mandate to lease vacant units and the ensuing bureaucracy delays with NYC Housing Connect, this building had 4 completely renovated units sit vacant for over 2 years. We finally obtained a waiver and got them leased up in less than 30 days this summer. Not only is it unconscionable to have vacant units sit empty during an affordable housing crisis, but the resulting loss in thousands of dollars of rent also impacts the long-term affordability of our properties.
UNHP’s Northwest Bronx Resource Center has started a new initiative to provide in-lobby services at UNHP properties starting with the Reclaim portfolio. Our first lobby resource event was held on October 11th and included opportunities for tenants to freeze their rent, and connect with a financial coach, the Bronx People’s Credit Union, and NYC’s Tenant Support Unit to address rent arrears through a one-shot deal or other programs.
The Wilton HDFC
32 Units and 6 Stores make up The Wilton, a former tax credit project that was re-positioned in 2015 and regulated as affordable for 40 years. The commercial units in this project subsidize the extremely low rents in the residential units. In 2022 this project received new entrance doors, roof railings, a roof, and lobby tile/improvements. Both of these roofs are in the process of having a 13KW solar panel array installed which will produce over 15,000 kWh of electricity annually, enough to cover nearly 75% of the public area and superintendent usage. The total cost of the project is $58,000 but with State, City, and Federal Incentives covering nearly $40,000, the system pays for itself in under 5 years.
Like Garden Street, the history of The Wilton also tells an important Bronx story - one about over-financing and foreclosure by Freddie Mac in the 90s and opportunities for community-controlled ownership and long-term affordability. The Wilton was one of the many buildings that were over-financed and later foreclosed on by Freddie Mac. The NWBCCC organized the tenants in the buildings as part of a campaign to gain improvements in Freddie Mac mortgaged properties. After efforts to gain improvements in their severely deteriorated buildings failed, the tenants worked with UNHP to move forward with a community ownership option. UNHP worked with Chase and HPD to obtain a Participation (PLP) loan to fund the acquisition, which was later repaid through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) packaged by Enterprise Community Partners. UNHP and the building manager, Dougert Management made significant improvements to the building after its purchase and upon receiving the LIHTC. While on the tour van, Jacob Udell, UNHP's Director of Data and Community Research shared the reemergence of Freddie Mac nationwide as an active lender in rental properties; overfinancing and property maintenance remain a concern with the Government-Sponsored entity (GSE). According to the available data, there are indications that NYC tenants living in GSE-financed rental housing live in worse conditions than the citywide average for properties with active mortgages. Jacob is providing research support to People's Action - Jim and other original board members worked with National People's Action around CRA issues "back in the day" The need for responsible investment ( not redlining/not speculative investment) continues to be an underlying issue connected to the lack of decent affordable rental housing for the Bronx and other low-income areas in NYC and nationally.
West Tremont Avenue Buildings: Reclaim Round II HDFC
88 Residential Units and 4 community facilities make up these two buildings which are part of a 4 building project known as Reclaim Round II HDFC. Reclaim Round II, formerly part of a larger package known as Build Mt. Hope HDFC, was developed by BUILD as part of the Vacant Cluster Program and put into service in 1991. This project has a loan with HPD which comes due in 2025 and will need to be re-financed with NYC HPD/HDC at that time. The buildings have undergone significant renovations and retro-fits over the years and in preparation for solar installation, both buildings received a new roof this summer. The combined 77KW Solar System is expected to cover roughly 70% of the public area electric usage in these two buildings as well as the super’s unit and laundry rooms. The solar array is going to cost roughly $260,000 with City, State, and Federal incentives covering about $190,000. The other (2) buildings in this package, on Creston and Grand Avenues also received new roofs and are undergoing solar installation.
The ground-floor community spaces at the West Tremont buildings offer a variety of neighborhood resources. The NWBCCC Weatherization Project uses space as a CB 5 site office, Ariva offers financial coaching, free tax prep, and other services and UNHP’s NWBRC has been using the space as a site office to offer twice monthly eviction prevention, financial, and housing services and host the Bronx People’s Credit Union Mobile Branch. As we took a break for a catered lunch from Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx, Jumelia UNHP's Director of Programs shared the work of the Resource Center with the board. UNHP is part of a collaborative called, the Bronx Financial Access Coalition (BXFAC) that is working with the LES People's Federal Credit Union to bring a new credit union branch to the Bronx. While BXFAC is looking for a permanent brick-and-mortar branch, its full-service Bronx People's FCU Mobile branch can often be seen outside the NWBRC West Tremont site office. The Bronx People’s Credit Union Van and its experienced LES People’s CU staff offer in-person registration to become a member and the opportunity to ask questions about the perks of joining the credit union with a financial professional. Jose, the super at West Tremont, is a member and one of our biggest advocates! "This has been my first experience with credit unions, and it's been great. I especially like how it gives people access to financial counseling and information on how to take out loans. I wish I had known about the credit union before, I would never have gone to a commercial bank."
The board and staff tour, lunch, and meeting were a big success. It was good to be together in the van, the buildings, and at lunch to visit the UNHP portfolio which, despite the many challenges to affordability, looks good and well-maintained. It was an opportunity to discuss the ongoing issues around reinvestment and multifamily financing that work against low-income families, buildings, and decent affordable housing.