Despite the dire housing picture, the South Bronx sees a way forward.

Good news is hard to come by on the housing front. the moratorium on evictions expired. Experts now predict soaring house prices coul...

Good news is hard to come by on the housing front. the moratorium on evictions expired. Experts now predict soaring house prices could rise indefinitely. According to a bench to study, more American adults now see affordable housing as a top concern in their communities than crime, drugs, or Covid-19.

And no wonder. The lack of affordable housing is inseparable from racial and other disparities in health, education, public safety and economic opportunity. New York, by an estimation, is now the most isolated state in the country. It is no coincidence that its deficit of nearly 650,000 affordable housing is second only to California.

Then, of course, there was the unfathomable week in January when a Fire killed 12 people in an overcrowded Philadelphia townhouse owned by the embattled public housing authority there. 17 others died a few days later when a radiator ignited in Twin Parks Northwest, a private property, 1970s era, Section 8 skyscraper in the South Bronx.

Progress may seem impossible.

But slowly, despite NIMBY resistor, more and more states are rolling back single-family zoning rules and legalizing so-called accessory dwelling units or ADUs, i.e. basement apartments, backyard cottages and converted garages. Last month, new New York Governor Kathy Hochul introduced the ADU legislation in her State of the State Address.

And former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who for years focused his neighborhood rezoning efforts to encourage the construction of more subsidized housing only in low-income, majority-minority neighborhoods, during his final days. in power, finally succeeded rezonings in a few predominantly white and wealthier neighborhoods. It opened the door for his successor, Eric Adams, to do more of the same. As Casey Berkovitz of the Century Foundation recently wrote, the foundations of a “more equitable future” are emerging.

Following the fires, I visited a few affordable housing projects that opened a year or two ago in the South Bronx, not far from Twin Parks. I had waited to see them. Writing about architecture before buildings are operational is a guessing game. A few years isn’t long in the life of a development, but tenants can at least have moved in and be wondering how things are going.

Early last year, residents began settling in at 1490 Southern Boulevard in the Crotona Park East neighborhood. A 10-story building, worth $60 million and covering 85,000 square feet, it contains 114 studios and one bedroom permanently affordable for seniors, many of them formerly homeless. Type A Real Estate Advisors, a women-owned business, led development team. The nonprofit Jewish Association for the Elderly now operates the property and provides in-house mental health, legal, and other services. Andrew Bernheimer was the architect.

In the 1960s, this site, surrounded by social service providers and parking lots, was occupied by a four-unit apartment building. At some point the owner defaulted on the mortgage and in the 70s the city took over the property. It’s a shame that New York City, strapped for cash and seeing land values ​​decline along with the rest of the city, sold off so many abandoned and foreclosed sites at this time. The Byzantine economics of deeply affordable housing involves the contribution of the public domain.

Today the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which has seeded excellent affordable housing projects on properties donated by the city, has very few large plots left in its inventory. What remains is mostly tiny and tricky terrain like 1490, which faces a subway overpass and is partly occupied by a rocky escarpment.

Fortunately, Bernheimer is a gifted and resourceful architect familiar with the obstacle course of affordable development, including challenging sites.

From the street – and from the passage of subway cars on the elevated tracks – the building he and his colleagues at Brooklyn-based Bernheimer Architecture designed is striking. Shallow, recessed panels of pale yellowish brick create a basket weave pattern on a dark, matte glazed gray brick facade. The recesses do the job of more expensive ornaments and cast animated shadows. Double-glazed windows protected the ruckus of the trains.

A second-story back garden floats atop the rock. A rooftop terrace and gym offer views of the Manhattan skyline. Inside, custom lighting and bright, multi-colored strips of paint in the lobby and hallways improve orientation for older residents and enhance the well-proportioned public spaces.

It is a building that offers architectural bounty in small, cost-effective and dignified doses. “Design-wise, we wanted 1490 to be an inspiring building, not only for other architects, but also for the people of the neighborhood and especially for the residents, who we hope will feel at home and proud of the building,” said Annie Tirschwell. , one of the founders of Type A.

I went to see James Hill, a resident who told me he had moved to 1490 after suggesting it was precarious housing in Far Rockaway, Queens. A caretaker was boiling water in her kitchen and volunteered to say the building was the nicest place she worked. Winter sunlight poured in through a large living room window.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Hill told me.

Lambert Houses, across from the Bronx Zoo, is something else — a five-block campus of six-story apartment buildings completed, like the Twin Parks, in the early 1970s. Phipps Houses, the venerable provider of affordable housing for nonprofit, built Lambert and still runs it.

It was hailed by architectural writers and progressive politicians when it opened as a pioneering model for affordable housing and urban renewal. Designed by the firm of Davis, Brody & Associates, the complex, with its jagged facades, jazzy fenestration and site plan of perimeter blocks around shared courtyards, looked modern while nodding to apartment buildings of traditional Bronx apartments and a distinguished heritage of New York City court buildings. At a time when urban planner Jane Jacobs spoke of foot traffic in and out of homes and shops choreographing a crucial “ballet” of city streets, Lambert counted 42 entrances and exits, leading to stairways and fire escapes interconnected.

But what initially looked like a solution to neighborhood divestment and racist slum clearance policies has become a problem. Lambert (Twin Parks followed a similar arc) found itself on the verge of bankruptcy just a few years after opening. The middle-class white residents that planners expected to move in never materialized. Neither did their anticipated rents.

Davis, Brody’s masonry load-bearing walls have collapsed; sagging wooden joist floors. All those epic entrances, exits and hallways made Lambert a security nightmare. Adam Weinstein, the president of Phipps, recalls that in the 1990s, officials at the nearby Bronx Zoo put up signs at the subway station just up the block encouraging visitors to take a circuitous route that bypassed Lambert .

What Lambert endured was due — this is also the archetype of South Bronx history — to a determined group of residents, an infusion of federal funds and, in this case, investments from Phipps. Now the development is in the middle of what Weinstein estimates could add to a $1 billion rebuild over the next decade, with Davis the buildings in Brody will be gradually replaced by new skyscrapers that promise nearly 1 000 additional units permanently subsidized, for a total of 1,665 deeply affordable apartments.

The first of the new towers opened in 2019 – designed by Dattner Architects, the New York firm that collaborated with Phipps, developer Jonathan Rose and Grimshaw Architects a decade ago on a new development called Through Green in the South Bronx. The new tower was paid for with money from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Housing Development Corporation, Bank of America and Phipps.

It is an 18-story building with 163 permanently affordable housing units and a doorman. The boxy, drab exterior, set just steps from the street wall, seems almost belligerently banal. But the interior of the building is comfortable, luxurious even, compared to the deteriorated apartments and hallways I have seen in older buildings. Essential to the reconversion, no tenant is displaced by the new construction.

Lambert’s makeover, as Weinstein points out, is a potential model to redo Campus of the New York City Housing Authority. When the renovation project began to take shape a few years ago, Susanne Schindler lamented in Urban omnibus that architecturally, losing a “visionary” example of low- and middle-income housing from the 1960s and 1970s like Davis, Brody’s Lambert, is regrettable. It’s true. From the street, the old angular buildings still catch the eye. As Lambert’s new campus evolves, Phipps and Dattner clearly need to up their architectural game, aesthetically speaking.

But there is no discussion with the practical upgrade or the added apartments.

“I love it,” Bonita Dent, 57, one of the tower’s tenants, told me. A 20-year Lambert veteran, she moved into the new building two years ago with her three school-aged grandchildren. The doorman and a single secure entry door were great incentives.

“I like the security we have downstairs – it’s different from the old place where you would see strangers in the lobby. I’m not afraid to go in and out of my apartment.

Nessie Panton, who is 84, was one of Lambert’s first tenants in the 1970s. One day, she says, she took her children to the zoo and saw the project while it was still under construction . She applied for an apartment and moved into a duplex, where she ended up raising her family.

“The new apartment is smaller, but my kids are grown, and the doorman here knows if you live in the building and takes pictures of you if you don’t,” she said. She had heard of the Twin Parks fire. “Here we have sprinklers and intercoms with fire alarms in the apartments. I feel much safer,” she said.

Writing about Twin Parks in 1973, former Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger speculated that the project could “turn out to be significant in the history of housing design”.

That said, he warned, “design, however compassionate, can mean nothing against the barriers that make up the housing problem today.”

The calculation is the same half a century later. But the South Bronx is not. Gradually it was rebuilt. Progress is not impossible, it is a process.

“Invariably we will be wrong,” Weinstein said. “The question is, can we use failure as an opportunity to learn and move forward?”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Despite the dire housing picture, the South Bronx sees a way forward.
Despite the dire housing picture, the South Bronx sees a way forward.
Newsrust - US Top News
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