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Mayor’s Residential Redevelopment Project On Display In The Bronx

Our previous blog, which can be found here, was about the revamp of the Lambert Houses in New York City that were considered to be the future of affordable housing in New York. The Lambert Houses won awards for its design, and its 10th anniversary was marked by a parade and speeches by political dignitaries. Fast forward to the 21st century, the property is now part of a residential redevelopment project plan.

Background Of The Residential Redevelopment Project

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As the world entered the 21st century, the promise of the Lambert Houses did not hold up. Instead of being a futuristic and enduring symbol of Bronx residential housing, the Lambert Houses turned out to represent everything that was wrong with 1970s design methods. The property has 40 entrances and is designed like a maze that offers nothing but disorientation and confusion.

The Lambert Houses became a place where criminals would hide from the law and drug dealers would conduct their business without fear of ever being found. The jagged design and unbroken brick facade became a monotonous sight to everyone in the area. After a while, the sewers started to back-up into the first-floor hallways and the owners of the Lambert Houses had enough.

When a local city council member Ritchie Torres told property owners, Phipps Houses, that he felt unsafe in the Lambert Houses while campaigning at night, both parties knew that it was time to do something. Luckily for both Phipps and Torres, new mayor Bill de Blasio had an agenda to improve affordable housing in New York City, and the Lambert Houses was on de Blasio’s list of cornerstone properties that would sell his idea.

The de Blasio Residential Plan In Effect

In 2016, Mayor de Blasio announced that he had created 23,284 affordable housing units for the fiscal year of 2016. Of that number, 6,097 were actual new construction projects that truly added to the total number of affordable housing units in the city. The other units were acquired by extending subsidies that kept rents affordable.

However, de Blasio met with some serious obstacles in his first attempts at increasing affordable housing in the Bronx and throughout New York City. For one thing, rents in many of the affordable housing units throughout the city were going up, despite the fact that those units were located in low-income areas.

Part of the mayor’s new affordable housing plans included legal assistance for people who were being evicted from their homes. Because of those efforts, evictions dropped 24 percent for the fiscal year 2016. But as traditionally low-income areas started to gentrify they made reaching de Blasio’s affordable housing goal of 80,000 brand new units by 2024 seem almost impossible. However, the mayor knew there was always the Lambert Houses in the Bronx.

Who Will Be Able To Stay In The Lambert Houses

The plan for the renovation of the Lambert Houses is to build new units for the current residents, and then add 900 more units to bring the mayor’s 1,665 units closer to his goal of 80,000. The owner of the property agreed to set aside 731 units for residents earning less than the federally-mandated 30 percent median income for the Bronx. The other 934 units will be reserved for people making between 60 and 80 percent of the area median income.

Those percentages can be either confusing or mean nothing until you put actual income figures to them. The people making 30 percent of the median income are earning between $19,000 and $27,000 per year. The residents making 60 to 80 percent of the median income are earning anywhere from $38,000 to $87,000 per year in annual wages. By any standard, the new Lambert Houses will be a place where a wide variety of low and middle-income residents can afford to live.

The Makeup Of The Development Plan

It is not fair to call the Lambert Houses project a remodeling project because the entire complex is going to be demolished in stages and new buildings will be put in the place of the old ones. The complex will only have two entrances instead of 40, and the new layout will not be the maze that encouraged crime in the past.

The entire project will cost $600 million, and Ritchie Torres used as much leverage as he could to make sure that the entire area will be positively affected. The new Lambert Houses residential units will consist of:

  • Improvements to a nearby park totaling $300,000
  • One new onsite elementary school and one new offsite school close to the Lambert Houses
  • $12.3 million in improvements to the local cityscape and sewer system
  • The complete demolition, replacement, and redesign of all 14 buildings on the site

In total, the improvements to the current site of the Lambert Houses and the surrounding areas will come in at just around $100 million. When the project is complete, all of the units will be part of Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing count, and this will be the largest single affordable housing project to date in his administration.

From Houses To Towers

Despite being built to deter crime and present the positive virtues of affordable housing investment, the Lambert Houses has been a failure almost from the start. It sits in the poorest neighborhood in New York City, and it shows the scars of poverty and crime. Howard Cosell made that entire area famous during the arson fires of 1977 that took place during the World Series when he noted that “the Bronx is burning.”

Mayor de Blasio sees an opportunity with this Bronx property to show just how effective good affordable development can be. He is trying to use the Lambert Houses project to attract more developers to get involved in large-scale projects, especially in the Bronx, to help him meet his 80,000 unit promise by his deadline. The houses will be replaced with towers that will have twice as many affordable units. If the Lambert towers can become a success story, then it could become the catalyst for more projects in the Bronx.

Providing More Incentive For Affordable Housing

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The mayor is also hoping that Albany can revive the 421-a tax abatement project to give developers even more incentive to build affordable housing in places like the Bronx. For now, the new 421-a program is experiencing some legal tangles as the state and the unions in New York City work to iron over some areas of contention. The 421-a program, when teamed up with programs that already exist to inspire development in the Bronx, could make the Lambert Houses a gleaming tower of hope for everyone who has been affected by the gentrification taking over the city.

The Lambert Houses residential redevelopment project is set to start in January 2017, and it is slated to be completed by September 2029. The project will finish five years after de Blasio’s deadline, but it still counts towards his overall total because it gets underway before 2024. The city and the mayor want to show that investing in the overall improvement of areas of New York City where affordable housing offers less than adequate accommodations is good for the city, and worth the investment for developers.

There is also hope that a newly-designed Lambert Houses will mean a reduction in crime for that part of the Bronx, which paves the way for new businesses and families to move into the area. There is a lot riding on the Lambert Houses projects, and Mayor de Blasio knows that the effects of the project go well beyond the Bronx borders. Once ground breaks on this project, all eyes will be on the Lambert Houses to see if affordable housing really can be an exciting investment for developers in New York City.

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