Borough President Scours Community for Empty and Underused Space On Which to Build New Housing
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine is has identified three publicly owned sites in Lower Manhattan at which new residential buildings that would be 100 percent affordable housing can be developed. These would create up to 547 rent-protected apartments, which is more than double the number of affordable units that have been created in the community since 2014.
His new study, “Housing Manhattanites: A Report on Where and How to Build the Housing We Need,” has also specified two other publicly owned sites that could produce almost 13,000 units of additional housing, although the process of developing these would be more complicated, and the resulting inventory of apartments would be mixed-income, rather than 100 percent affordable.
“Manhattan isn’t facing just a shortage of affordable housing,” Mr. Levine says. “We’re facing a full-blown affordability crisis, arguably the worst in our history. We’re simply not creating enough housing, and especially not enough affordable housing. This at a time when our population is increasing, and the pace of new housing creation has been slowing. This shortage has pushed rents up to unprecedented levels. We’re now averaging rents of $5,000 a month for newly rented apartments in Manhattan. This has been a disaster.”
“Borough President Levine is right on the money that housing costs are a red alert crisis in Lower Manhattan,” said Community Board 1 (CB1) chair Tammy Meltzer. “People write off the average cost per square foot to rent or own Downtown because Wall Street is here, but they are forgetting that the State and City of New York created middle-class housing for decades, and our needs are not being met.”
Mr. Levine’s report focuses on three locations within the CB1 catchment, a collection of neighborhoods encompassing 1.5 square miles bounded roughly by Canal, Baxter, and Pearl Streets, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The parking lot at 37 Chambers Street (between Broadway and Centre Street) is owned by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, and can accommodate up to 187 apartments. Mr. Levine adds, “due to the presence of remains on the site, there needs to be a concerted effort to memorialize the African Burial Ground through a museum, which should be a part of any future development.”
The two-story building at 350 Canal (on the corner of Church Street) is owned by the United States Postal Service, and is zoned for up to 233 apartments. (The historic Art Moderne facade of the 1937 Church Street Station, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, would be preserved and incorporate into the new structure, Mr. Levine says.) And the now-shuttered federal correctional facility at 150 Park Row is zoned for 131 units. All three of these sites are legally able to accommodate 100 percent affordable housing, the Borough President adds.
The “Housing Manhattan” study also identifies a trio of private owned sites that are ripe for the creation of new residential inventory: the small retail building at 100 Broad Street (on the triangular corner former with Pearl and Bridge Streets) could be redeveloped into 140 units. And the parking lots at 248 Pearl Street (near the corner of Fulton Street) and 14 White Street (near the corner of Baxter Street) could accommodate 258 and 35 apartments, respectively. The 433 apartments at these three developments would also likely be mixed-income, rather than affordable.
The report further adds the Borough President’s support to the grassroots push among Lower Manhattan activists for 100 percent affordability in the planned residential tower at Five World Trade Center (also known as 130 Liberty Street), which will contain 1,325 apartments. (The developers and their government partners are proposing only 25 percent affordability for this project. “We support taking extraordinary measures to achieve the highest possible amount of affordability on this site, especially in light of the scarcity of affordable units Downtown,” he says.
Mr. Levine is also recommending further study of two publicly owned sites that have room for so many new apartments as to create entirely new communities. The first of these is 56 Greenwich Street, which is the address of the entrance and exit ramps for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency. The site presents “significant engineering and logistical challenges,” Mr. Levine acknowledges, but has the zoning to produce up to 2,967 units of housing.
“Redevelopment of this site would require decking over the entrance to the tunnel,” he says, noting that Manhattan West development by Brookfield Properties (located between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, between 31st and 33rd Streets) “overcame similar site constraints. In that instance, the developer decked over rail lines in order to facilitate the construction of a five-acre campus with over five million square feet of development. This is an excellent opportunity to unlock thousands of affordable residential units for New Yorkers, and should be explored.”
Even larger and more transformative would be the development of housing at Pier 6, located on the East River waterfront near Broad Street. “With a lot area of 510,025 square feet, its location in a C4-6 zoning district means that it could produce up to 9,000 units of housing,” Mr. Levine says.
Standing in the way of such a plan is the goal of the administration of Mayor Eric Adams plans to rebuild and reconfigure the heliport as part of the FiDi-Seaport Master Plan, which aims to protect the nearly mile-long stretch of East River waterfront between the Brooklyn Bridge the Staten Island Ferry Terminal with a network of decks, berms, and breakwaters that will extend into the East River between 90 and 200 feet.
But the zoning that covers Pier 6 “allows development rights to be transferred throughout its boundaries,” Mr. Levine notes. “A zoning text and map amendment could allow the development rights from Pier 6 to be realized in other sites that are deemed appropriate for housing development. The transfer of these development rights could also come with inclusionary housing requirements, making it an exciting opportunity worth exploring.”
The Borough President reflects, “kids growing up in Manhattan have very little hope of ever being able to afford renting an apartment here. We have got to fix this, and we can. It’s not going to be easy. Many sites are going to require rezoning or some other public action.”
“Our children will not be finding ways to live close to their parents and long-time tenants are terrified to open that letter containing their lease renewal terms,” Ms. Meltzer added. “Mark is leaving no stone unturned in Lower Manhattan, and we should rightfully discuss every site, including Pier 6, where we would gladly work with the City to move development rights from the waterfront to inland sites that are more conducive to housing. CB1 does not believe that turning over the waterfront to private concerns is a long-term solution for access to open space and equity, but the Borough President is clearly able to work around this with the option for transferring development rights.”