Proposed Durst Building in Far West 50s Stirs Up Controversy

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A pyramid-shaped, eco-friendly building proposed at 625 W. 57th Street between 11th and 12th avenues is causing quite a stir in the surrounding neighborhood because of its affordable housing set-asides. Durst Development, the company leasing the space and proposing the 750-unit building, has signed on to the city's 80/20 housing program-an agreement that gives tax-exempt financing to developers who offer 20 percent of the units in their buildings as affordable housing. This agreement will only last for 35 years, meaning that after three and a half decades, the proposed 150 units of affordable housing will revert to market value. But Community Board 4 and other city officials want to guarantee affordable housing for the duration of the building's existence. "Every day, we lose apartments because either they are legitimately priced very high, or landlords do their best to get out of the affordable housing system," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who wrote letters to Durst and George Endicott, co-trustee of the lot. "The community has lost its core citizenry because of this." In fact, the community's median household income is $84,000, about 25 percent higher than the Manhattan average, according to the American Community Survey. The fight for permanently affordable housing at the proposed Durst building will continue at Thursday's City Council zoning public hearing. After that, the vote on whether or not to continue this housing project will go to the full City Council. But, as City Councilwoman Gale Brewer says, the situation is more complicated than pitting developer against community. Since Durst is only leasing the building, the company does not technically have the authority to expand the affordable housing agreement beyond the tenure of their lease, which will end in 88 years, according to Jordan Barowitz, a Durst representative. Durst signed on to two different affordable housing plans: the 80/20 program, and the 421-A tax abatement program, according to Assemblywoman Rosenthal. After the 35 years of guaranteed affordable housing are up, the building would enter a rent stabilization phase, according to Barowitz. During this time, tenants do not have to worry about rent increases for another 15 years. "We're talking the year 2065 here," Barowitz said. "It's a good thing that Linda Rosenthal is not in the position to approve the project, because she would be responsible for denying 150 families an affordable place to live for 50 years." Even though Durst cannot change the terms of the housing agreement, the company can try to enter negotiations with Applebee's, which owns the lot, Rosenthal said. "They can change their application; they can make a little less money over the years," she said. "He's in the position to offer the greatest benefit. It's not my project." But there is a way to make everyone happy with inclusionary zoning, said Councilwoman Brewer. Inclusionary zoning also sets aside a certain percentage of affordable housing, but the agreement is permanent. Right now, the Inclusionary Housing Program is not a viable option for the building because the surrounding area is not designated for the program. But with new legislation, that could change. "I'm not against this project," Councilwoman Brewer said. "I have just lived on the West Side for 40 years, and I have seen these tax-abatement buildings bounce back to market value. We need to amend this."

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