Residents on Edge as Building for Seniors Gets New Owner

By Alex Israel

A 12-story Mitchell-Lama building on West 94th Street that has seen several rent increases in recent years is changing hands, and residents are on edge. About three-quarters of the building’s apartments are reserved for seniors.

On Monday night, Community Board 7’s Housing Committee announced the acquisition of 176 West 94th Street, also known as Independence House, by the West Side Federation of Senior and Supportive Housing. The transfer of ownership from LM Development is set to take effect in October.

WSFSSH has built and managed rent-restricted buildings on the Upper West Side and elsewhere since 1980, serving over 1,800 people.

Independence House will remain in the Mitchell-Lama program, which provides affordable housing to moderate- and middle-income families, according to WSFSSH.

According to the committee, the tenants of Independence House have had an approximate 40% rent increase over the course of the last 15 years, with multiple changes in ownership. A rent hike debate in 2015 got particularly contentious, and Borough President Gale Brewer weighed in on the side of the tenants.

Once the transfer process is complete, WSFSSH will manage and renovate the property. “There is not a cookie-cutter approach to how we do business,” says WSFSSH Executive Director Paul R. Freitag. “Our buildings are all very different, and actually have very different residents that live within them. Our goal is always to manage a building, and provide services that are appropriate for that building.”

Freitag emphasized that residents will not need to give up their Mitchell-Lama status, but rather WSFSSH will be “providing additional benefits” to help keep the rent affordable.

One of these benefits is access to the Project-Based Section 8 Program on a unit-by-unit basis. To be eligible for Section 8, a household must earn less than 80% of the Area Median Income. Currently, WSFSSH estimates that 90 of the 120 units would be eligible.

For those not eligible for Section 8, WSFSSH will offer a Landlord Assistance Plan with a 20 year guarantee. Both options provide a 2.5% annual rent increase, capped at 30% of the household income, however, only Section 8 will bring existing rent down if it is currently above that cap.

If the residents do not opt in to either of those options, their rent will increase 15% in the first and second years, with an additional 5% increase each year moving forward.

WSFSSH estimates $10 million in maintenance will be required to improve the building, which will occur with tenants in place and “minimized disruption,” says Freitag. Improvements are planned for the terrace, elevators, roof, and in-unit kitchens and baths.

Members of Independence House’s tenant association voiced a range of concerns, which included the building’s history of increases, the “instability of the federal government,” and the path toward “becoming institutionalized.”

Housing Committee chairperson Jeannette Rausch expressed her sympathies to these residents, recognizing “the tenants have gone through a lot of turmoil,” and reiterated the goal of the committee, which lies in “preserving existing affordable housing” such as Independence House.

The Housing Committee will withhold proposal of a resolution until the legal proceedings related to the building transfer have concluded next month.

Image via Google Streetview.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 10 comments | permalink
    1. Sherman says:

      The tenants of this building have seen their rent go up 40% over the past 15 years.

      This is really not a big increase and considering they’re already starting at a very low base rent it’s not much to complain about.

      The building has expenses and someone has to pay for them.

      • Tom says:

        Sherman – The story was wrong- rents have gone up systematical every 3-4 years 40-45% for the past 30 years. There are also a number of other inaccuracies and misrepresenattions in the story.

        • Robert says:

          It says that right in the story.

          “According to the committee, the tenants of Independence House have had an approximate 40% rent increase over the course of the last 15 years, with multiple changes in ownership”

    2. Mark Moore says:

      A 40% rent increase in a Mitchel Lama building over 15 years isn’t that much, sorry. Probably a couple hundred per apartment.

    3. Frank J says:

      You have it wrong we are Mitchell Lama, they want to keep M-L for themselves by getting all of the tax abatement’s from the government and
      gives nothing increases.. we want to keep our M-L status. Do you know that HPD gave them $25,000.000 for renovate and buy to building?
      If you go put of M-L we enter by law into the Rent stabilization program. we not need to take tax payers money. each apartment will be paying 2 0 3 thousand dollar each for their Non Profit pockets..

    4. Tom says:

      The story misrepresented facts. Rent has systemartically increased 40-45% every three or four years for thirty (30) years. Commercial tenant is the son of owner paying $20/ per sq foot which deprives the building of revenue of millions of dollars for past ten years.

    5. Sean says:

      I knew a woman who had an illegal sublet in this building. Her name was not that of the registered tenant. This was arranged with the then building super.

    6. B.B. says:

      There is no such thing as “affordable housing”. Owing, managing and so forth for any sort of building requires funds. If the tenants cannot or will not pay, the shortfall must come from somewhere else.

      • Sherman says:

        You’re correct.

        “Affordable housing” is an Orwellian term.

        A more proper term should be subsidized housing.

        If a tenant is unwilling or unable to pay their full rent someone else is subsidizing their living expenses.

    7. PStein says:

      Interesting they won’t reveal the buying price. For perspective, HPD/WSFSSH concocted a similar deal on 108th street. The price there was reportedly $1. They’ll also get ~$3-4k PER month PER apartment… of your tax dollars. All they gotta do is trick the current residents into renouncing their Mitchell-Lama protections by signing up for Section 8. Don’t’ll be easy cause most of us are old and will sign anything they put in front of us.