By Claudia Villalona
At least 30% of the 142 apartments in a new residential tower built by Columbia University should be reserved for low- and moderate-income renters who are not part of the Columbia community, according to a demand from several community and advocacy groups in Morningside Heights, where the building is under construction.
The 34-story residential tower at West 125th Street and Broadway, due to open early next year, is currently designated to house Columbia faculty and graduate students. But at a rally for affordable housing this weekend, organized by the Morningside Heights Community Coalition and other local groups, speakers demanded that the university reserve nearly a third of the apartments for non-Columbia renters at affordable housing rates.
“Columbia bulldozes residential buildings, displacing low-income tenants, and promises to replace lost units for the community,” New York State Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell told a Sunday afternoon rally near the Columbia campus. But “they have not kept those promises,” charged O’Donnell.
Speakers at the rally also called on Columbia to maintain the existing rent-regulated status of apartments occupied by both Columbia and non-Columbia renters and to expand other affordable housing options for non-Columbia residents in Morningside Heights.
The Morningside Heights Community Coalition published a report on the neighborhood’s affordable housing needs in July 2022. Columbia has not given a public response to the report, but newly inaugurated Columbia President Minouche Shafik did meet with the coalition and other local organizations in early October, according to the Columbia Spectator. And O’Donnell said there are plans to meet with Shafik on Tuesday to discuss the coalition’s demands for the new West 125th Street residential building, though he gave no further details.
Sunday’s rally was organized by the JUST Housing Committee (JHC), created last year by the Morningside Heights Community Coalition to coordinate relations between the community and the university, in collaboration with the Columbia Policy Institute, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank run by Columbia students and faculty members, and the Housing Equity Project, a student-run advocacy group.
Columbia, the city’s largest private landowner, owns over two-thirds of the neighborhood’s rental units. According to the JUST Housing Committee’s 2022 report, Columbia has routinely removed rent regulations on recently vacated apartments for University use and evicted non-Columbia tenants from units to make way for Columbia affiliates.
“Over 6,000 apartments have been lost over the past decade to Columbia-affiliated housing, displacing thousands of local families,” said Dave Robinson, president of the Morningside Heights Community Coalition, in a speech at the rally.
In an interview with the Columbia Spectator last year, Robinson said only a few hundred rent-regulated apartments were still in the hands of local residents. “We want Columbia to preserve those apartments for low- and moderate-income people in the community,” Robinson told the Spectator.
In a press release announcing the rally, Robinson expressed optimism that Columbia’s new president would “engage in a candid and positive dialogue with community members to address the affordable housing crisis.”
The set of demands outlined by the coalition of community organizations has gained the vocal support of local elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and New York City Council Member Shaun Abreu, who represents Morningside Heights and attended Sunday’s rally.
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