Community Board 11 Approves an Affordable Housing Initiative for East Harlem

East Harlem community board endorses affordable housing initiative.

By Amanda Burrill and Vikram Sohonie

Community Board 11 members approved a motion Tuesday night to support an affordable housing program in East Harlem by creating a community land trust.

“We have a major housing crisis on our hands,” said George Gallego, chairman of the community board’s housing committee. “Residents are increasingly becoming displaced.”

Rents have skyrocketed in East Harlem, with market rates exceeding $3,500 for one-bedroom apartments, according to Citi Habitats, a real estate brokerage company.Community Board 11 hopes to ease that financial strain by creating a community land trust, a tax-exempt, non-profit organization that acts as a buffer against rapidly gentrifying areas, where the cost of housing outpaces average monthly income.

Community land trusts require developers to designate 20 percent of the units in a given residential complex as low-income housing. The land trusts own realty that can be leased to private developers to construct and maintain affordable housing. Leaseholders may own their homes, but are subject to strict resale restrictions in order to avoid property speculation.

“The thing that you need is a balance,” said Holley Drakeford, 64, an associate broker for the Giscombe Realty Group and a member of the community board. “Is 80-20 a balance? You think anyone here can afford them?”

The New York City Community Land Initiative, the brainchild of the non-profit homeless support group, Picture the Homeless, presented the idea to Community Board 11. It will be the first attempt at establishing a community land trust in Upper Manhattan. In 2004, a trust was set up in Cooper Square in downtown Manhattan, and has been widely seen as a huge success. The Cooper Square trust continues to provide long-term, low-income housing where gentrification is diminishing the availability of affordable units, according to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Despite the board’s overwhelming approval, some members were cautiously optimistic about the fruition of New York City’s second community land trust.

“No land has been identified for development,” said Drakeford. “Is affordable housing really affordable?”

But Mathew Washington, 30, chairman of the board, said that instead of focusing on the phrase “affordable housing,” the community should focus on what it needs.

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