(NEW YORK, NEW YORK)— After months of back and forth around the hated Lenox Terrace redevelopment, the truth we all knew comes out: the Olnick Organization is in it for Olnick, regardless of community desire or impact. East Harlem residents, including influential council member Bill Perkins, who represents the neighborhood, have been battling the developers’ push for rezoning in the neighborhood. Olnick argues rezoning is essential to their plan to add 1,200 new luxury units in addition to a scant 400 affordable units. The generous alternative they have offered under pressure is that it will build a smaller cluster of new developments that include no affordable housing and no community resources, The New York Post reports.
Olnick Organization and president Seth Schochet have come under fire before for illegally deregulating apartments and generally neglecting of tenants in its 80% rent-stabilized building in Harlem’s Lenox Terrace. Olnick has also attempted to bargain the rezoning by promising to renovate existing rent-stabilized units—a smack in the face to some 150 tenants who accused the developer of slumlord-like behavior in the past year alone, when the multi-million dollar company has more than enough resources to renovate the apartments as-is.
In the proposed rezoning plans, the developer emphasizes aspects like a community garden and additional space for small retail. However, critics also point out that the rezoning would open up room for big-box retailers, whose commercial presence would generate their own side effects, in addition to the effects of a rapid influx of market-rate tenants and investors.
Although the proposed alternatives come without attractive-sounding benefits like “affordable housing” and “community resources,” the overall impact may well be less deleterious in the short and long term. Bill Perkins seems to think so. According to Curbed NY, Perkins stated at a recent council meeting: “I have not changed my position that this project is not good for our community. The neighborhood would have to undertake the burden of this project, which is ill-conceived for a community that already lacks sufficient resources.” Perkins also spoke of the “ripple effect” of rapid development: rezoning opens the neighborhood to schemes from both Olnick Organization and countless other developers scrambling for a foot in one of Manhattan’s last affordable neighborhoods.
The push-back against the Lenox Terrace rezoning is one of many in recent months. In the past year, more communities like Inwood and Sunset Park have loudly and vigorously protested the supposed “benefits” that landlords and developers claim they will receive from new development. While developers touts affordable housing, a promise which has also enticed a few supporters from the community, many citizens are slowly becoming aware of the limitations of what affordable housing really means. Often these units have strict income requirements that benefit middle-income and high-middle income tenants. Affordable rents are based on neighborhood rental and income averages. When luxury condos drive up rents and attract very wealthy tenants, these averages change drastically. “Affordable” units often have price tags similar to or even higher than market-rate units in parts of the city that haven’t yet been touched by new development.
Michael Henry Adams, a resident and expert on Harlem’s history and architecture, told Curbed: “We’ll get affordable housing; I would say, affordable for whom? What does it benefit anyone if you create something that’s wonderful but none of the people that live in the community will benefit from it and will all be displaced?”