LATEST NEWS

Decrepit To Epic — An Entire Block Of Harlem Brownstones Is Transformed To Affordable Housing

It took well over a decade and $200 million to give Harlem residents their homes and neighborhood back.

By Jeff Vasishta January 5, 2017

It’s the kind of thing urban real estate developers dream about, getting a whole block of historic brownstones in the Big Apple to renovate. That dream almost became a nightmare when, over a decade ago, the New York City Housing Authority emptied out 22 decaying tenement buildings, some 307 units in all, on the south side of 114th Street in central Harlem, in order to renovate them. However, what should have taken three years ended up taking twelve as the project lurched from one crisis to another.

Related: Far Rockaway Rezoning And Development Offers New Yorkers An Affordable Coastal Escape

The Randolph Houses renovation, when fully complete, is expected to have cost a total of $198.5 million reports NY Yimby with each apartment costing the princely sum of $750,000. The story begins in 2000 when the NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) realized that the 36 buildings they had purchased on either side of the block and converted to public housing were about as decrepit as they could be and unfit for human habitation. They planned to demolish the lot and build new structures, fearing the mold and disrepair would be too costly to repair. However, New York State Historic Preservation Office declared that the city couldn’t tear down the historic walk-ups.

The city spent six years relocating 159 families from the south side of the block to apartments on the north side or to other public housing developments. Meanwhile, 130 households remained in the brownstones on the north side, waiting for the housing agency to repair. A further three years were spent on deciding how to redevelop the site and not destroy its 19th century details.

In 2010, a plan was decided upon with architects and preservation experts. Harlem’s building legacy would survive on the outside. On the inside brand, new buildings were to be born. The contract was awarded to Boston based developer Trinity Financial who broke ground in 2014 and completed Phase One of the project last year. Residents, many of them former occupants began moving back in early 2016, stunned at the transformation of the studios to four bedroom apartments. In November, workers began demolishing the interiors of the 14 brownstones on the north side of the block. Their 145 apartments will be rehabbed into 115 below-market units, ranging once again from studios to four-bedrooms. The extra room accounts for larger bedrooms with closets, as per code and public areas such as yoga and computer rooms. In total by 2018, Randolph Houses’ 452 tiny apartments will have been reconfigured into 283 modern units.

Related: Stop In The Name Of Love: Can Gentrifying Harlem Pause To Honor Its Past?

There little disputing that the almost $200 million in costs to renovate was excessive (money came from: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, NYCHA funded $41.5 million of Phase 1, which cost $95.5 million. The second phase will be financed by a mix of public and private sources, including tax credits for low income housing and historic restoration, for a projected $64 million.) The combination of time delays and exacting preservation, sky-rocked the costs but tenants, many of them life-long Harlem residents with low incomes are thrilled to be back in their old neighborhood, much of which is now beyond their reach financially.

“There were rats coming into people’s apartments,” 72-year-old Robertus Coleman, who has lived in Randolph Houses for 40 years and heads its tenant association, told NY Yimby. “A lot of the ceilings were leaking. Some had holes that were patched and never repaired. So it wasn’t a very healthy or happy place to live at the time. But we had a place to live, we weren’t homeless, so we made the best of a bad situation. So many of the residents passed away before the completion, so I’m overjoyed and very grateful,” Coleman explained. “It’s simply beautiful.”

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

  • AGORAFY
    Stefano Boeri, the architect mastermind behind the famous plant-covered skyscrapers, is now designing Forest Cities in Liuzhou, China. #ForestCity #China https://goo.gl/PsTUwv
  • AGORAFY
    Auction is the second scheduled in a month for a One57 unit and it could set a NYC foreclosure record. #BillionairesRow #Foreclosures https://goo.gl/NZ3zqD
  • AGORAFY
    Once a couch-surfing website, Airbnb moves on to luxury properties, further disrupting hospitality industry. #Airbnb #Luxury https://goo.gl/7TpLk6
Four Countries To Retire In With $200K In Savings—And How Much Real Estate Costs There
Ever dreamed of retiring abroad? You know, affordable healthcare, better climate, more positive news—becoming an expat seems like an enticing option, especially one you no…
While Other Real Estate Platforms Start Charging Agents $3-Per-Day Exposure Fee, Agorafy Remains Accessible To All
Real Estate searching platform are always finding news ways to diversify their revenues models. Case in point—on Tuesday July 18, Streeteasy, one of New York…
Is Real Estate Crowdfunding The Fix That Urban Housing In America Really Needs?
Saving money for a down payment? One can only hope. Most millennial in their twenties or thirties are mortified that they might never be able…
Brooklyn And Queens’ Real Estate Sub-Markets Continue Their Ascent To The New Heights
So, the sales prices in Brooklyn and Queens hit record highs. Again. Just like they did in December 2016 and at the end of this…
The Economy Of Car Services And Delivery Apps Might Be Making NYC Less Eco-Friendly
Living in an eco-friendly neighborhood is a good thing. And, as it always the case with the good things, it also costs more. High rents…
Building Communities: What The U.S. Developers Should Learn From Soho China
As our world emerges into the new period of globalization and technology, some of the most important by-products of this process are buildings that have…
Five Reasons Why All Entrepreneurs Must Keep Their Eyes On China
It is hard to overestimate the importance of Chinese influence on the modern global economy. Carving out a place in Chinese market and winning over…
Airbnb Up Their Game With A New Luxury Tier Featuring Mansions And Villas
Airbnb is about to seriously up their game. First, the company started testing a new service called Select in an attempt to push accommodation listings…