Press Release: Low Income Housing Preserves Diversity, Improves Neighborhood in Clinton New Study Examines Limited Equity Co-ops

A recent study by the CUNY Graduate Center shows that low-income, limited equity cooperative housing in New York City's Clinton/Hell's Kitchen area helps preserve the community's diversity while, at the same time, actually improves the physical condition of the neighborhood. The danger is that the housing is so attractive that higher income purchasers will eventually take charge and force out the lower income owners for whom the option was created.

The study was commissioned by the Clinton Seed Fund (CSF) from the Housing Environments Research Group (HERG), part of the Center for Human Environments at The Graduate Center, directed by Environmental Psychology Professor Susan Saegert. The report is particularly timely in light of Mayor Bloomberg's recently announced proposal to build or rehabilitate 65,000 new low- to middle-income housing units over the next five years.

After years of rising housing costs in the Clinton area, limited equity co-operatives, known as HDFCs, have become one of the few remaining housing alternatives for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers in that neighborhood. In studying the viability of this alternative, HERG found:

The Clinton area is in the upper quarter of the city in rent (ground rent per square foot), and two of the census tracts are in the upper 5%. Within this context, the HDFCs represent much of the affordable housing, with monthly charges well below the area's median rents. (Note: most of the apartments initially were sold at a nominal cost and mortgages are not a significant factor in the study.) HDFC residents have lower incomes and represent a higher percentage of minorities than census tract norms. At the same time, given the investment/ownership factor, the HDFC buildings were found to be in better physical condition than privately owned buildings next to them.

HDFCs were made possible by the stock of housing seized by the city in lieu of tax payments. This supply shrank, however, during the Giuliani administration, which preferred to either negotiate with owners or auction the property. Thus, there is even more need to preserve existing HDFCs as a lower income alternative. A sizable portion of the tenants are artists, actors, musicians, teachers, and public agency workers who otherwise could not afford to live in Manhattan.

As apartments are sold, however, to higher income tenants, there is pressure from within to "gentrify" and force lower income tenants out. With the leverage of ownership, lower income tenants have more power than in housing reliant on government support, but they need organization and leadership to understand and exercise their democratic rights.

On the basis of the study, the Clinton Seed Fund plans to work with the local community board, community groups, and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board to assure the continuing viability of HDFCs.

The Clinton Seed Fund is a nonprofit organization founded in 1980, created as a result of negotiations between community leaders and developers of Manhattan Plaza apartments. The Fund is revolving and authorized to make loans to nonprofit corporations to finance housing projects for low- and moderate-income households. All projects must be located in the area bound by 8th Avenue and the Hudson River, 59th and 34th Streets. Since the Fund's inception, more than 60 limited equity coops (HDFCs) have been established in Clinton.

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of The City University of New York. The only consortium of its kind in the nation, The Graduate Center draws its faculty of more than 1,600 members mainly from the CUNY senior colleges and cultural and scientific institutions throughout New York City.

Established in 1961, The Graduate Center has grown to an enrollment of about 3,800 students in 31 doctoral programs and six master's degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The Graduate Center also houses 28 research centers and institutes, administers the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, and offers a wide range of continuing education and cultural programs of interest to the general public.

According to the most recent National Research Council report, more than a third of The Graduate Center's rated Ph.D. programs rank among the nation's top 20 at public and private institutions, nearly a quarter are among the top ten when compared to publicly supported institutions alone, and more than half are among the top five programs at publicly supported institutions in the northeast.

Submitted on: JAN 1, 2003

Category: Center for Urban Research, Advanced Social Research, Press Room