Southtown Building 8 Inches Closer to Construction

November 9, 2018

A clearer picture is starting to emerge of the scope and makeup of Roosevelt Island's newest residential building, Southtown building 8, scheduled to break ground next year. 


“There is a lot of stuff we need to finalize by the end of the year,” said David Kramer at Wednesday’s Real Estate Development Advisory Committee meeting. One thing that is settled, however, is that the building will be considered “affordable,” and Islanders, along with all other community board 8 residents, will get a preference to live in it.


“This project doesn’t fit neatly into what affordable housing projects usually assume,” said Jamar Adams, a development associate for Hudson Related.  That's because it isn’t on free land, and - at 341 apartments and 21 stories - building 8 is larger in scope than typical affordable housing buildings. The good news is that the building has become more affordable than it was initially planned to be. 


“If anyone was concerned about a bait-and-switch, this is the opposite of that,”Kramer told the committee members.


 Last year's egg hunt at Firefighter's Field,. Building 8 will be just north of there.




What is considered affordable housing in the city is determined by a household's percentage of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is a number set by the federal government. The city believes housing is affordable when it costs roughly one-third of what a household makes.


In Southtown building 8, 20% of the units will be set aside for households making less than 100% of AMI ($104,300 for a family of four) and 50% will be reserved for those making 130% AMI ($135,590 for a family of four). Of the remaining units, 3% will be for formerly homeless residents, 3% for those making under 40% AMI ($41,720  for a family of four), 14% for those making less than 50% AMI ($52,150 for a family of four), and 10% percent for those making under 80% AMI.


It will be designed by the same architect who designed building 7, at 480 Main Street. “No one will be able to say, ‘Oh, that’s the market rate building, and that’s the one for the lower income,’” explained Kramer.


Preferences and Logistics


Typically, the building lottery goes live nine months prior to building completion. Ultimately it will be on the New York City housing connect website. Once applications are gathered, those that qualify are put in random order and given a log number. From there, the developer begins the review process starting with the lowest log number as well as any preferential applicants. In building 8’s case, 7% of apartments will be set aside for the audio- or vision-impaired, 5% for municipal workers, and 50% for residents of community Board 8, an area that runs from the north side of east 59th Street to the south side of east 96th Street, Fifth Avenue to the East River, and Roosevelt Island.


At the meeting, RIOC President Susan Rosenthal asked if the preference could be limited to Roosevelt Island residents. Adams said the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the agency responsible for developing and maintaining the city's stock of affordable housing, would not deviate from their standard preferences. 


“When you play with HPD you have to play by their rules," said Kramer. "We would push for that if we could.”


It can take between two and ten months for applicants to find out whether they've qualified. The lower your log number, the more likely you are to hear back from the lottery.


Shrinking Affordability


In 1969, when architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed Roosevelt Island’s master plan, the Island was conceived as a utopia for the working and middle-class. Most of the apartments were subsidized through State and Federal programs such as the Mitchell-Lama program, which offered State-sponsored housing for moderate- and middle-income households.


When Southtown was developed, panic about losing the Island’s economic mix followed. “We are in the midst of vast change, and real estate is the prime consideration,” Matthew Katz, a former president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, told The New York Times 13 years ago. “The Island is being set up for gentrification, which means that middle-class housing will disappear.”


Between 2000 and 2010, a building boom on the Island increased the number of housing units by over 50%. For the most part, that housing was market-rate. According to the Island’s General Development Plan, only 25% of Northtown and 40-60% of Southtown was supposed to be market rate. The remainder of the housing was intended for middle- and lower-income residents. In the meantime, three of the Island’s four Mitchell-Lama buildings have left the program, and the fourth, Westview, is on its way.


Building 8 will contain only affordable units. Building 9 will be all market-rate units. Building 9 is currently in the design phase.


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