Harlem housing projects

I took a short bike ride up north today and took a few photos of housing developments from the 1960s. A great long-form article for background to the current debate surrounding the New York City Housing Association can be read here.

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Esplanade Gardens, boundaries West 145th Street, Lenox Avenue & West 148th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd

Esplanade Gardens were built in 1967 and comprise six 27-storey buildings with a total of 1,870 apartment buildings. The architect was a so-called Seymour Joseph, who only recently passed away at the biblical age of 96.

The development is a Mitchell-Lama development, which means that most tenants have some form of rent control capping their monthly payments. Developers back then were given financial incentives (tax breaks, guaranteed return on investment) when building these big developments.

Following a series of recent (and controversial) rent increases, tenants with a two-bedroom and balcony apartment still pay only about $800 per month. Unsurprisingly, units are still in high demand and long waiting lists have formed. Allocation happens via lottery.

There is a growing concern among the residents that gentrification will eventually drive out the largely African-American tenants, with white middle-class taking their place. And while $800 per month may not seem much, average incomes are much lower than the median in New York. The South Bronx congressional district across the Harlem river is the poorest in the United States.

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New York’s affordable housing system is the cause of much consternation from those outside it and emotional defence from those on the inside.

Waiting lists for New York public housing are formidably long: there are now as many individuals/families on them as there are apartments (north of 200,000). Turnover is notoriously slow: once allocated a place in public housing it becomes so coveted that average rental periods exceed the private, open market by way of multiples.

Yet there is also affordable housing released to the market that does not really deserve the name. I have written a bit more about the housing market here. I hope that by the end of our stay in New York (whenever that will be), I will have a better idea of this intricately difficult system.

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Polo Grounds Towers, boundaries West 155th Street, Frederick Douglass Boulevard & Harlem River Drive

Polo Grounds Towers were finished in 1968. The occupy the approximate location of the former Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants until 1957. Polo Grounds is run by the New York City Housing Association. Their four 30-storey towers house a total of 1,616 apartments. The Towers are one of the city’s most notorious “projects” – the nickname for such public housing developments.

broadway01Manhattanville Houses, boundaries Broadway/West 126th Street & Amsterdam Avenue/West 135th Street

Manhattanville Houses were finished in 1961 and consist of six 20-storey buildings with a total of 1,272 apartments. The development borders the affluent world of Columbia University in the south – and really, this is where two worlds collide: on the southern side, the privileged Ivy League and in the north, an overwhelmingly poor community with little social mobility.

Almost 8% of all New Yorkers live in public housing of the Manhattanville Houses sorts. The demographics are roughly split between Black and Hispanic, with White (5%) and Asian (4%) in the minority. It is a parallel world to that which many New Yorkers live in. An interesting project to promote visibility of the inhabitants of Manhattanville Houses was reported on here.

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Drew Hamilton Houses, boundaries West 142nd Street/Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard & West 144st Street/Frederick Douglass Boulevard

Lastly, Drew Hamilton Houses were completed in 1965 and consist of five 21-storey buildings with a total of 1,207 apartments. They are named after Cornelius Drew, a pastor, and Alexander Hamilton. The development made international headlines in 2003, when a man claiming his bite wounds were from a pitbull was found to keep a pet tiger (and a huge reptile) in his flat.

2 thoughts on “Harlem housing projects

  1. Good Day to you Mr. Bansal,
    My name is Ebony. I happened to come across your article on “Harlem Housing Projects”, and unlike the ACTUAL housing projects you’ve named, Esplanade Gardens IS A Co-Op NOT a housing project. While most of your information provided about Esplanade Gardens was accurate the label of “housing project”, as a lifelong resident here, I found inaccurate and QUITE offensive. It is only within the last 10 years that our development fell under the Mitchell-LLama umbrella that handles “the projects” but I can assure you, WE’RE NOT.
    Maybe if you’d asked the residents here or went to our management office,instead of “bike riding through” they would inform you that unlike housing projects, the owners(yes,OWNERS)of the residences here are shareholders as well. There are rare instances, but project residents don’t own their apartments nor are they invested in the property in which they live.
    Esplanade Gardens are STILL one of the most sought after Co-Ops in NYC, no less Harlem. I’m sure if you had an article on Stuyvesant Town you’d think twice about the words you’d use to describe it your audience.
    Remember words have power, Mr Bansal. If you do have an audience as the countries and cities you’ve cited below ,you should be mindful of what words you choose to paint your articles with. It wouldn’t have hurt for you to have walked into to our office,say Hello, and ask questions instead of painting those live here as a “housing project” when you, yourself know the ugly connotation the term “projects” bring to mind. This article maybe a bit dated, but as we know, there’s no expiration date in cyberspace.

    Sincerely from an Esplanade Shareholder and Owner,
    E.M. Grant

  2. Dear Ebony, I agree that words have power; but for that please do keep in mind that they often evoke quite different associations depending on the context where they are read. I am German, and I don’t think anyone back home has the same imagery in mind upon reading the word “project” (with and without quotation marks) as you — a lifelong NYC and Co-Op resident that wants to make the distinction between Co-Op and “Project” extremely clear. I would have loved to pop by your office and learn more about Esplanade Gardens, but then again this blog was a notepad of impressions during the time I spent in NYC, and admittedly not some tool for in-depth research. Having said all this, I do appreciate your comment and I am sure so will the (admittedly) few readers of this blog!

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