maple_court.jpgThis past February Mayor Bloomberg announced an expansion of the city's five-year housing plan to a ten-year plan that will create and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing by the end of 2013. The two lead agencies in the housing initiative are the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Recently, Gothamist had the opportunity to take a walking tour of the neighborhood around Marcus Garvey Park led by HDC's Aaron Donovan, who also publishes Starts and Fits. In addition to showing us HDC buildings, Aaron also pointed out several notable market-rate developments in the neighborhood as well as new commercial buildings. (Disclosure: Gothamist lives in an HDC-financed building that was mentioned on the tour.)

On the tour we learned that HDC operates by providing low-interest loans to developers to build or renovate affordable housing. Traditionally, the loans are used to jump start development of distressed neighborhoods by reducing the developer's risk. In return for the low-interest HDC loan, developers agree to set aside a percentage of units for low- and middle-income occupants. In the last two years HDC has financed the renovation or construction of over 18,000 apartments.

One of the first HDC buildings near Marcus Garvey Park is the Maple Court limited equity co-op pictured above. Maple Court sits across Madison Avenue from the park and was built in 1995. The 135 units in the building sold out quickly and a second co-op, the 155-unit Maple Plaza in the background above, was completed in 1999. The limited equity nature of these co-ops made the purchase apartments affordable to low- and middle-income buyers, but homeowners have to split the proceeds of any future sale with the city.

These first two buildings were relatively straightforward in terms of the income diversity of homeowners as well as architecture. A newer development, 1400 on Fifth is relatively more sophisticated in income mix and design. A 129 unit mixed-income building, some apartments have income restrictions on purchasers while others were sold at market rates. The building is "green", it exceeds state energy saving criteria by 37 percent; uses geothermal energy for heating and cooling; mechanically filters air; provides a parking room for bikes; and has a small, semi-permeable parking lot, so rainwater doesn't overload storm sewers. The building did appear to be having growing pains. While we were talking to the developer's representative a tenant interrupted to complain about leaky, crooked windows and unpleasant smells.

If you've strolled up Madison Ave. or Frederick Douglass Blvd. in Harlem, or been to Bushwich or the South Bronx lately many of the new buildings are there because of the HDC and HPD. Most of those buildings were built on the abandoned lots and foreclosed land that the city has owned since the 1970s. The last of those lots have been sold, so the challenge for the city is to find new ways to provide affordable housing. The mayor's plan to build or preserve 165,000 units by 2013is ambitious, but with the city's population expected to grow by more than a million people in the next 20 years is it ambitious enough?