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Making Better Use of Underutilized Land in New York City

An underutilized parking lot in one of New York City’s highest-density areas is now the site of an energy-efficient, affordable housing development. The Elliott-Chelsea development is built on a former parking lot adjoining the Elliott and Chelsea houses, low-income housing projects owned and operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. The development, which opened in April 2012, is the result of a successful partnership among multiple New York City agencies and private organizations.

Locating Sites for Affordable Housing

The New Housing Marketplace Plan, an initiative started by the Mayor’s Office to create and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2013, highlighted the scarcity of land available for affordable housing development in New York City. Under the plan, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), in partnership with the housing authority, was charged with identifying underutilized city-owned sites that could be redeveloped as affordable housing. Using the plan, city officials targeted the NYCHA-owned parking lot for residents of the adjacent Elliott and Chelsea houses as a prime location for affordable housing development.

Collaborating To Fund and Develop Affordable Housing

To make the Elliott-Chelsea development possible, the housing authority provided the parking lot as land for development, and the housing authority and HPD issued a request for proposals and selected the developers for the project. The New York City Housing Development Corporation, the New York City Council, and Citi Community Capital contributed by providing funding for the $65 million development. Artimus Construction was selected as both the developer and the general contractor, and GF55 Partners served as the architect for the development.

The Elliott-Chelsea development, much like the Chelsea neighborhood itself, is mixed income. The development contains 168 units; of these, 6 units are reserved for households earning up to 40 percent of area median income (AMI) and 28 units are for households earning up to 50 percent of AMI. The remaining units are affordable for middle-income households at various levels: 20 units are designated for households earning up to 160 percent of AMI, 58 units for households earning up to 165 percent of AMI, and 55 units for households earning up to 195 percent of AMI. One unit is reserved for the onsite manager. In addition, the Elliott-Chelsea development also offers a mix of unit types, including 40 studio units, 39 one-bedroom units, 84 two-bedroom units, and 5 three-bedroom units.

The Elliott-Chelsea development provides much-needed affordable housing in Manhattan, which has a lower poverty rate and a higher median household income than for New York City overall.1 With all but five of the units containing less than two bedrooms, the development is appropriate for the Chelsea neighborhood, which has a higher percentage of one- and two-person households than do the borough of Manhattan and the city of New York.2

Sustainable Development

The Elliott-Chelsea development offers residents ready access to public transportation; the development is located within a quarter-mile of a subway line, about a half-mile from Penn Station, and on the Riverbank Park-West Village bus route. In addition to the residential units, the development includes 7,000 square feet of commercial space and provides such amenities as a public rooftop terrace, bicycle storage, and a laundry facility. The building incorporates a number of energy-efficient features, including Energy Star appliances and energy-efficient plumbing and lighting fixtures. To offset the loss of surface parking, the developer of Elliott-Chelsea also created 26 underground parking spaces to be leased at NYCHA rates and provided residents who previously held parking spaces on the lot with a $100 monthly stipend to pursue alternate parking opportunities.

The city used an open lottery system to select tenants for the development, although for some units preference was given to households with mobility, visual, and hearing impairments. Because the development was constructed on land formerly owned by the housing authority, the city also gave public housing residents preference for approximately 20 percent of the units.

A Model for Future Affordable Housing Development in New York City

Due to the city’s success in producing affordable housing developments like Elliott-Chelsea, Plan NYCHA, the housing authority’s strategic plan published in 2011, reaffirmed the city’s focus on forming public-private partnerships, fostering intergovernmental collaboration, and targeting underutilized land for affordable housing. Plan NYCHA states that the housing authority will continue to conduct a comprehensive analysis of NYCHA-owned land to determine if it can be more efficiently used and work with other city agencies and private organizations to fund and develop affordable housing.