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Tribeca Citizen | Gateway tenants battling to keep rents ‘affordable’

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The Broadsheet has covered this well, but I wanted to register a post here since this seems like an important effort to preserve what we around here call “middle income” housing in Battery Park City and, since there is no other building as big as this, in the neighborhood as a whole.

A group of residents at Gateway Plaza, which has 1,700 units, are battling their landlord, LeFrak, to keep the rents there from continuing to climb, and to make sure units that were stabilized in 2009 will stay that way. It’s a complex situation with a checkered history (see below) and nothing about it is straightforward, but here are some bullet points to help you digest it, if you want to know more:

• Gateway was completed in 1981 as the first residential building in BPC and got a discount on the ground lease in exchange for creating affordable housing and received Mitchell Lama financing. However, rents were never part of a formal stabilization program and started rising right away. The ground rent paid by the landlord is low – confirming that exact number currently.
• In 1985, tenants organized and sued to keep rents down, which were at that point galloping out of control with 15 to 25 percent increases.
• By 1987, the landlord settled and created a 10-year “rent stabilization agreement” that covered every resident – at least until they moved.
• In 1995, that agreement was extended to 2005.
• In 2005, the landlord and the BPCA entered an interim agreement to get everyone covered up to 2009.
• In 2009, tenants negotiated to keep current residents stabilized, but for the first time, the deal did not apply to anyone who would move in after that date.
• The 2009 stabilization deal will sunset in June 2020, and tenants are arguing to extend the protections of the stabilized tenants to 2040 AND to stabilize ALL residents of Gateway, 65 percent of whom now pay market rents that continue to creep up and up.

Jeff Galloway, who moved to Gateway in 1982 and is now one of the tenant leaders, figures if the deal is not extended, most people will have to move out. And the ever-rising rents will destroy the stability of the area. People are less likely to put down roots if they don’t know they can afford the rent the next year. He saw that in the early ‘80s, when there was nary a child in sight.
“Having stability in a building affects the character of the place,” said Galloway. “People moving in don’t expect to stay. They don’t join local civic organizations, they don’t build relationships with neighbors. Massive turnover will affect not just Gateway, but the community as a whole.”

Is it impossible to imagine, but when Gateway opened in 1982, Liberty Street was a dirt road. And before that, Gateway had sat for a decade as abandoned foundations in an odd urban desert. (This allowed for the staging of the 1979 No Nukes concert led by Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, and John Hall on Sept. 23. Almost 200,000 people rallied on the landfill. See vids below from James Taylor’s guitarist Waddy Wachtel. And I have to add: the No Nukes album was my first ever music purchase, as a double cassette.) There was no World Financial Center, no other residential buildings, just a wasteland. Construction resumed in the late ‘70s, and by then, the original master plan that called for mixed income housing at the site had been scrapped.

Rents started at $615 for studios, $800 for one-bedrooms and $1,200 for two-bedrooms. But almost immediately rents began to rise, by 1983 there was a rent strike and by 1985 tenants were suing to keep rents down – and, well, you have the rest of the history in the bullet points above.

Galloway notes that the tenants today aren’t asking for much — just to keep things from skyrocketing out of control. “This isn’t the creation of true affordable housing. It’s a tiny foothold of middle-income housing that people are barely able to afford.”

There’s a petition at change.org if you want to help out.





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