Airbnb Worsens City’s Affordable Housing Crisis, Harlem Pols Say

HARLEM — Airbnb is contributing to the affordable housing crisis in neighborhoods like Harlem by allowing landlords and entrepreneurs to rent out apartments to tourists that should be preserved for New Yorkers, a group of elected officials said Tuesday.

As many as 40,000 city apartments are listed on the site at one time, said state Sen. Liz Kreuger, despite a 2010 state law that attempted to curtail illegal hotels and setups like Airbnb, the pols said. In Harlem, as many as 3,000 units are illegally rented, they added.

“We not only have an affordability crisis, we have an availability crisis,” Assemblyman Keith Wright said while standing at Mount Morris Park West an 122nd Street. “Airbnb, quite frankly, is adding to both crises.”

Airbnb is facing increasing scrutiny from state officials, including a lawsuit from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who wants to examine the company’s records because he believes they are violating the city’s rental laws by allowing listings for entire apartments.

Schneiderman’s office filed an affidavit with the court alleging that more than two thirds of the New York City listings on the site are illegal sublets. In a blog post, David Hantman, head of global public policy for Airbnb said site plans to purge those illegal listings.

The attorney general’s office and Airbnb are scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

In a statement, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said the 2010 state law that makes it illegal for people to rent out their homes for less than 30 days if they are not living in the home was “drafted too broadly” and was intended to target illegal hotels.

“The vast majority…of Airbnb hosts in New York are simply renting out the home in which they live,” Papas said, adding that those people make up 87 percent of the company’s hosts in the city.

In addition, Airbnb has offered to collect $21 million in hotel taxes.

The elected officials said those measures seem like a last minute attempt to silence critics.

Krueger said she doubts the company’s ability to collect hotel taxes because it would put many leaseholders at a disadvantage by providing proof they’re subletting their apartment, which violates many leases.

“The worst thing in the world for me is to get a call from a constituent saying ‘I’m being evicted. I didn’t know,” Krueger said.

largerAirbnb says they help the city generate $768 million of economic activity, support 6,600 jobs and bring in $36 million per year in sales tax. They also claim to make the city more affordable by providing the average host New Yorker with an extra $7,500 per year in income.

Airbnb may also fill an unmet demand for short-term housing in places like Harlem. A study from the Harlem Community Development Corporation found that despite plans for two new hotels in the neighborhood that the area would remain 1,500 rooms below demand.

Krueger said that’s money the city wants to capture and is working to expand the number of affordable hotel rooms.

“The good news is we are not short of tourists, but we don’t need to give up our residential housing stock and cause havoc in our residential buildings to get that done,” she said.

Chet Whye, head of a Harlem based advocacy group called Harlem4 has lived in the Mount Morris Park neighborhood for 16 years and said the number of tourists he sees with luggage has increased beyond the number of legal bed and breakfast establishments.

“This crackdown is needed,” Whye said. “This transient population can be a detriment to the neighborhood because I see people hoarding apartments that can go to my neighbors or others who want to be a permanent part of this community.”


It’s Official: Harlem Needs More Hotel Rooms

victoriatheatreharlemAfter years of red tape, a new development at the site of Harlem’s old Victoria Theater on 125th Street finally got the go-ahead earlier this year. Danforth Development Partners and Exact Capital have enlisted  Aufgang & Subotovsky architects to design a major mixed-use project that will include a cultural arts center, retail space, 229 apartment units, and a 210-room Cambria Suites hotel.

Construction was said to be starting around now, but when we stopped by the other day it was difficult to gauge what, if anything, was going on behind that facade. The complex certainly will see a lot of work before it rises to its slated 26 stories — completion date is penciled in for June 2016.

In timely news, at the Harlem Hospitality and Culinary Conference last week, DNAinfo reports, Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said a study his group paid for showed that Harlem was short by 1,500 hotel rooms, and that even future growth in the hotel industry doesn’t match demand. We’d certainly agree; Harlem is a great area but, besides the Aloft Harlem a couple of blocks from the Victoria, there’s nothing for visitors who might want to spend the night here — after an evening at, say, The Apollo Theater.

While we’re certainly pleased to hear that the new Cambria Suites will absorb a fraction of that unmet hotel room need, we would love it if we could get a few of the hipper brands uptown too. With all of the culture and history on offer in Harlem, how about a funky boutique chain that would honor the location? A Kimpton Hotel, perhaps, even a reasonably priced Hotel Indigo; or how about Ace Hotels bringing their live music series up to Harlem?

We may be dreaming, but are seriously in agreement about the need for more Harlem hotel options. The area deserves more than just a passing visit.

Midweek November rates at the Aloft Harlem start at $239.

October 30, 2013 at 8:47 AM | by

East Harlem Merchants to Pay Homeless to Tackle 125th St. Trash Problem

New East Harlem Merchants Association Trash Plan

New East Harlem Merchants Association Trash Plan

HARLEM — For more than a decade, neighbors have complained about the hundreds of homeless people who gather at a bus stop at Lexington Avenue and 125th Street to commute to shelters on Ward’s Island, blaming them for contributing to the garbage overflowing from the trash cans.

Now a Harlem business improvement district is hoping to employ some of the 700 to 900 homeless people who ride the M35 bus to help clean up the mess, recruiting local property owners to contribute to a fund to pay them to keep the area clean.

Kwanza Smith, executive director of the New East Harlem Merchants Association, has reached out to the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless to develop a program to hire homeless men to clean the area. When she brought the executive director of ACE New York to the corner he said it was one of the filthiest he had ever seen, Smith said.

“We are sensitive to the fact that these men are homeless. We want a plan for them,” Smith said.

The goal is to raise $75,000 to employ eight people to clean the area between Fifth and Second avenues, between 124th and 126th streets, five days a week.

So far, the association has raised almost $16,000 with an online fundraiser and by reaching out to local businesses, asking them to donate $3,000 a piece.

Property owners such as Artimus, 125th Street Gateway Ventures —  for whom Smith works — Wild Olive Market, Blumenfeld Development Group and the Northern Manhattan Nursing Home have contributed to the fund.

Despite tremendous development in the area, including a Pathmark and co-ops, cleanliness has not kept pace with the improvements. A recent cleanup effort by 60 volunteers collected 50 bags of garbage filled with food containers, paper and cigarette butts.

“This has been going on for years. People who walk up this street feel like the neighborhood is one big trash can,” Smith as she stood next to one of the overflowing trash cans. “We’ve had all this development over the past 10 years so this area shouldn’t look like this.”

Kwanza Smith, executive director of the New East Harlem Merchants Association, knows that by the time sanitation trucks ...

Kwanza Smith, executive director of the New East Harlem Merchants Association, knows that by the time sanitation trucks …

At 3:30 p.m. on a recent afternoon the four trash cans at the corners of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street were all filled to the brim. Smith warned that by the time sanitation trucks arrived the next day, the trash would be blowing around the streets.

“Today isn’t even that bad,” Smith said.

The merchants association is also trying to get more frequent trash pick-ups and larger trash cans.

The neighboring BID, the 125th Street Business Improvement District, has street cleaners, but its boundary ends at Fifth Avenue. The group is in the planning phases of  a river-to-river expansion, said President and CEO Barbara Askins.

Askins said having a cleaning crew has made a big difference further west on 125th Street.

“This is a step in the right direction because businesses want to see an organized effort to address the problem,” Askins said. “People are not willing to invest in an area that is dirty.”

When a pizzeria at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street closed recently, Smith said a conversation with the owner revealed that the trash and general environment of the area contributed to their departure.

“It’s hard to maintain a business on this end of 125th Street,” she said.

By Jeff Mays on September 23, 2013 6:48am | Updated on September 23, 2013 6:48am

Harlem artists to have banners displayed by 125th St. Business Improvement District

Competition gives creative souls a whole new ‘avenue’ for expression

(From l.): Marivel Mejia’s “Sunday Afternoon;” Tomo Mori’s “Jacob Lawrence’s Magic Wand;” Laura Gadson’s “Harlem Brownstones;” Justin West’s “Abstract Messiah” and Soyca Mphahlele’s “Across 125th Street.” The banners will be displayed along W. 125th St. for a year.

(From l.): Marivel Mejia’s “Sunday Afternoon;” Tomo Mori’s “Jacob Lawrence’s Magic Wand;” Laura Gadson’s “Harlem Brownstones;” Justin West’s “Abstract Messiah” and Soyca Mphahlele’s “Across 125th Street.” The banners will be displayed along W. 125th St. for a year.

Justin West grew up in Harlem, and he never imagined his artwork would appear on the street he’s walked up and down hundreds of times since he was a kid.

But after winning a competition, West and four other talented local artists will have their artwork on display on banners along Harlem’s most recognized strip: W. 125th St.

“It feels like an honor,” said West, 23, whose piece depicts what looks like Earth with the colors red, black and green.

“It’s one of those things where it’s like I could be walking along and just (say), ‘Yo, that’s mine.’ ”

The winners of the “BID on Culture” banner program — organized by the 125th Street Business Improvement District, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Harlem Community Development Corporation — were announced Tuesday at the Dwyer Cultural Center.

“This is my first foot in public art and I plan to do way more,” said West, who has been painting and drawing since he was 5.

“So this just really boosted my motivation.”

Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street BID, said the banner program, which had a theme of “Harlem: A Cultural Legacy,” is significant because it exposes the work of local artists like West.

“It’s important to the artists because (they)are looking for avenues and ways for their work to be seen,” she said, noting that 125th Street averages more than 600,000 passers-by per month on one corner.

“That many people have an opportunity to see your work, and that’s great visibility.”

The banners will go up during the second week of July and they will stay up for one year. They will be installed along W. 125th St. from Fifth Ave. to Morningside Ave.; W. 125th St. between Broadway and 12th Ave. and on 12th Ave. between W. 125th St. and W. 138th St.

“It puts a smile on people’s faces,” Askins said of the banners. “It helps to show 125th St. is about Harlem.”

The winners each bagged a $1,000 prize as part of the annual competition, which garnered more than 100 entries from 49 artists.

Harlem artist and competition winner Laura Gadson is no stranger to the banner program. She’s won twice before.

“It’s always a surprise and a shock,” said Gadson, 48, whose winning piece depicts a Harlem brownstone.

‘I’m a brownstone dweller. I’m a brownstone owner,” said the resident of W. 134th St.

“I love when you see the blocks, and you see the different architecture.”

While this will be Gadson’s third time with a banner on the prominent Harlem strip, she remains excited about the opportunity to showcase her work.

“Anytime you can say on your blog or on your website, ‘I have a public art piece that you can currently see,’ it just helps you as an artist that much more,” she said.

Other winners include Bronx product Soyca Mphahlele, City College graduate Marivel Mejia and Tomo Mori, a Japanese immigrant who now lives in West Harlem.

West, who lives on W. 123rd St. — just two blocks from where his art will hang — can’t wait for the banner with his piece to hit the streets.

“It’s always going to make me smile,” he said.

“It’s one of those things like, my work is hanging like a flag in my community, so I think that’s the greatest honor.”

Read more:

Hamilton Heights Residents Work to Reclaim Montefiore Park

Michael Palma and Barbara Nikonorow, co-leaders of the Montefiore Park Neighborhood Association, say they want the pending park redesign to make the area more useful to the community. (DNAinfo/Jeff Mays)

HARLEM — During the day Montefiore Park, located next to the 137th Street subway stop on Broadway, is mostly used a corridor for City College students heading to campus. At night, the park and dimly lit side street becomes a stomping grounds for the homeless, marijuana smokers, beer-drinkers and their waste.

“The smell of urination is so powerful that it is not serving the community as a park, a place of peaceable enjoyment for people that want to enjoy nature,” said Barbara Nikonorow, one of the leaders of the Montefiore Park Neighborhood Association.

All of the grass is surrounded by gates and senior citizens bring their own chairs to the park.

But the Hamilton Heights park wasn’t always an afterthought. The park was created in 1906 and named after Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, a wealthy Italian-Jewish businessman turned Jewish advocate. Before the city removed all the benches and put gates around the grass to deter drug activity, old-timers remember people playing dominoes at the park and parents with kids in tow chatting there.

“It was an important part of daily life before the whole neighborhood went into a state of disrepair and depression with the onslaught of the crack epidemic,” said Micheal Palma, a co-leader of the Montefiore Park Neighborhood Association, which his mother founded.

“Now, it’s like a zoo for grass. You can look at the grass from behind the gates but you can’t use or touch it,” he said.

But in 2008, the park, bounded by Broadway and Hamilton Place from West 136th to West 138th Streets, was placed in the Department of Transportation’s Plaza Program and designated for a redesign. By closing Hamilton Place from 136th to 138th streets, the size of the park will be doubled.

The $6.4 million project is scheduled to begin construction in 2014 and be completed in 2015.

In advance of the changes, the Montefiore Park Neighborhood Association is hosting a series of visioning workshops.

Starting Saturday, they will host events where Hamilton Place is closed to give the public a sense of the change to come. A monthly cleanup session will be combined with turning Hamilton Place into a play street. A farmer’s market launched at the park in July and runs every Tuesday through to November.

Palma said the group is being proactive in an effort to make sure their wishes for redesigning the park are incorporated. Heritage Health and Housing, the Harlem Community Development Corporation and City College’s Architectural Center are also partners in the effort.

“What we are trying to do is do is demonstrate to the DOT and Parks Department that this is a big deal to the community. We have definititive ideas. We don’t want to see speckled sand and some tables and then say: ‘We are finished.’ We want to totally redesign the park,” Palma said.

At a meeting Wednesday, area residents and business owners endorsed the idea of closing the two block stretch of Hamilton Place twice per week, said Thomas Lunke, director of planning and development for the Harlem Community Development Corporation.

Residents said they want to see festivals return to the park, along with street games such as dominoes and chess tables. They also want the park to be used for fitness, and also for food vendors and vegetable sellers to occupy the expanded space.

Palma also said they wanted more social services directed to help some of the homeless and drug-using population that currently occupies the area.

“We want to make it more of a community living room rather than a passageway for students going to City College. We want it to be a place where the community can engage one another,” said Lunke.

Other benefits would include a smoother traffic pattern along Broadway and Hamilton Place, which is closed off after 138th Street because the rest of the short street is one-way running south.

The park has the potential to be an economic draw for the area, said Nikonorow. It is close to a transportion hub and young families are moving to the neighborhood. The senior population and City College and public school students are natural park users.
“It’s strange that no one thought until recently that the best way to keep this park from drug dealers is to make it a really useful place,” said Palma.

A Series of Second Acts Prepares to Open on a Harlem Street

The Victoria Theater on 125th Street in Harlem has been home to vaudeville shows, Off Broadway productions and Hollywood movies. But its terra cotta facade has been mostly dark since 1989 when, after failing as a five-screen multiplex, it shut its doors.

The Victoria Theater.

Since then, the Empire State Development Corporation, which owns the land, has been trying to redevelop the site. In 2005, it began a process to turn the Victoria into a mixed-use hotel, condominium and arts complex, and in 2007, after several fits and starts, it chose Danforth Development Partners to spearhead the project. But the collapse of the real estate market put those plans on a shelf, and the site has remained undeveloped.

In March, Danforth found a new equity partner, Exact Capital, and it now says the $100 million project is back on track and will break ground in the second half of next year. While not completed, the current design, by Aufgang & Subotovsky Architecture and Planning, calls for two towers to rise above the theater: a 140-unit rental building and a separate 175-room hotel. The base will consist of the historic building, built in 1917 to a design by Thomas W. Lamb, and will become the new home of the Classical Theater of Harlem, Jazzmobile, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Apollo Theater Foundation. The developers are planning to present the final design to the Harlem Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, this fall.

The Victoria Theater is the latest in a string of redevelopment projects along 125th Street. In 2008, the city rezoned the street with a goal of replacing the many small-scale buildings along it with office towers, residential high-rises and cultural institutions. But the rezoning was approved just as the real estate market collapsed, and many of the developments did not get off the ground. Now, several are starting up again.

“When we received the designation for the project, that was the beginning of the slide in the real estate market,” said M. Steven C. Williams, the president and chief of Danforth, “but now, people have a clearer picture, hotel financing is coming back and the project is financeable.”

The theater’s facade will be preserved, as will several historic elements including gilded chandeliers, a fountain and a grand staircase. While the cultural center’s plans are not complete, it now calls for two performance spaces: a 199-seat theater and a 99-seat theater in which seats can be removed to create a multitude of configurations. In addition, the four-story theater building will house a scenery shop, costume shop, administrative offices, dressing rooms and a gallery.

“There will be no wasted space, since it is being custom-built, and we are taking advantage of economies of scale, such as shared restrooms, dressing rooms and a single receptionist,” said Jonathan Denham, a principal at the real estate company Denham Wolf, which is advising the cultural groups.

The residential component of the Victoria Theater project will have a full-service rental building that is expected to be 50 percent market-rate apartments, 30 percent reserved for middle-income tenants and 20 percent for low-income ones, said Craig Livingston, a managing partner at Exact Capital. The developers are negotiating with several companies to run the hotel and hope to strike a deal this fall.

“All the major hotel chains have expressed very serious interest in the project — even Starwood, which opened an Aloft hotel on Eighth Avenue but is considering another Starwood brand there,” said Curtis L. Archer, the president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation.

Other projects planned for 125th Street include Mart 125, across the street from the Victoria Theater. The mixed-use project will create up to 67,000 square feet of cultural and commercial space. It will also be home to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, which produces jazz events and education series, and ImageNation Sol Cinema, which runs an independent film festival. In May 2010, the city, which owns the site, put out a request for proposals, and hopes to pick a developer “in the coming months,” said Seth W. Pinsky, the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

While these projects have been in the works for years, “I believe Mart 125 will happen soon and same with the Victoria Theater,” said Paul Wolf, a principal at Denham Wolf, which also represents the National Jazz Museum at Mart 125. “Soon in Manhattan timing, so not 60 days, but not years either. I believe these projects are really going to happen now.”

In July, the city picked developers to re-imagine two other sites on 125th Street: the former Taystee Bakery complex and the Corn Exchange Building. The Taystee Bakery had been awarded to an affiliate of the Citarella food markets in 2001 but after it sat undeveloped for years, the New York State Supreme Court awarded it back to the city in 2009. The case is in litigation.

The current plan for the Taystee Bakery is reinvent it as Create @ Harlem Green, a $100 million development that will include 90,000 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet of retail and a 10,000-square-foot community facility.

Several tenants are already lined up, including the Harlem Brewing Company and the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center.

The $16 million Corn Exchange project will renovate the late 19th-century building at 125th Street and Park Avenue and add six stories to create 22,000 square feet for offices and 9,000 square feet for retail stores. The city hopes the project will break ground within a year, Mr. Pinsky said.

A fifth project is the East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center. A $700 million endeavor, it is planned to eventually include a hotel, 250,000 square feet of office space and more than 800 units of housing, but the first phase, expected to be completed later this fall, is far more modest. It will establish 49 units of affordable housing and 5,600 square feet of retail space. The second phase, to be started sometime next year, will create just under 100 residential units and 50,000 square feet of retail space.

By JULIE SATOW – Published: August 30, 2011

Harlem Plaza to Transform Into $21M African Village Square

HARLEM — The massive plaza in front of the Harlem State office building at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard is known as African Square. But with its drab concrete benches and open, windswept spaces, and smattering of giant planters, it resembled no such thing.

“The state had a generic plaza rehabilitation in mind but I thought people in Harlem deserved something that focused more on the heritage of the people in Harlem,” said Willie Walker, general manager for the 23-story Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.

In 2006, the State Office of General Services partnered with the Harlem Community Development Corporation to come up with the African village concept. With $50,000 from the development corporation, designers and scholars looked at 15 villages throughout Africa and adopted elements from each.

“We knew the plaza design was not meeting the needs of the community. And as the neighborhood evolved, we really wanted to to recognize the importance of the African-American and Caribbean footprint,” said Thomas Lunke, director of planning and development for the Harlem Community Development Corporation.

When it’s finished, the village will have a black granite representation of the Nile River running through it. A black granite wall running along the “river” will feature etchings that tell the story of Harlem.

There will also be a water feature, a stage, digital kiosks and a stepped area with trees. The current underutilized breezeways will be enclosed to create a screen wall that can be used to broadcast images and two large cultural rooms for community programming space.

The first part of the project is a two-year, $11 million plan to waterproof the plaza and shore up the space so that the garage below can support the new plaza. It’s ahead of schedule by five months and about $1.5 million below budget, according to Walker.

The Harlem Community Development Corporation aims to continue its long-term goal of raising another $10 million to complete the village. The plan is to spread the word about the potential long-term benefits of the project.

“We see this as a way for the community to invest in itself and express its individual culture to the world and in turn the the world would come invest their time and energy with tourism and other projects,” Lunke said.

The idea is to take the concept of the African village square as the center of cultural and civic life and import it to Harlem. The African village square is a place where the sacred and the secular intersect. There is the acknowledgement of the past but also a permanent space for discussion and activities beneficial to the village’s future.

“The whole concept is that this is the open square, the gathering place,” said Walker.

Tthe usable space of the plaza and the lobby will increase dramatically once it’s finished. Lunke said the project is being viewed as a cultural and economic one. Since 125th street is Harlem’s main thoroughfare for commerce, the hope is that the project will spur others along the street. It will also attract continued visitors looking to experience Harlem’s culture and history.

Walker beams like a proud father when he talks about the plaza, which is visible from his second floor office. He makes no secret of his love of all things Afrocentric. Walker is known for wearing his collection of 100 different Kente cloth outfits and the walls of his office are filled with African and African-American art. But his focus, he says, remains on the people of the “village” of Harlem.

“My goal is to continue to open this building up to the public. This is their home,” Walker said. “I want them to understand that it belongs to the people of this community.”

By Jeff Mays,




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