Late in November, after more than two years of negotiations, MHCC succeeded in getting Union Theological Seminary to commit $1.1 million in funding to mitigate the impact of a proposed 40-story tower to be built on the northwest corner of the UTS campus at 122nd and Broadway. As part of the 1.1 million, UTS will give $700,000 to PA’LANTE Harlem to directly fight displacement of vulnerable tenants caused by the flurry of luxury developments coming to Morningside Heights. PA’LANTE, with a proven track record of aggressively combating landlord abuses, will commit research, organizing and legal advocacy to save threatened rental housing in our community. This work will begin immediately.
The remainder of the funds will be placed in a newly-created fund at the New York Community Trust called the Morningside Heights Community Fund. The negotiated amount of $400,000 will be distributed as follows: $200,000 when ground is broken for the tower, expected in the Fall of 2019, $100,000 in 2020 and the final payment of $100,000 in 2021. This money will go to support projects that improve our neighborhood, such as schools, pre-schools, senior centers and other activities.
This community benefits agreement is, as far as we know, the first of its kind when a construction project did not require approval by a government agency. The agreement would not have happened had UTS and the developers, L+M and LendLease, not been open to the idea. In addition, our local elected officials – Council Member Mark Levine, State Senator Brian Benjamin, State Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, and Borough President Gale Brewer – were instrumental in facilitating discussion and negotiation.
MHCC expects that other institutions and developers profiting from real estate sales and development in our community will also give back to the community. We especially encourage Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) to follow the lead of its sister seminary. JTS’ sale of property and air rights has already resulted in a 34-story tower soon to be filled with 183 luxury condos. Eighty luxury rentals at 415 West 120th St, the former site of a JTS dorm, will soon follow.
MHCC does not support out-of-context projects lacking housing that is affordable to people of low and moderate income. We will continue to fight for rezoning of the neighborhood so as to require contextual development and affordable housing in all new developments.