For the last two weeks, Sinan Atlin has been studying for the GMAT test in the quiet lounge of his new building – something he could have never done in his previous residence, which he said had loud neighbors, an abusive management and poor hygiene standards.
“It was not a nice atmosphere,” Atlin, 27, said of his previous home in East Harlem. “But this building is enough to make you forget about everything.”
The much anticipated affordable housing project, named in honor of the late urban planner Ibo Balton is ready to house low- and middle-income tenants in 226 apartments on West 127th and 128th Streets between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and St. Nicholas Avenue.
“There is a change in the landscape of Harlem but the change in the lives of the residents is also papable,” the city’s Housing Development Corporation’s president Marc Jahr said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The Balton and Douglass Park will provide homes for families, retail space for the neighborhood and help build a stronger community.”
Despite the city’s efforts to build affordable housing in low-income areas, many Harlem residents will not benefit from these changes.
The Richman Group, the project’s developer, is sorting through 18,000 applications for both buildings, giving priority to residents of Community Board 10, who have good credit histories, no criminal records and who meet family size and income requirements. The applicants will then be randomly selected through a lottery process and called in for interviews by the developers.
“We got a very strong response,” said Christopher Cirillo, vice president of Richman. “Our staff continues going through the applications and moving people in until we fill all the building.”
At the opening ceremony, Councilwoman Inez Dickens cautioned against the issue of displacement and emphasized the importance of affordable housing at a time of revitalization and rezoning.
“Harlem is under transition and change is good,” she said. “But those who stayed in the community and made it viable need to be part of the redevelopment.” She fought to make this development affordable to Harlem residents, to the community it is built in, said Dickens.
The Balton and Douglass buildings were built on land formerly owned by the city through the Cornerstone Program – an initiative that encourages the construction of mixed-income housing on city-owned land.
The development also received $20.8 million from the Tax Credit Assistance Program and $45.2 million through a combination of bonds issued by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
The buildings are part of the new wave of residential construction across Harlem encouraged by Bloomberg’s Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan, which seeks to create affordable and attractive neighborhoods. According to city housing data, the plan has managed to build or renovate 10,300 units in Community District 10 since 2004, including the Balton and Douglass Park.
In 2007, the Office of Manhattan Borough President monitored 358 vacant blocks in Upper Manhattan.
“The vacant lots and abandoned buildings that once plagued and characterized Harlem are a thing of the past,” said Housing Commissioner Rafael Cestero at the project’s groundbreaking in 2009. “Today, through the efforts of Housing Preservation Development and our partners, we are restoring vitality block by block, bringing quality affordable housing, new economic opportunity and stability back to this proud neighborhood.”
The Richman Group is a major player in Harlem, having previously built two projects on West 145th Street: The Hamilton, a mixed-use co-op building and the Langston, a mixed-use condominium and retail complex.
“It was a great opportunity to build in Harlem because of the property HPD has owned here – vacant space or property taken for tax foreclosure,” said Cirillo. “As the neighborhood redevelops, vacant land is developed, new affordable housing is created so that people in the neighborhood don’t get displaced,” by higher rents caused by Harlem’s ongoing gentrification and growing appeal to wealthy and middle class families, Cirillo said.
The Balton, is divided into two wings, one with 12 stories, one with six, contains 156 studios and 70 two or three-bedroom apartments. Rents start at $1,492 for studios and rise to $2,609 for three-bedroom apartments. Tenants must meet income guidelines, for example, $46,100 to $99,840 for a family of four.
The building offers concierge services, a rooftop terrace with panoramic views, a fitness center with mirrored walls and a yoga room.
Children can play on a playground in the outdoor courtyard or in the residents’ lounge that has a fireplace, billiard tables and flat screen TVs.
“They have everything here – a yoga room, a playground, a lounge and it’s great for me because I have so many nieces,” said Melody Rosally, 36, a transit worker who is considering moving here from the Upper East Side.
Carla Kim, 25, a researcher at Columbia University, said that the Balton’s extras motivated her to move from the Upper West Side.
“It’s cheaper here but the amenities are so much better,” she says. “I haven’t seen anything that would compare to here price wise and value wise.”
It took the City $100 million to transform a former vacant lot into apartments that feature wood and ceramic tile floors, designer kitchens and baths, private terraces and views of St. Nicholas Park.
“The apartments are really luxurious – the size, the standard, the quality of the material,” said Atlin, 27, a part-time business student who works at a non-profit downtown.
The building, carries on Ibo Balton’s legacy, which was about “creating new opportunity in places long dismissed as unwanted and irredeemable,” said Housing Commissioner Mathew Wambua at the opening. “The new affordable homes at the Balton and Douglass Park put this thought into practice, and signal the end of the blight and abandonment that stifled this neighborhood for decades.”