Abandoned East Harlem school building will be transformed into housing for artists, thanks to $52.2 million project




Abandoned East Harlem school building will be transformed into housing for artists, thanks to $52.2 million project


El Barrio's Artspace PS 109 will provide affordable apartments, artists' studios and space for cultural groups


By Douglas Feiden / New York Daily News, Wednesday, September 26, 2012



Affordable housing for poor artists and their families who live in upper Manhattan has long been an impossible dream as rents skyrocketed and studio space vanished — but now, that dream is about to come true.


Construction is about to begin on a $52-million project to transform a long-abandoned public school in East Harlem into a residential complex with 90 affordable apartments and space for galleries and arts organizations.


The Oct. 2 groundbreaking for El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109, at 213 E. 99th St., will feature Latino salsa legend Johnny Colon & his Orchestra — and a host of community activists and politicians who’ve been clamoring for the project for years.


“It’s a historic project, the first of this size in the city, and it will be an economic engine for the entire community,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.


“Culture and art will be created,” she added. “Artists will open their live-work spaces to sell their works.”


The fortress-like former elementary school is a five-story, Gothic Revival building that served neighborhood kids from 1898 until it was closed and boarded up in 1995.


Deteriorating and slated for demolition, PS 109 was saved by local preservationists, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and transferred from the Department of Education to the city’s Department of Housing, Preservation & Development.


In late June, HPD closed on $52.2 million in construction financing and turned the parcel over to two nonprofit developers, Artspace Projects, a Minneapolis-based firm, and El Barrio’s Operation Fightback, a community developer in East Harlem.


Where did the cash come from?


“There were as many as 10 different funding sources,” HPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Development RuthAnne Visnauskas told the Daily News.


Among the pieces:


  • $24 million in federal low-income housing tax credits, which helped leverage a $15-million bank loan.
  • $3.4 million in city capital funds provided by HPD, which also donated the land and kicked in another $1 million in community benefit funds.
  • $3.5 million from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
  • $1.75 million in discretionary funds from Mark-Viverito and another $1 million from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.


When the project opens in the summer of 2014, rents are expected to range from $500 to $1,100 per month; 18 apartments will be set aside for tenants earning no more than $24,900 for a family of four.


Another 71 units will be available for families with household income of no more than $49,800 for a family of four, HPD says.


Artists and residents of East Harlem’s Community Board 11 will get first preference for PS 109’s 50 studio apartments, 18 one-bedroom units and 21 two-bedrooms.


Said George Sarkissian, CB 11’s district manager: “This will allow the makers of art and culture in our community to continue living in our community.”









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