Dec. 4, 2020 By Christian Murray
A proposal for a seven-story affordable housing complex in Sunnyside is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Community Board 2 voted 28 to 12 in favor of a rezoning application put forward by Phipps Houses, a non-profit developer that seeks to construct a seven-story, 167-unit building at 50-25 Barnett Ave.
The vote came after much debate and fierce criticism of Phipps, which was accused of allowing its Phipps Garden Apartments complex on 39th Avenue to fall into disrepair.
The board members had to decide whether Phipps’ questionable history as a property manager would disqualify it from developing a new building. Members welcomed a 100 percent affordable housing complex—but had to wrestle with the dozens of complaints lodged against the developer by existing Phipps tenants in coming to a decision.
“Personally, I want to make Phipps do better…but in good conscience I can’t see how I can say no to a brand new affordable housing project in this location,” said Lisa Deller, chairperson of Community Board 2, prior to the vote.
She said that the board has been advocating for affordable housing for many years and said that the Barnett Avenue location made sense. “If not here—then where?”
The board passed the vote in favor of the rezoning but it came with a plethora of conditions.
One of the conditions requires Phipps to conduct a series of repairs to the Gardens Apartment complex over the next six months. The required repairs were spelled out in a building improvement plan, with most having to be completed within 90 days.
The plan requires Phipps to hire a new porter to focus on trash collection; eliminate rodent and insect infestations; eliminate mold blooms throughout the property; repaint common areas where there is chipped paint; clean out dry wells; and adopt a landscaping plan.
The board also called on Phipps to hire an outside company to complete a tenant survey and make the results available for it to review. It also requires Phipps to conduct annual apartment inspections and to meet monthly with tenants.
The approval also came with the condition that Phipps lowers the income bands for the affordable units. The board requires Phipps to lower the top income band to 80 percent of the Area Media Income, which would equate to $90,960 for a family of four. The top band is currently set at 90 percent.
The conditions were imposed largely in response to feedback the board received at a public hearing last month. At the hearing, several tenants at Phipps Garden Apartments said the developer didn’t deserve the right to build another property in Sunnyside. Many cited mice and cockroach problems, garbage issues and a lack of response by management.
Deller said prior to the vote that the board received 46 letters opposed to the development, with 36 in support.
She said most of the complaints dealt with the condition of the Garden Apartments and came with photos of insect infestation, leaks, overflowing trash and other troubling issues.
Deller said that the board pledged to monitor Phipps’ building improvement plan closely in coming months. She said the rezoning process takes several months and there would be an opportunity to weigh in at future hearings if Phipps does not stick to its commitments.
The rezoning ultimately requires the approval of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in the City Council in order for it to go into effect.
Van Bramer issued a statement after the vote and said that he would make sure that Phipps holds up its end of the bargain. He said he appreciated how the board was able to craft a plan that would improve the conditions of the Garden Apartments complex if enacted..
“Making sure that Phipps follows through with their action plan to help tenants at the existing Phipps’ buildings will be key as this project winds it way to the city council for a final vote early next year,” Van Bramer said.
Van Bramer thanked the board for making a decision.
“I know it was not easy for many of them– but they voted their conscience,” he said. “The vote in favor of the project was decisive as was the board’s desire to see even deeper affordability–which I support.”