There are a total of 601 condominium buildings scattered across a half dozen neighborhoods in the city that have substantial numbers of vacant units or where construction has stalled, according to preliminary data compiled by Right to the City-New York, an alliance of grassroots community organizations.** That figure is well above the 454 recorded by the Department of Buildings for the city as a whole.
More than 150 members of Right to the City canvassed six neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn to identify buildings that feature many vacant units or stalled construction. The group, along with several members of the City Council, will announce the results Tuesday afternoon at a rally in downtown Brooklyn as part of an effort to urge the city to convert vacant condos into affordable housing.
"We want to show the city how big the problem is," said David Dodge, a member of Right to the City’s New York chapter and a policy associate at Urban Justice Center. "The problem is larger than people knew and the city took count of."
In fact the city’s figure is nearly 25% less than the number cited by the group. The Right to the City data tallies the number of qualifying buildings in downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn’s Bushwick, and the Manhattan neighborhoods of Harlem, the Lower East Side and the West Village, as well as the South Bronx.
It found 126 of those buildings in downtown Brooklyn, 108 in Bushwick, 116 in the LES, 99 in Harlem, 93 in South Bronx and 59 in the West Village. Downtown Brooklyn figures include Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene, and the West Village includes Chelsea. The figures will be a part of a comprehensive report the group plans to release early next year on the state of condo buildings in these areas.
In July, the city unveiled a $20 million pilot program, the Housing Asset Renewal Program, designed to turn unsold condos and stalled residential buildings into as many as 400 affordable housing units. Community groups and local officials like Right to the City say the housing renewal is a good start, but it is not enough to resolve the proliferation of vacant buildings, the decline in low-income housing and the city’s increasing homelessness rate.
Among the 126 buildings in downtown Brooklyn, Right to the City identified Be@Schermerhorn, a 246-unit luxury condo, with a vacancy rate of more than 93%, and Forté, a 108-unit luxury condo, with a vacancy rate of more than 60%. Both buildings have been on the market for at least a year. Forté was recently taken over by its lender Eurohypo bank. The group has not identified specific buildings in the Manhattan neighborhoods yet.
"Clearly HARP is not sufficient to meet the needs for the entire city," said Councilwoman Leticia James, who will be attending the afternoon rally.
It’s unclear how many developers want to participate in the Housing Asset Renewal Program, but industry officials note that developers may shun such a program for a number of reasons. They note that such government programs will take at least two years to implement. And some developers may have the resources to wait for the economy to recover.
"By the time government takes action, apartments will start to sell or rent," said Boaz Gilad, president of Ore International, a Brooklyn-based developer who has been scooping up troubled projects and finishing them at bargain prices. "It might not be a relevant program anymore."
Right to the City’s Mr. Dodge said although the market may be improving, several of these buildings have been vacant for more than two years, and something should be done with them to benefit the local community. "We aren’t bailing developers out," he added.
** Including Make the Road New York