Some Upper West Side residents may see their rents rise by 85 percent in five years—an increase they began to fight on Monday night.
Trinity House, on West 91st Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, is the last building on the Upper West Side to participate in the Mitchell-Lama program, which provides housing subsidies to low and moderate-income residents. A new plan by its owner, the private Trinity School, has tenants fearing for the building’s—and their own—financial futures.
Dozens of residents turned out for Monday night’s Community Board 7 housing committee meeting to speak out against Trinity School plans to sever a parking garage from the building.
“It would put the building in a financial crisis,” Jim Paul, Trinity House Tenants Association president, said. “The garage has always been a source of income for the building.”
According to residents’ estimates, this would divert $650,000 a year away from the building. Current residents would make up the difference in revenue with an 85 percent rent increase over five years, something Paul says residents will not accept.
“We believe it is completely illegal to sever this integral part from the rest of the building,” said Paul. “We don’t think that’s a reasonable offer for all the things the school is getting.”
Still, significant compromises have been made.
Trinity School has offered to extend the building’s Mitchell-Lama status for 15 years, and while tenants are concerned about the potential rent increase, it will be the first time rents have increased in the building in 15 years.
“That’s still a very affordable rent,” said Mel Wymore, chair of CB7, though he added this does not necessarily justify Trinity School’s actions.
And residents worry that the 15-year Mitchell-Lama promise won’t preserve affordable housing in the long run.
“This is merely postponing the sale and the status quo of the building,” said Elan Nieves, a lifelong resident of Trinity House. “It’s a means to an end.”
Those concerns are part of the long-standing fears of an ever-decreasing pool of affordable housing on the Upper West Side.
Residents seemed most concerned that the object of these smaller changes was the eventual sale of the building, which could push them out of their below-market-rate apartments.
“Owners buy buildings and very often, they do things to push tenants out,” Paul said.
But board members acknowledged that Trinity School may have the upper hand.
“Trinity School owns the building and they can leave Mitchell-Lama if they want to,” Wymore said.
Housing committee chair Victor Gonzalez agreed.
“If Trinity School opts out of Mitchell-Lama, they can charge whatever they want,” Gonzalez said. Trinity School could not be reached for comment following the meeting.
Tenants are now discussing options for a buy-out or alternative plans to keep their rents low. But for now, those are only ideas.
“We think the building is an enormously successful example of affordable housing,” Paul said. “These are everyone’s apartments and their futures are at stake here.”