Stretching up into the sky, its glass walls reflecting the sun, Avalon Morningside Park is hard to miss.
Despite sitting like a shining beacon at the corner of 110th Street and Morningside Drive, the newly finished apartment complex has long been shrouded in controversy. When the project first broke ground in early 2007, over 1,300 signatures were gathered from local residents opposing the development. Today, the building's neighbors wonder what place the ritzy building, which stands in stark contrast to nearby aging buildings, has in a neighborhood struggling to retain its economic diversity.
Avalon Morningside's 296 rental units sit on the property of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. According to the St. John's Web site, the property was obtained through a 99-year lease between St. John's and AvalonBay Communities, Inc., a real estate investment trust. The lease, signed in 2006, permits Avalon to build and manage a 20-story residential rental property filled with a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three- bedroom apartments.
Carolyn Kent, chair of Community Board 9's Parks and Landmarks Committee, led the charge against the building originally, and vowed in 2007 to "work against the construction of such an inappropriate building." Kent said that Avalon is inappropriate for the neighborhood both because of the proportion of "luxury housing, and in its architectural design."
Kent's concerns about the building being unaffordable for local residents only increased as the building was completed. St. John's stipulated that Avalon must include some affordable housing units in their lease contract.
What has become particularly contentious is how Avalon will meet the criteria of the New York City Housing Development Corporation 80/20 Program. The program, as described in an HDC term sheet, issues loans "for projects where at least 20% of the units are affordable to low and moderate-income households." The remaining 80 percent of units may be set at market levels and rented to households of any income.
In keeping with the 80/20 guidelines, Avalon has set aside 59 apartments to exist as affordable housing. Yet who these apartments are available to is unclear. While the program stipulates maximum rent levels and minimum square footage, it does not mandate how many people may live in each space.
Management at Avalon Morningside Park did not respond to requests for comment.
According to information on the building from St. John's, preference for the 59 units "will be given to working individuals and families in the surrounding neighborhood."
According to an HDC press release, the building will receive "$100 million in tax-exempt bonds." The affordable housing units will also be supported by the church's Housing Mission Fund that will contribute $200,000 annually.
According to the agreement with St. John's, AvalonBay will give back to the community in other ways, playing an important role in helping rebuild some crumbling features of the church.