Members of Community Board 9, a local NYC advisory board that represents Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, and Hamilton Heights, discussed tenant harassment and property ownership programs at a monthly general board meeting that was attended by University President Lee Bollinger on Thursday night. For the first time, the board meeting was held at the Forum building on Columbia’s Manhattanville campus.
Stated as the University’s way to extend its presence beyond the confines of Morningside Heights, Columbia’s multi-billion dollar move into the 17-acre Manhattanville campus was solidified by the New York City Council in 2007. The Manhattanville campus will eventually be bound by the perimeter of Broadway and 12th Avenue, 125th and 133rd street.
It is estimated that the campus will attract over 3,000 new University-affiliated residents by 2030, causing 1,300 housing units to become “at risk,” meaning that residents will be subject to upward rent pressure and therefore involuntary displacement.
During the meeting, Bollinger fielded questions from community members regarding the ongoing Manhattanville project, which has long been scrutinized for displacing long-term residents. Signe Mortensen, Community Board Housing Committee co-chair, asked Bollinger what plans were in place for the residential building that has been proposed to be built on the former McDonald’s site, a beloved neighborhood landmark for both students and residents.
Bollinger responded by saying that the proposal was still in the early stages and did not provide further information, though he reiterated the University’s commitment to upholding community relationships.
“This is a year in year out progress,” Bollinger said. “We really must be continuously alert and sensitive on what we can do to sustain relationships [in the community].”
Committee members also voted to support the Tenant Protection Act, a proposed state bill to increase tenant rights, and the creation of a Third Party Transfer Task Force to create a platform for local tenants to voice their concerns.
The Tenant Protection Act would hold landlords accountable for retaliation against tenants—such as turning off utilities and subjecting them to unsafe construction—by creating a misdemeanor crime and a felony for repeat offences. The Third Party Transfer Resolution would create a task force to give representation to tenants who are trying to purchase their homes from their landlords via the Tenant Interim Lease Program.
Creation of the task force will be made official through a vote in the city council.
New York City Councilmember Mark Levine, representing District 7 which includes Morningside Heights and surrounding areas, was not available to comment in response to the results of the vote.
Under the TIL Program, tenants gave up their rent-stabilized leases in exchange for the city to purchase and rehabilitate the building. Residents could then purchase their homes for $250, but in recent years, influence from real estate developers has increased the price to $2,500, according to the board resolution. Currently, the rent stabilization program is the biggest affordable housing program in NYC.
Elsia Vasquez, founder of People Against Landlord Abuse and Tenant Exploitation, said these problems have negatively and disproportionately impacted communities of color, many of which reside in TIL buildings in Morningside Heights. As rent prices rise due to Columbia’s ongoing expansion into Manhattanville, many locals continue to be at risk of displacement.
As part of its commitment to the surrounding community following the Manhattanville expansion, the University set forth the Community Benefits Agreement, part of which entailed the creation of an Affordable Housing Fund.
[RELATED: The West Harlem Community Benefits Agreement]
Columbia has allocated $20 million for the development of affordable housing and $4 million in housing legal assistance. $10 million of the assets allocated to the Affordable Housing Fund have been doled out for control to the West Harlem Development Corporation, a coalition created in 2009 to manage distribution. Allocation of the last $10 million will occur with the initiation of the second phase of Manhattanville’s expansion.
The next general board meeting will be held Thursday, Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Fortune Society.