Community members of Morningside Heights and surrounding neighborhoods ranked housing as one of their biggest neighborhood concerns for the following fiscal year at a public hearing on Monday.
Among the number of issues raised, funding for affordable housing, youth education, rezoning, homelessness, and LGBTQ services were earmarked as top priorities for Community Board 9 , a local advisory board representing Morningside Heights and surrounding areas.
CB9 will submit its budget priorities to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, District Manager Eutha Prince said. While CB9 does not control the financial allocations associated with the rankings, the priority list signals the community’s needs.
“It gives them an idea of what the needs are in a community,” Prince said. “Each community is structured differently. Whereas housing may be a number one priority in CB9 … education may be a number-one priority in CB8 or CB5.”
Community members have long discussed the community’s need for affordable housing due to upscaling trends that have been exacerbated by new luxury residential buildings driving up property value and Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, which will extend the campus to Broadway and 12th Avenue through 125th and 133rd Streets. While Columbia has agreed to dedicate $20 million to fund affordable housing in Morningside Heights, much of the fund has remained unused because of the lack of vacant land in the district and other stipulations.
The public hearing covered the capital expense budget, which includes costs for physical structures and renovations, and the expense budget, which covers other community maintenance and minor expenditures less than $250,000.
The board prioritized affordable housing and workspaces for artists, which would expand units and support low-interest loans.
“This has been a continued number one priority—affordable housing,” April Tyler, CB9 treasurer, said.
CB9 also prioritized renovations to housing units, specifically Manhattanville residential buildings and Tenant Interim Lease buildings in the district. The TIL Program was intended to allow tenants to exchange their rent-stabilized leases with the city government, which rehabilitates the buildings.
CB9 Chair Barry Weinberg proposed prioritizing rezoning Morningside Heights in order to prevent overdevelopment—an ongoing decade-long issue—given recent strides the community has made with rezoning plans.
Last month, Speaker of the New York City Council Corey Johnson gave his word that he would help the community push their zoning proposal, which would effectively limit the heights of buildings and increase developer oversight.
“This is something very likely to happen before 2021,” Weinberg said. “Had this been five years ago, the Vandewater building would not have been able to be built, the 40-story luxury high-rise at Union Theological Seminary would not have been able to be built.”
The community board also ranked education high on their list with plans to increase funding for academic arts and after-school mentoring programs for grades 8 through12 in the district. In addition, funding will be allocated to facilitate youth programs, job training, and create an arts, sciences, and trades-oriented high school dedicated to serving low-income families in the district.
Health issues were also addressed, as community members agreed to fund solutions to reduce mosquitoes and rodent infestations. Mosquitoes are especially prevalent in unkempt construction sites in Manhattanville where still water can become a cesspool and in Riverside Park, Weinberg said.
Funding for homeless services was also prioritized in order to maintain relationships and provide outreach services to people living in encampments in the district, many of which exist in Morningside Heights, according to Tyler.
LGBTQ services were also discussed; CB9 plans to increase funding to ensure the presence of a dedicated LGBTQ Outreach officer that will educate New York Police Department officers on interacting with the LGBTQ community.