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Providing Affordable Housing and Cultural Assets in Harlem

Photograph of the northern and eastern façades of a thirteen-story multifamily building.
The Sugar Hill development combines affordable housing and cultural facilities celebrating Harlem’s rich heritage. Credit: Ed Reeve

Officials in New York City are grappling with a housing affordability crisis that has been widely discussed in the national press. Between 2000 and 2012, median apartment rents in the city rose by 75 percent, compared with 44 percent nationally. Although this trend has affected neighborhoods throughout the city, residents of Harlem are particularly susceptible to price increases because median household incomes in Harlem are significantly lower than in the rest of Manhattan; more than half of all Harlem renters spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent. In West Harlem’s Sugar Hill district, a high unemployment rate, low levels of educational attainment, and a lack of English proficiency exacerbate residents’ housing problems.

Broadway Housing Communities’ Sugar Hill development opened in late 2014 to house some of the neighborhood’s most vulnerable residents. The development also builds human capital by integrating childcare with education facilities and an art museum celebrating Harlem’s rich cultural heritage. On a former brownfield site in a challenging neighborhood context, the project provides affordable housing as well as a new anchor institution.

The Sugar Hill Development

Sugar Hill contains 124 affordable apartments, 25 of which are reserved for formerly homeless families referred from New York City’s emergency shelter system. Rents for 12 units are set at 30 percent of the area median income (AMI) ($24,900 for a family of four), 50 units are set at 50 percent of AMI ($41,500), 37 units are set at 60 percent of AMI ($49,800), and 24 units are set at 80 percent of AMI ($66,400). An additional unit is provided for an onsite superintendent. Designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification, the building features landscaped plazas, rooftop terraces, and gardens.

Located in the Sugar Hill Historic District, the 13-story building maximizes the allowable floor area ratio while preserving views within the neighborhood. Although considered consistent with the massing, height, and design of nearby mid- and highrise multifamily buildings along West 155th Street, Sugar Hill’s distinctly modern massing, façade materials, and window arrangement distinguish it from much of the district’s rowhouses and apartment buildings, which date mostly from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Preserving and Expanding Harlem’s Cultural Legacy

Manhattan Community Board 9, which represents the historic district, has cited reversing the decline of Harlem’s creative and cultural institutions as a major priority. Sugar Hill addresses this need with the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling (SHCMAS) on the building’s first floor. Ellen Baxter, founder and executive director of Broadway Housing Communities, says that incorporating a cultural institution into Sugar Hill to provide a communitywide anchor was intended from the project’s conception. Baxter says neighborhood artists have long sought space to showcase their work, and she expects Sugar Hill to help address this need. Set to open in fall 2015, SHCMAS will feature visual art exhibitions, interactive storytelling series, music and dance performances, film screenings, festivals, and hands-on art workshops, with additional programming focused on early childhood arts and storytelling programming.

Photograph of the interior of a classroom with large windows overlooking an urban street.
Classrooms for preschool children are incorporated into the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art of Storytelling. Credit: Wade Zimmerman

Considering the serious socioeconomic difficulties that many Harlem residents face, Baxter acknowledges that some might consider a cultural institution to be a nonnecessity within an affordable housing development. However, Baxter notes that the private sector will provide a more commercially viable use, such as a grocery, elsewhere in the neighborhood, adding, “For the civic health of our neighborhood, we believed a museum would bring people from distant places to see what’s special about a children’s museum of art and storytelling in a historic neighborhood.” Broadway Housing Communities’ leadership also sees the museum as essential for building the neighborhood’s human capital, setting the groundwork for a broader revitalization, and demonstrating that the arts and affordable housing are entirely compatible.

Finances

The $80 million project used government, private equity, and philanthropic funding, but low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) and new markets tax credits (NMTCs) were the primary sources of financing. The residential portion cost $54 million (with $8 million in city subsidies), and the cost of the community facilities totaled $26 million, with $15 million in philanthropic funding, $7 million in NMTCs, and $4 million in city funds. Baxter says that Broadway Housing Communities used the project’s NMTC investments to leverage the significant amount of philanthropic funding.

Affordable Housing with New Community Assets

Although Harlem residents have many pressing needs, such as affordable housing, childcare and education, and employment services, maintaining the neighborhood’s rich cultural legacy is also an important priority. Sugar Hill serves residents in need of housing while also providing a new cultural anchor to sustain Harlem’s artistic heritage. Although a single development cannot solve a city’s affordable housing challenges, Sugar Hill integrates thoughtful programming that can benefit all community residents. As Harlem and other New York City neighborhoods struggle to meet the demand for affordable housing, Sugar Hill shows that an affordable housing development can also include community assets that support personal and neighborhood growth.

Source:

Office of the New York City Comptroller. 2014. “The Growing Gap: New York City’s Housing Affordability Challenge.” Accessed 28 April 2015; U.S. Census Bureau. “2009–2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.” Accessed 21 April 2015; Broadway Housing Communities. 2014. “Sugar Hill.” Accessed 28 April 2015.

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Source:

Broadway Housing Communities. 2014. “Sugar Hill.” Accessed 28 April 2015; Documents provided by Broadway Housing Communities; Mayor’s Office, City of New York. 2012. “Mayor Bloomberg, HPD Commissioner Wambua and Broadway Housing Celebrate Groundbreaking of Sugar Hill Affordable Housing Development in Sugar Hill,” press release PR-266-12, 19 July. Accessed 19 April 2015.

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Source:

Mayor’s Office, City of New York. 2012. “Mayor Bloomberg, HPD Commissioner Wambua and Broadway Housing Celebrate Groundbreaking of Sugar Hill Affordable Housing Development in Sugar Hill,” press release, PR 266-12, 19 July. Accessed 19 April 2015; Interview with Ellen Baxter, executive director of Broadway Housing Communities, 30 April 2015.

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Source:

Philip Habib & Associates. 2010. “Sugar Hill Rezoning: Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS),” ES-12, ES-15, 5-1. Accessed 24 April 2015; Interview with Ellen Baxter, executive director of Broadway Housing Communities, 30 April 2015.

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Source:

Manhattan Community Board 9. 2014. “Statement of Needs (website content has changed and this document is no longer available).” Accessed 27 April 2015; Broadway Housing Communities. 2014. “Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.” Accessed 19 April 2015; Documents provided by Broadway Housing Communities; Interview with Ellen Baxter, 30 April 2015.

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Source:

Manhattan Community Board 9. 2014. “ Statement of Needs (website content has changed and this document is no longer available).” Accessed 27 April 2015; Interview with Ellen Baxter, 30 April 2015.

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Source:

Documents provided by Broadway Housing Communities; Broadway Housing Communities. 2014. “Education at Sugar Hill.” Accessed 19 April 2015; Broadway Housing Communities. 2014. “Sugar Hill Housing and Services.” Accessed 19 April 2015.

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Source:

Mayor’s Office, City of New York. 2012. “Mayor Bloomberg, HPD Commissioner Wambua and Broadway Housing Celebrate Groundbreaking of Sugar Hill Affordable Housing Development in Sugar Hill,” press release, PR 266-12, 19 July. Accessed 19 April 2015; Interview with Ellen Baxter, 30 April 2015; Document provided by Broadway Housing Communities.

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