The renaissance of Harlem into one of the most sought after neighborhoods in NYC is a true success story. With a focus on the redevelopment of Frederick Douglass Boulevard, the Gateway to Harlem, it caps a decade of collaboration between public & private entities and has produced over 800 units of quality affordable housing and scores of new retail spaces.
Harlem visionary & former Manhattan Borough President, C. Virginia Fields, played a pivotal role in Harlem's resurgence. As a Harlem resident and former Chair of Community Board 10 and City Council Member representing Central Harlem, Ms. Fields recognized that Harlem not only lacked affordable housing for her constituents but also for a diversity of urban professionals with a mix of incomes, interests, and needs.
She believed that restoring Frederick Douglass Boulevard to its former glory would be a catalyst for development throughout the community. "If you build it in Harlem, they will come!" declared Ms. Fields in her January 1998 inaugural speech as Manhattan Borough President. Most significantly, Ms. Fields laid the groundwork with the Department of City Planning to upgrade zoning in south-central Harlem. This allowed higher density residential development and ground floor retail opportunities, leading to an increased housing supply on major avenues. This in turn made adjoining vacant land and neighboring blocks more attractive for development, spurring the construction of additional affordable housing units to stabilize the community.
CPC & City agencies shared Ms. Fields' vision for Harlem's rebirth. In an effort to revitalize and shrink the City-owned distressed property inventory, agencies such as the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) offered financial incentives for property acquisition and rehabilitation. HPD sold City-owned vacant, multifamily buildings to experienced developers for rehabilitation into affordable rental apartment buildings using private financing and equity. CPC financed many of these transactions, providing hundreds of low- and moderate-income units between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 110th and 117th Sts. CPC participated in the financing of many projects under HDC's New Housing and Opportunity Program (HOP) which provided affordable housing developers with below-market mortgages.
NYC’s incentive programs gave Harlem’s developers access to subsidies unavailable in other parts of the city. As the area began to stabilize, HPD launched the Cornerstone Affordable Housing Program, a multifamily new construction initiative to create mixed-income housing on City-owned land.
To promote these incentive programs, in 1999 Ms. Fields organized a Harlem bus tour for developers, City agencies, and CPC to see the area’s tremendous possibilities firsthand. CPC quickly partnered with a select group of affordable multifamily housing developers. Noteworthy CPC projects along the Gateway corridor now include:
The CPC and HDC - funded Gateway Phase I, comprising 50 units and two commercial spaces. Gateway is one of more than 40 New HOP projects HDC has financed throughout the City. The combination of public/private financing enabled the project to offer below-market rents, meeting the needs of middle-income tenants.
Triangle Court, a milestone in the revitalization of Frederick Douglass Boulevard, attracted a diversity of mixed-income tenants and paved the way for mixed-income housing development. Five years of effort led by CPC, HPD, HDC, Community Board 10, Ms. Fields, and local elected officials transformed decaying buildings and vacant lots into 187 affordable, mixed-income rental units.
Concurrent with Harlem’s rebirth, the real estate market experienced a boom in the 1990s. New, market-driven condo and co-op complexes emerged, including SOHA 118, a 15-story, 91-unit building at 118th St.; Susan's Court, a 125-unit mixed-income housing development on Manhattan Ave. between 119th & 120th Sts., and Phase II of Gateway with 42 middle-income condos. The Douglass (financed by CPC with 20% of the apartments set aside at reduced prices for low-income buyers) and The Livmor condos (built by CPC’s development arm, CPC Resources, Inc.) which both qualify for a 25-year 421-a tax abatement, opened in 2009, and the trendy Aloft, Harlem's first new hotel 40+ years, opened its doors in late 2010.
These projects along with many others accompanied by robust retail have contributed to the stabilization of Eighth Avenue & surrounding areas. Today, Harlem maintains its distinctive character with traditional soul food and African restaurants, bodegas, and acclaimed jazz clubs, alongside newer arrivals such as French-themed restaurant Chocolat, Starbucks, an assortment of bakeries, beer gardens, and more.