A break for hip hop's birthplace
There was new hope for the tenants of 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx yesterday when the city nixed a deal to sell the building - the birthplace of hip-hop — to a real estate developer.
Updated 6:06 p.m.
Residents of the 100-units of affordable housing have been living in fear since learning that real-estate mogul Mark Karasick had made an offer on the Morris Heights property where DJ Kool Herc pioneered the art of mixing beats on dual-turntables in the rec room in 1973. The city could not legally listen to the hip-hop historical argument in considering the sale, but the Department of Housing Preservation and Development did looked at the finances of the sale.
“We couldn’t see a way the rents allowed under Mitchell-Lama could cover the purchase price,” said Neill Coleman, a spokesman for HPD.
Tenants currently pay an average of about $1,200 for the 1, 2, and 3-bedroom units, said Dina Levy of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. The concern is that those rents, which are already close to market rate, would have significantly increased to cover Karasick’s confidential purchase offer, Levy explained.
A woman who answered the phone at Karasick’s office said that he would not be commenting on the city’s decision. Steven Frankel, attorney for the ownership group, 1520 Sedgwick Houses Inc., said that he had no formal notification from HPD regarding their rejection of the deal and could not comment.
But tenants have not won the war yet. The building’s owners have the right to opt out of the Mitchell-Lama program, which offers tax reductions and other incentives in return for providing affordable rent.
If taken off the Mitchell-Lama rolls, the building can be sold to the highest bidder without public review. No application to leave the program has been filed yet, Coleman said.
In the meantime, tenants have found allies in Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and two not-for-profit tenant advocacy groups like Levy’s as well as Tenants and Neighbors. With their assistance, the residents hope to raise money and use subsidies that will allow them to buy the property and turn it into an affordable co-op building.
Schumer said the building's struggle was a small part of a greater need to preserve affordable housing around the city.
“At 1520 Sedgwick, we have the glimmer of hope of stemming the tide,” he said.
-- Matthew Sweeney
Photo: Mary Fountain, a resident of 1520 Sedgwick in the Bronx is fighting to keep the building affordable to tenants. 1520 Sedgwick is credited as the birthplace of hip hop. (amNewYork file/Jefferson Siegel)
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