Housing, Urban Renewal & Urban Design

From: New Directions: A 197-A Plan for Manhattan Community district 11 (Revised 1999)


East Harlem had 42,415 dwelling units, according to the 1990 census. The housing structures in East Harlem comprise of four to six story tenements, row houses and high-rise public housing developments with pockets of brownstones dispersed throughout the district. A majority of the occupied dwelling units are in high rise (seven stories or above) buildings constructed after 1940.

East Harlem is a community with a diverse street scape that changes from block to block. The community district is an area where the built environment is characterized by a variety of building heights, inconsistent street walls, and infrastructure or developments that create distinct boundaries. East Harlem contains an historic district, as well as many landmarks, notable buildings and open spaces.

East Harlem is comprised of brownstones and walk-ups, commercial areas, high-rise housing complexes, large institutions and "super block" developments. In fact, East Harlem has the highest concentration of public housing developments in New York City. These developments are structures surrounded by open green areas, often on "super blocks" (blocks that were merged with other blocks, the roadway eliminated).

The existence of "super blocks" make it difficult to travel east to west through certain parts of the district by foot or car. For example, from Fifth Avenue to First Avenue, there are no cross streets between East 112th and East 115th Streets. The other high-rise super block public housing developments are shown on Map 6. The major cross-town streets in East Harlem are East 106th, East 116th and East 125th Streets.

These tower-in-the-park super block developments also tend to discourage the pedestrian street activity because they interrupt the ground floor retail continuity. The retail continuity is inconsistent throughout much of the district. Although the public housing complexes may have open spaces and other amenities, these assets were sometimes poorly designed. Many of these flaws have been corrected by NYCHA open space rehabilitation in the 1990s.

The Metro North Viaduct, running the length of the district along Park Avenue, divides the district into two parts. From East 97th Street to East 111th Street the viaduct is made of stone and from East 111th Street to East 133rd Street it is made of steel. While the arches of the stone viaduct have architectural character, they impede visibility and circulation.

The pedestrian underpasses of the viaduct are narrow and dark. The crosswalks leading to the underpasses are poorly marked. The available space under the steel viaduct between East 115th
and East 116th Streets is currently being used by La Marqueta and at East 125th Street by the Metro North station.

As of 1990, East Harlem had 42,415 dwelling units which was 27% less than the 1940 high of 58,889. During the past 50 years, East Harlem lost over 16,000 units of housing with nearly 5,000 units lost between 1980 and 1990 alone. While 17,323 public housing units were built between 1941 and 1989(7) the district still suffers from severe housing shortages. Furthermore, the construction of high rise public housing units have dramatically shifted the type of housing options for East Harlem residents. Forty percent of the total housing stock is now found in public housing complexes and another 22% in other publicly funded subsidized and restricted housing(8). These require certifications, on-the-books jobs and tax records that prohibit access to many of the hard working but undocumented newcomers and residents in East Harlem.



1980 Housing Units

1990 Housing Units

% change


East Harlem










New York City





SOURCE: Department of City Planning. Neighborhood Land Disposition Plan: Northern East Harlem (New York: 1993).

Half of all housing units (public and private) are found in high-rise buildings with 50 or more units; 23 percent are found in buildings with 20-49 units; 19 percent are found in buildings with 5-units; and four percent are in structures with less than five units.

East Harlem has a higher concentration of vacant housing units (11 percent in 1990) than Manhattan (7 percent) and New York City (5 percent). The CIVITAS survey in 1997-8 found 2,562 vacant apartments on the avenues and five commercial cross streets alone.(9)

Homeowners are few. In contrast to the eight percent in Manhattan and the 22 percent in New York City, only five percent of East Harlem residents own their housing units. Of the 95 percent of the population that rents, only 55 percent five in units that have rents stabilized by government regulation. The 40% who live in NYCHA developments have rent set at 30% of their income.

7. New York City Housing Authority Project Data, 1/1/94, listed in Calvert, Rebuilding the Main Streets of East Harlem , CIVITAS, 1998, R. 27.

8 Calvert, op cit. p. 29. "Not for profit Housing Development Data".

9 CIVITAS Citizens, East Harlem Commercial Corridors Property Survey, 1998, p. 5

The median contract rent in 1990 was $323 which represented a 25 percent increase from 1980 ($259). Forty-five percent of the renters in East Harlem pay less that $300 rent per month. Thirty-one percent pay between $300 and $499; 13.5 percent between $500 and $699; and 9.7 percent pay $700 or more. The median gross rent to income ratio is 30. One-third of the population spends over 35 percent of its household income on rent. This places East Harlem third for the highest in the rent to income ratio in Manhattan.

While East Harlem has a relatively high vacancy rate (counting unrentable apartments sealed up), the occupied units tend to be overcrowded. For the first time since 1940, the number of persons per housing unit began to increase from 2.44 to 2.61 in 1990. Close to 15 percent of the population live in quarters that are considered to be overcrowded.

The Community Board estimates that almost half of the people in public housing are "doubled if up .

(Click here to view Major Housing map - 329K)
(Click here to view Urban Renewal Areas map - 328K)




George Washington Carver



DeWitt Clinton Houses



East River Houses



Thomas Jefferson Houses



James Weldon Johnson Houses



Herbert Lehman Village



Lexington Houses



Abraham Lincoln Houses



Senator Robert Taft Houses



Senator Robert Wagner Houses



George Washington Houses



Gaylord White Houses



Jackie Robinson Houses



Metro North Houses



Woodrow Wilson Houses






SOURCE: New York City Housing Authority. Tenant Data Characteristics of Tenants as of January 1. 1993 (New York: 1993) (10)

10 This chart omits Franklin Plaza built by NYCHA, three rehabilitation projects and two UPACA Sites.

In addition, a substantial number of publicly subsidized housing has been constructed, such as, Franklin Plaza Cooperative (1,63 5 units built by NYCHA), Riverton (1,3 84), Taino Towers (656), 1199 Plaza (1,500), the East Harlem Triangle developments (696 units), UPACA developments (1,170 units), Hope Community's various rehabilitations (1,037), Harlem Gateway and North General Hospital's Maple Court cooperatives. In addition, there are 6 Section 202 Senior Citizens developments plus 3 more in the pipeline. Finally, another 6,500 units have been rehabilitated under the City's ten year plan, most sponsored by local community-based agencies, as well as 2,141 developed by private entrepreneurs".(11)

Although the average age for all housing structures is 50 years old or older, the rehabilitation of a majority of buildings in East Harlem and the increasing activity of the private market give cause for optimism. Still in 1990 14% of the housing stock was rated poor and more than 12% of the buildings had five or more structural deficiencies.

Public housing complexes, mainly located below 116th Street, are typically clusters of fourteen story buildings which contain an average of 1,000 dwelling units.

Many of the public housing complexes provide services for tenants, often operated by a corporation of the Tenants Association. The George Washington Carver Houses, for example, has a community center and a mental health clinic. The center also provides children's programs, children's health services and preschool cooperative programs.

The CBOs in East Harlem were active participants in the Ten Year Plan of the City of New York, using Federal programs such as Section Eight, alternative management programs, low income housing tax credit, and Federal senior housing. Since 1986, the number of new housing units has decreased annually but the number of units rehabilitated each year by the community based organizations had increased markedly.

The number of rehabilitated units financed by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development has increased in the past few years. Since 1987, over 700 dwelling units have been rehabilitated. Typically thirty percent of those units were for the homeless and two percent were for the elderly and handicapped. Renovations have occurred at 13 public housing complexes.

Recent bold developments by the East Harlem Renewal Agency, North General Hospital, New York City Housing Partnership and NYCHA's co-op housing are expanding the ownership numbers. More homes, condominiums, and cooperatives are in the pipeline.

11 "See Calvert, G., Rebuilding Main Street in the Village of East Harlem. (CIVITAS, New York)pp.26-33.

The number of seniors over 65 in 1990 was 12,717, a six percent increase since 1980. If these numbers remain constant, approximately 9,400 additional people will reach retirement age by the year 2000. There are presently 13 senior centers that accommodate their needs.

There are approximately 12,160 people, or 11 percent of the population in the district, who have a disability that limits their self care skills. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with AIDS are also considered handicapped and are covered under the law. East Harlem has the highest proportion of adults with AIDS in New York City.

Presently, East Harlem has housing developments serving the elderly and disabled: the Twee Mill House on East 126th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues and the Jackie Robinson Houses between East 128th and East 129th Streets on Lexington Avenue. Both are subsidized by the Section 202 Program. Other developments serve mothers with AIDS, youth in half-way houses, shelters fro the homeless, and treatment centers for addicts.

Significant acres of land were set aside in the 1960s for urban renewal areas. While the concept did accomplish something in other parts of the City, the low market estimates and the lack of bank participation kept investors from rebuilding on these urban renewal blocks. These urban renewal areas were cleared, removing factories, stores, churches, and social clubs, with a disastrous economic and employment impact on East Harlem. What resulted in these urban renewal areas were weed-strewn blocks 80,000 square feet (or two acres) of vacant land for over thirty years.

Finally home ownership plans have been approved and state housing trust fund development are in the pipeline. The overall impact of these renewal programs needs to be carefully examined by the City and CB# 11.

A grass-roots alternative to development is the construction of long-term interim site use, creating its own constituency and support for the preservation of ball fields, gardens, parking, and summer events.

Others maintain support for a strong housing stock as important to the success of East Harlem's neighborhoods. There is the potential to redevelop the abundance of vacant land into mixed income housing, rehabilitate old brownstones and improve the condition and appearance of the public housing complexes. Some specific recommendations are outlined below:

Neighborhood Strategy Recommendations


1 Promote a wide range of housing including middle-income housing by rehabilitating vacant buildings and constructing new mixed-income development on existing vacant lots. Construction of small homes should be part of a home ownership program. Neighborhood-based housing development groups and institutions must be given priority and support these efforts. CB# 11 encourages the NYC Housing Partnership homes development.

2. Identify and renovate all occupied and vacant City-owned buildings through programs such as the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Program (NEP), the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) and other useful rehabilitation programs.

3. As the number of elderly and handicapped residents increase, their social service and housing needs must be addressed through subsidized housing by City, State and Federal programs.

4. Housing for East Harlem residents with special needs includes mental health, mental retardation, ex-offenders, veterans and people with AIDS and the silent homeless doubled up in our apartments. Proposed special needs housing must consider balanced, fair share, citywide development approach.

5. The City should review if code violations exist on any privately-owned buildings currently warehoused or boarded up. The city must enforce code violations if owners of privately-owned boarded up buildings are found to be in violation.

6. The City must use loan programs to assist private owners of boarded-up apartments to rehabilitate for occupancy. CB# 11 seeks at least 200 units per year.

7. The City should repossess property purchased at city auctions where the buyer failed to fulfill the purchase contracts for improvements and reclaim these buildings for local development.

8. The City must enforce laws against illegal commercial activities in its buildings. The City should establish a site selection committee that would include CB# 11 and law enforcement agencies that would screen applicants for commercial tenancy in City owned buildings.


HPD was formerly the second largest owner and manager of property in East Harlem. HPD housing managers still have a large caseload, making it difficult to supervise the building superintendents who are responsible for maintenance, sanitation, exterior repairs and reporting illicit drug activity. Also more supervision of HPD service contracts is needed for capital improvements, roof repairs, snow removal and boiler replacements until the completion of the much awaited transfer of all HPD buildings to tenant cooperatives, not-for profit ownership and management, or private ownership.

1 HPD must comply with and vigorously enforce all housing laws, health and sanitation rules and regulations and recycling code enforcement.

2. HPD must never consolidate any of their buildings without consultation with CB# 11. There should be adequate prior notice given to tenants and block associations. Consolidated buildings must have gas, electricity and water turned off, windows sealed, doors and other openings sealed with cinder blocks. The City should monitor consolidated buildings on a regular basis to prevent squatters and other illegal activities from occurring.

3. HPD should follow Community Board # 11 in allocating a special housing preference for veterans of military service for the United States.

4. All HFD occupied and un occupied buildings should be transferred to private ownership by the year 2004. Owners could include occupants (as in cooperatives and condominiums), not-for-profits, or private ownership.

5. HPD must cooperated with East Harlem in promoting an average growth per year of 600 units above the number of units demolished each year.


1 . Whenever displacement of any tenants may result from any public or private development plan, a relocation protection plan is required before any displacement occurs and should follow U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines. A relocation plan must be submitted to CB# 11 for its review prior
to any displacement.

2. If a tenant prefers, all relocation must be in the East Harlem community and to the equal or better housing. Relocated residents are to be given priority in returning to the new rehabilitated housing development.


Community Board I I is concerned with the need for upgrading the East Harlem NYCHA buildings and public spaces. There has been moderate and commendable open space redesign, however, more maintenance and landscaping needs to occur.

1. NYCHA should recognize that open spaces as a community resource. Pursue the redesign of the NYCHA open spaces with the involvement and approval of all NYCHA Tenant Associations. NYCHA should incorporate retail uses as well as not-for-profit community uses within the NYCHA buildings and open spaces.

2. NYCHA must implement Housing and Urban Development 964 guidelines that protects NYCHA tenant rights and the rights of the NYCHA Tenants Associations.

3. Legislation should be proposed allowing NYCHA Tenants Associations to collect established fees from all residents for acquiring security guards.

4. Community district jurisdiction must include the delivery of NYCHA services. Current NYC Charter does not mandate a review of NYCHA services by Community Districts because of NYCHA's federal agency status. Community Districts should have oversight responsibilities in areas such as East Harlem where 40% of the population is housed by NYCHA.

5. NYCHA needs to reapportion the current NYCHA districts coterminous with East Harlem.

6. Community Board 11 is open to new NYCHA management alternatives. The City should conduct a feasibility study on the current ownership of NYCHA housing and review the possibility of turning over ownership to a private or nonprofit ownership or tenant management. Other operational and
management options should be explored.

7. NYCHA should develop a special drug task force program and expand the drug elimination program for the NYCHA drug infested buildings.

8. NYCHA should consider providing on site housing security guards to supplement current NYPD efforts.

9. NYCHA should study the lighting around its development in East Harlem.

Lighting should be expanded to include one light every 25 feet on center and placed lower than 12 feet from the sidewalks and pathways.

10. NYCHA should install garbage compactors in projects located in East Harlem and reexamine sanitation and refuse collection procedures. Such compactors must attractive, landscaped, and frequently cleaned.

11. NYCHA should reexamine parking lot needs and operations.

13. NYCHA should allow installation of public, coin-operated toilets for use by the needy a long way from their apartments.


1. The City in consultation with CB# 11 should review all currently designated urban renewal areas in East Harlem to determine whether their status has encouraged or deterred development. If a negative assessment is determined from this review, the City should revise or de- designate the sites or land
currently located in Urban Renewal Areas.


1. The City must enforce night lights requirements at entrance to all buildings.

2. At least one light (minimum equivalent 200 wattage incandescent lamp) lower than 12 feet high, should be required and placed every 25 feet, on center, on all institutions, stores, schools, hospitals, recreation areas, churches and residential buildings.

(Repeat # II. 4 All City-owned occupied and vacant buildings in East Harlem should be transferred to private ownership, whether the Housing Development Finance Cooperatives, nonprofit or private ownership by the year 2004.)

Other Sections of the 197-A Plan

History of East Harlem
Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile
Land Use and Zoning
City-Owned Vacant Property
Housing and Urban Renewal
Economic Development
The Waterfront
Tranportation and Infrastructure
Institutional and Historical Resources
Non-Profits At Work In East Harlem
For Profits At Work In East Harlem

Maps (all pertain to Community Board # 11)
The maps are in Gif format. File sizes are big, but you can better see the details in the maps.

Community Board District # 11 (162K)
Population of Race and Ethnicity by Census Track (679K
Land Use (Color 579K)
Zoning Map (244K)
Major Housing Developments (329K)
Urban Renewal Areas (328K)
Empowerment Zone (630K)
Economic Developement (628K)
Public Transportation (672K)
Historic District and Landmarks (610K)
Crossroads (589K)


Biography | Boards | Calendar | Discussion| Elected Officials | Facts | FAQ | Guest Book |Hall of Fame
History | Institutions | Links | Logos | News | Parks | People | Photos | Politics | Search | Home

Copyright 1996-2004, All Rights Reserved, East Harlem.com :. Webmaster: webmaster@east-harlem.com Designed and Hosted by Twincom