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Habitat for Humanity New York City launches first NSP2 project

By Julie Gurnon

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Three empty lots in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhood of eastern Brooklyn will accommodate a new four-story, 12-unit building with two- and three-bedroom condominiums. The project is the first one undertaken by Habitat for Humanity New York City with partial funding from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2.

Residents of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn have passed by the littered, vacant lots on St. John’s Place countless times. But that is about to change. Habitat for Humanity New York City recently celebrated the start of its first NSP2 project.

About 85 people attended the Feb. 15 groundbreaking ceremony on a bitterly cold workday. Most of it was held in a former beauty shop next to the property, until everyone bundled up and headed outside for the big (but brief) finale.

The scene will be much warmer next year, when residents will welcome the sight and sounds of St. John’s Residences Condominium. The new four-story, 12-unit building will help hardworking families remain in the community, families who never thought that owning a home in New York City was possible.

But it is possible, and it will be for 88 additional homeowners, as Habitat NYC continues its plan to build or renovate 100 new or foreclosed homes by February 2013 with funding from the second round of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Habitat NYC is one of seven affiliates partnering with Habitat for Humanity International, the grant recipient. HFHI was awarded $137.6 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the partnerships don’t stop there. Projects like St. John’s Residences Condominium also rely on additional support from local businesses, nonprofits and government agencies, many of whom attended the groundbreaking.

Among them was Marian Zucker, president of the Office of Finance and Development at New York State Homes and Community Renewal, which offers specialized mortgages for Habitat families through the New York State Mortgage Agency.

“St. John’s Residences is exactly the type of investment that HCR considers a priority,” she said “The project brings together partners from the private and public sectors and will provide affordable homeownership in an area where housing costs have been rising dramatically.”

Other key partners include the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Amalgamated Bank. The HPD sold the vacant land to Habitat NYC for $12,000, and Amalgamated Bank is providing the construction loan. The Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, New York State Homes and Community Renewal, and a new corporate partner, Tradeweb, are providing generous financial support.

Affordable housing continues to be a huge need in New York City, especially in neighborhoods like Ocean Hill-Brownsville, where working people are often forced to spend too much of their incomes on housing, live in substandard conditions or double up with friends and relatives. About 85,000 people live in Ocean-Hill Brownsville, which encompasses roughly 2.5 miles in eastern Brooklyn.

“We have received thousands of requests for homes from hardworking families in Ocean Hill-Brownsville,” said Josh Lockwood, executive director for Habitat NYC. “We are thrilled to offer 12 remarkable families the opportunity to build their new homes alongside hundreds of big-hearted NYC volunteers.”

To allow affordable home ownership in a high-cost urban setting like New York, Habitat NYC gives homebuyers access to low-interest mortgages through a partnership with the State of New York Mortgage Agency. Habitat homeowners provide a 1-percent down payment, receive a 30-year mortgage at a fixed rate of 2 percent and help build their homes. The two- and three-bedroom condos will range in price from $169,995 to $186,995 and be LEED-certified and Energy Star-compliant.

Building in Ocean Hill-Brownsville isn’t new to Habitat NYC. The affiliate already has built an affordable multi-housing unit with 41 homes there and another 50 homes in nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant. All of Habitat NYC’s 100 proposed NSP2 homes are slated for these neighborhoods.

Although homeowners for St. John’s Residences have not been selected yet, nearby residents attended the event, including soon-to-be Habitat NYC homeowner Juliet Smith, who came directly from her overnight shift as a city emergency medical technician. With her hardhat in place and a shovel in hand, Smith joined the others who made the first ceremonial dig.

“I would never in a million years have thought I’d be a homeowner,” she said. “No matter how I crunched the numbers, I didn’t think this could happen.”

Source: Habitat for Humanity New York City, press release dated Feb. 15, 2011.