Culver El Project: 36 Affordable Condos Have Been Sitting Empty For Over A Year

Culver El Project: 36 Affordable Condos Have Been Sitting Empty For Over A Year
The Culver El building in Boro Park. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

The Culver El Affordable Housing Project on 37th Street would bring large affordable condominiums to the area. The city-initiated rezoning was approved in October of 2010, but ten years later, amid a growing housing crisis, just 36 affordable condos have been built, and they too, sit empty.

The Culver El Rezoning on the edge of Borough Park and Kensington was first announced in 2005 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to facilitate the sale of city-owned land to develop affordable housing in the area.

“This is a community where the population is growing more than three times faster than the supply of housing,” Bloomberg said, the New York Daily News reported at the time.  “So the demand for affordable housing is very high.”

The area between 12th Avenue and 14th Avenue between 36th and 40th Streets was rezoned from manufacturing to mixed-use to allow for residential development.

Before rezoning, the area was home to the Pergament/Bergament Department Store and a mix of auto repair shops, manufacturers of religious goods, and warehouses. These days it boasts a number of large religious schools, including some still under construction, a storage facility and a large appliance store, as well as nine empty new residential buildings developed under the Culver El Affordable Housing Project.

Pergament/Bergament store is long gone. Liena Zagare/Bklyner.

They were built along the 37th Street portion between 12th Avenue and 14th Avenue, there were two 50-foot wide parcels of city-owned land that was home to the former BMT Culver Elevated Shuttle transit line and the ground level South Brooklyn Railroad. Service on the elevated transit line was terminated in 1975 and on the ground-level railroad in the early 1980s and was demolished a few years later. Since then, portions of the area have been disposed of to private businesses for parking and manufacturing uses.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) sold the remaining strip to The Southern Brooklyn Community Organization (SBCO), the housing division of Agudath Israel of America for $36,000. The original plan called for two development phases leading to the construction of 17 4-unit condo buildings.

Even though rezoning was approved in 2010, construction did not start until November of 2014. It took another six years to finish the first nine four story and very plain looking buildings – till April of 2019, according to PropertyShark.

According to the SBCO, applications for the Culver El affordable housing lottery opened in 2018. The 36 affordable condos are made up of three- and four-bedroom units with the estimated monthly housing expenses varying depending on household size. The three-bedroom units allow three to seven people per unit, with an annual income range between $77,800 thousand to $142,340 thousand. The four-bedroom units allow four to nine people, with an annual income range between $92,250 thousand to $160,600 thousand. The condos also supposedly include amenities such as balconies, side and rear yards, cellar storage, and limited on-site parking, though none are visible from the street side.

Applications closed for Culver El in 2019 and only about 1,100 people applied in total. People have been selected for the 36 units but none have been approved.

While most affordable housing in NYC comes in form of subsidized rental apartments, every now and then there are opportunities for affordable homeownership. Qualifying buyers get help from the city to acquire the properties, and in cases where city land subsidy is involved, the homeowners are subject to additional conditions on the resale of their property.

The Culver El building. Liena Zagare/Bklyner.

Adele, who does intake for Culver El and answered the phone at SBCO, but would not give her last name, told Bklyner that they hope to have people moved in by 2021, however, application approvals have not been made and it is a “technical process.”

“The picking process goes through HPD, they run the vetting to make sure that these people are eligible and that has not begun yet,” Adele said.

Jeremy House, from HPD, told Bklyner that the hold up on moving people into the condos is due to the need for the Attorney General’s office to approve the Offering Plan. Once the approval takes place, they will initiate a review of applicant eligibility. No definite date for move-in is set, but House said we can “expect move-ins in the coming months.”

“Affordable homeownership is more important than ever, which is why we are committed to completing the Culver El Project,” House said. “Once the offering plan is approved by the Attorney General, we plan to soon start welcoming residents to their new homes.”

Attorney General Letitia James’s office did not comment before publication, but have since confirmed that following a delay in receiving the required offering plans, the plans are now in review.

Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, who represents Boro Park, gave a tour of the affordable housing condos in April of 2019, addressing housing concerns in his district. He played an important role in getting this project completed, according to The Yeshiva World News.

Today, there is still a rent burden in the Boro Park community, with 60.3% of households spending 35% or more of their income on rent.

“The Culver El Project built on 37th Street represents a great step forward towards affordable home ownership in Boro Park,” Assemblyman Eichenstein told Bklyner. “Despite the unexpected length of the approval process, I am excited for the day that residents can finally move in. While this project has taken much longer than anticipated, it is my understanding that at this point, the approval from the Attorney General is forthcoming.”

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