Northern Manhattan Speaks Out on City’s Inwood Library Plans

Northern Manhattan Speaks Out on City’s Inwood Library Plans

Published: 
February 2017

Early in January, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development announced that it plans to demolish the Inwood Library. HPD officials told a Manhattan Community Board 12 meeting that they intend to sell the library’s site, on Broadway between Dyckman and Academy streets, to a private developer, which will then build a new “state-of-the-art” library, topped by a building that would contain “100 percent affordable housing.”

No formal plan has been presented yet, but HPD officials are preparing to solicit proposals from developers, and anticipate that construction will begin in 2019. The Robin Hood Foundation, an antipoverty nonprofit, would contribute $5 million to help keep the housing “affordable.” 

Later in January, HPD hosted a series of “visioning workshops” in Inwood, promoting them as a tool to engage the community in the planning, zoning, and design of the development. Many neighborhood residents were not impressed. 

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, who has rented an apartment in Inwood since the 1990s, said he had expected the workshop to be “a forum where people could ask questions, one where you have a series of speakers delineating the various aspects of the project.” Instead, he felt the session was “disingenuous.” 

“We were presented with panels of information that, just by looking at it, you couldn’t make sense of what you were seeing,” he said. 

The “Building for You” panels invited residents to weigh in on their preferences about how space and resources would be allotted in the future building by putting colored stickers on boards with different ideas. Post-its were offered to those who had specific questions about each board. This frustrated people who thought the workshop would be a platform for participatory brainstorming by community residents. “This entire process feels like window dressing for decisions already taken,” one person wrote on three of the white stickers provided for messages.

Others were frustrated by the two options presented on the affordable-housing worksheet. They would base rents on the metropolitan Area Median Income, which many said were too high for what most people in Inwood actually earn.  

Option “A” would offer 40 percent of the units for low-income families earning up to 50 percent of AMI, or $40,800 a year for a family of three, and the rest for families earning 60 percent of AMI, or $48,960.  In Option “B,” half the apartments would go to households making 30 to 60 percent of AMI ($24,500 to $48,960 for a family of three), and half to moderate-income households at 80 to 130 percent of AMI ($65,250 to $106,080). 

The median income for Inwood and Washington Heights is estimated to be between $37,000 and $42,000.

“I raised my son in that library,” said Peg Rapp. “It’s a big part of my life and my community.” She stressed the urgent need for more affordable housing that reflects residents’ actual incomes, and was disturbed about the possibility of “some private developer charging the library rent.”

The most obvious question for some residents was why wasn’t preserving the library listed as a viable option? Other questions about the potential for finding a nonprofit developer, community land trusts, and how to maintain library services while the new building was being constructed floated around the room, as community members received few or no concrete answers to their inquiries. 

The Northern Manhattan Not For Sale Coalition is planning on having a community meeting in the coming weeks, which it says will be a space that allows “true brainstorming.”

“That library is a staple of the community,” Gonzalez said at a meeting of the 1-19 Seaman Avenue tenants’ association in early February, “a unifying convergence point for both east and west of Broadway.” 

 

For information about attending the forthcoming community meeting, please e-mail Nmn4sale@gmail.com.