West 135th St. Study

West 135th St. Study


This ten-building, 100% affordable, Section-8 housing complex on one of Harlem’s most storied blocks had fallen into disrepair. The initial challenge was to manage the construction administration for an out-of-town architect of record. The challenge expanded when the client asked the firm to perform an overall assessment and master plan for the further improvement of the complex. The biggest obstacle to overcome was the need to perform the assessment while the entire complex was fully occupied. Further challenging was the skeptical attitude of many of the residents; exposed to poor conditions and broken promises in the past, Michael had to prove that the team could listen and learn, meet their needs, and be responsive to their concerns. Finally, doing this under the height of Covid restrictions posed a further difficulty to overcome.

The impact of this critical program is measured both in the improvement of the lives of the hundreds of families living in the complex, and in the care with which the development’s management can plan for further improvements to come.
Under the original contract, some units received improvements based on an intricate formula ultimately dictated by the client’s own earlier analysis of needs and funding budget. This created friction: some people had work done that others did not. To address this dissatisfaction, Michael was retained to do a complete assessment of conditions, listening to residents, tenant representatives, management and staff. All 198 apartments were inspected. Over several months, Michael and his staff visited every apartment. This all happened in the spring and summer of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, making the work all the harder. Michael and his staff took special care to consider residents’ concerns, solicit and address their complaints, and work within their schedules. Inspections involved visits to occupied apartments, where photographs and data were entered into the software.
The final report was crafted to best help management identify problems and craft effective solutions. It not only presented raw data; it analyzed it to understand the underlying problems and systemic flaws in the buildings and in how they were managed. The document was designed carefully to be useful to a busy, highly staffed developer client, with information presented in simple graphics that would help a senior executive digest the main points quickly while giving more junior staff data to back it up. The report also included clear recommendations for renovation priorities and management changes that would address residents’ concerns systemically.
The desperate need for low income housing means not only building new housing but maintaining existing stock. This project, on a nationally-renowned site, is an example of how to grapple with the complex issues affecting low income residents in older buildings.