Seventy-two homes have been rehabilitated and converted to affordable and workforce housing in the Glendale section of Queens, New York. It is the first project to be completed under the city’s Neighborhood Pillars program.

“We are very proud to have taken a non-regulated property and protected its affordability for current and future generations in Glendale,” said Niall J. Murray, managing partner and founder of Rockabill. “This project was truly a team effort, from our residents who trusted us to enter their homes at the height of the pandemic, to our contractors who went to great lengths to accommodate at-home learning and communicate every step of the way.”

Rockabill and Selfhelp Community Services have converted three  buildings into affordable housing with the help fo New York City's Neighborhood Pillars program.
Tamara Frazier Rockabill and Selfhelp Community Services have converted three buildings into affordable housing with the help fo New York City's Neighborhood Pillars program.

Rockabill and co-owner Selfhelp Community Services acquired the three four-story apartment buildings at 71-15, 71-21, and 71-27 65th St. in 2019 through the New York City Acquisition Fund. Prior to the acquisition, residents faced rent increases on an average of $469 per month over several years due to the mix of unregulated and rent-stabilized units in the buildings.

The partners were able to purchase the properties for about $16 million and have put about $5 million of work into the buildings, according to Murray, who formed his company in 2007.

The project utilized the city’s Neighborhood Pillars program, which helps nonprofits and mission-driven organizations acquire and preserve buildings, including ensuring affordability of unregulated units and investment in housing quality.

“We are thrilled to see the first project completed under Neighborhood Pillars accomplish exactly what it is set out to do—lock-in affordability and security for families and communities. Neighborhood Pillars was designed to support nonprofit and mission-driven partners looking to acquire properties for affordable housing, providing stability that is more critical than ever in the wake of COVID-19,” said Louise Carroll, commissioner of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

In line with the goals of the Pillars program, Rockabill worked with HPD, the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), and councilmember Robert Holden on an Article XI exemption to provide all residents with rent-stabilized leases, including those who did not have one previously.

The program’s role included providing a real estate tax exemption in return for entering into a regulatory agreement to make the majority of the apartments affordable for the long term. In addition, the deal utilized a $9.5 million first mortgage from HDC and about $12 million in HPD subsidies as part of the Pillars program. Enterprise Community Partners also provided a loan through the New York City Acquisition Fund.

Under the terms of the 40-year agreement, 11 homes will be affordable for individuals and families earning no more than 50% of the area median income (AMI); 10 homes for those earning no more than 70% of the AMI; 24 homes for those earning no more than 85% of the AMI; 18 homes for those earning no more than 105% of the AMI; and eight homes will be affordable for those earning no more than 120% of the AMI. Of these units, 36 will be permanently affordable, and 15 units have been set aside to serve the formerly homeless.

“I think it’s a model and a path forward for middle-income workforce housing,” Murray said. “We have five tiers of income. The average AMI is 76%. We have a tier at 50% of AMI, and we have a tier up to 120% of AMI. It covers the gamut of affordability.”

Overcoming Rehab Challenges

In addition to making Glendale Neighborhood Pillars project affordable to residents for the long term, the team recently completed rehabbing the buildings.

Residents have upgraded apartments, including new bathrooms. The building’s outdated wiring has been fully replaced to ensure reliable electricity. New windows were installed to improve energy efficiency. Violations were cured, and aging infrastructure—from facade repair to new roofs—was addressed so the properties remain operationally viable for generations to come, said developers.

General contractor ConRock Construction was midway through an extensive tenant-in-place capital improvement campaign when the project was temporarily halted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Rehabbing-in-place in the age of COVID-19 was a reminder of how important clear and cogent communication with residents is to our success,” said Bill O’Connor, co-president of ConRock Construction, a company formed by the principals at Rockabill to focus on tenant-in-place renovations. “A pandemic is not something that you can plan for or run a calculation on, but we got through this by leveraging technology to foster collaboration between construction crews, building teams, ownership, and tenants, keeping everyone safe while getting the job done.”

The original plan was to perform the work while tenants were out during the day, but COVID forced families to be home around the clock, Murray said.

That resulted in the team working closely with the residents and revising its plans to meet new safety measures. It was an extensive effort, but it only delayed the work by about three months, according to Murray.

The actions included creating a mobile app to improve how on-site teams complete daily logs and advanced COVID check-in procedures, altering construction schedules to not disrupt at-home learning for children in the buildings, hiring a resident to serve as an on-site tenant relations coordinator to address construction or COVID-related concerns, and establishing a dedicated phone number and answering service operated by Selfhep to address resident needs and assist with benefits, food deliveries, and in-home case management as well as facilitate communication with high-need or elderly tenants.

Headquartered in New Jersey, Rockabill started by providing consulting services, primarily to nonprofit organizations, and then a natural extension was to expand to do its own development and acquisition deals. Since its founding, the firml has consulted or partnered on the development and financing of over 12,000 affordable housing units throughout New York City and the state,

Selfhelp Community Services was founded in 1936 to help those fleeing Nazi Germany maintain their independence as they worked to forge new lives in America. Today, it provides a broad set of services to more than 20,000 elderly, frail, and vulnerable New Yorkers each year, while remaining the largest provider of comprehensive services to Holocaust survivors in North America.