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April 2014 Grants Newsletter

Atoning for Sins of the Past

It’s no longer called the Erbograph Building. The former film-storage warehouse (pictured in black and white) on West 146 Street in Harlem was demolished in 2010 to make way for the Dr. Muriel Petioni Plaza, an affordable housing apartment building for seniors (pictured in color). Photos by Jonathan Rose Companies
Thousands of acres in New York City are polluted with lead and petroleum—industrial wastes that brand the land as “brownfields.” These properties once were home to railroad yards and utility sites, gas stations, dry cleaners, as well as manufactured gas plants that converted coal, wood or oil to fuel for heating and cooking. Many sites have been abandoned, but developers are cleaning them up—and offering communities a chance to build affordable housing and businesses.

The Erbograph Building in central Harlem, a film-storage warehouse, sat empty for half a century, contaminated with asbestos, lead, and gasoline. In 2011, it was converted to a green building, providing affordable housing for seniors and jobs for the neighborhood.

To get the Harlem project off the ground, New Partners for Community Revitalization, a 13-yearold nonprofit, provided technical and financial assistance. It helped the local nonprofit, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, inspect the property and hire and manage environmental consultants to assess the building’s condition.

But that’s only part of what New Partners does to revitalize communities blighted by brownfields. It also lobbies for resources and policy changes so communities have the funds to make decisions about their neighborhoods’ future and encourage developers to build projects consistent with their plan by earning bigger tax credits.

The Trust is renewing its support for New Partners with a $50,000 grant to protect funding for the City’s Office of Environmental Remediation. The new mayor’s focus on affordable housing will require the rezoning of brownfields to be successful, says Jody Kass, New Partners’ executive director. In the next step, New Partners will push for better State policies to benefit the City’s neighborhoods.

“When we started, there weren’t laws or programs encouraging people to clean up these properties,” Kass says. “Where redevelopment was occurring, it was typically for noxious uses, such as waste-transfer stations.”

New Partners is focused on communities with the most health problems—neighborhoods like Mott Haven and East Harlem.

“New Partners was instrumental in the 1990s in reforming the State’s approach to brownfields,” says Arturo Garcia-Costas, The Trust’s new program officer for national and City environment. “They’re still the most effective voice for ensuring redevelopment makes sense and gives a boost to poor communities.”

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