Revealed: 655 Morris Avenue, South Bronx

655 Morris Avenue, from HPD655 Morris Avenue, from HPD

Another piece of the South Bronx is being filled back in, with groundbreaking late last month for 655 Morris Avenue, a 15-story affordable housing development in Melrose.

The building is being developed by Omni New York, led by Mo Vaughn — a former first baseman for the Red Sox and Mets — and Eugene Schneur, his lawyer. The firm buys and rehabs ailing buildings with Section 8 tenants, and 655 Morris appears to be their first foray into ground-up development.

Montroy Andersen DeMarcois responsible for the building’s design, and Loci Architecture is the architect of record. The façade is a combination of red brick framing and somewhat irregularly placed smooth paneling next to the windows, within the brick squares. Monadnock Construction is the contractor.

Twenty percent of the apartments (which will average 940 square feet) will be set aside for formerly homeless households, and the vast majority – 153 units – will be reserved for those making at most around $35,000 for an individual and $50,000 for a family of four. The remaining 22 units will set aside for wealthier households, making up to nearly $59,000 annually for an individual or $84,000 for a family of four – which works out to the median income for a household in the greater New York area.

The project, as the press release notes, will be among those financed in the first year of Bill de Blasio’s housing program, counting towards the 80,000 new below-market apartments the mayor has pledged to build over 10 years (two years longer than he will presumably be mayor), as part of his housing plan.

The building will contain 9,500 square feet of commercial space and an 8,600-square foot community facility space. Unfortunately, it will also contain a whopping 100 parking spaces. These are for the most part required by the Department of City Planning, which mandates sizable parking areas for buildings of this size throughout nearly all of the outer boroughs, driving up the cost of building housing – costs that are born largely by taxpayers, in the case of subsidized projects like 655 Morris Avenue.

The HDC press release touts the building’s green bonafides – its tentative LEED Silver status and inclusion of “a dynamic cogeneration system that will use a natural gas-fueled engine to generate electricity.”

But these features ring hollow in light of some of the structure’s more unsavory qualities. In addition to the parking, which will likely induce driving amongst households who might otherwise not keep a car, the building also features through-wall air conditioning systems. These involves large perforations in the building’s façade and are not well insulated, reducing efficiency and comfort compared to electric mini-split or centralized systems.

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