New Housing in Harlem Carries Forth Father Lott's Vision



When Father Robert Lott first purchased the land that All Saints Housing, a new 99-unit, three-building development in Harlem, now sits on in the late 1980s, the garbage-strewn block on East 131st Street between Madison and Park avenues wasn't in great demand.

"There were burnt-out buildings, there were abandoned buildings and the city was selling the lots for a dollar," recalled James F. Janeski, president and chief executive officer of Lott Community Development Corporation, the nonprofit, affordable housing company that now bears its founder's name.

"Now things have changed completely. Any building, any vacant land is valuable and our competition is not with other nonprofit developers, but with for-profit developers. So the potential for doing affordable housing in New York City, especially Manhattan, has begun to dry up."

The need, however, is greater than ever. Some 3,700 people applied last February when Lott conducted a lottery for the apartments. All the apartments are reserved for low and moderate income households, with incomes up to 60 percent of area median income, or $46,080 for a family of four. There are 20 apartments for formerly homeless families and individuals.

On Sept. 14, Archbishop Dolan blessed the new housing complex, which already has a scattering of residents, though final touchup work is still being done. Most new tenants are due to move in by next month.

The complex consists of two new buildings and an older one that has undergone extensive renovation and rehabilitation. It also features a small courtyard containing a state-of-the-art children's playground.

Enterprise Community Partners Inc., a leading provider of development capital and expertise in affordable housing, supplied $10.9 million in tax credit equity and a $300,000 pre-development loan for the project. Other partners include the New York City Housing Development Corporation, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Victoria Shire, Enterprise's New York deputy director, said the relationship with Lott is a natural one.

"We've done a number of projects with them, all over East Harlem. We're both committed to reclaiming blocks that were abandoned and bringing affordable housing to low-income families."

Ms. Shire sees faith communities as essential allies in the struggle to maintain affordable housing. Enterprise traces its own roots to the faith community. Jim Rouse, a successful real estate developer, founded Enterprise in 1982 with his wife, Patty, after he met with a mission group from a church in Washington, D.C., which was trying to build affordable housing for the poor there. In New York, Enterprise has committed $2 billion in equity, grants and loans to community projects such as All Saints.

Father Lott, then the pastor of St. Francis de Sales parish on East 96th Street, formed what he named the SFDS Community Development Corporation (the name was derived from the first initials of the name of the church, though the parish itself was not financially linked to the company) in the late 1980s. Its mission was "to build a better quality of life for New York's elderly, formerly homeless, low- and moderate-income population by providing them with clean, safe housing and supportive services that help them lead independent, fulfilling lives." SFDS opened its first site in 1988. Father Lott died in February 2002. The corporation he founded has developed and manages 25 buildings, containing 700 units on 13 sites.

"We changed the name to commemorate Father Lott," Janeski said. "He was the developer of most of this housing. We operate it and we continue his vision and legacy. But he was the visionary for all of this."