Hip-Hop Legend Lends Needed Hand for Morris Heights Building

The Daily News

September 27, 2013


A Bronx apartment building considered the birthplace of hip hop has a whole new look.

Now, it’s a poster child for the push to preserve affordable housing.

Residents of the Morris Heights building where DJ Kool Herc worked the turntables at the world’s first hip-hop party in 1973 celebrated the completion of a full-scale, $16.8-million renovation project Friday.

The project has been in the making for much longer than the two years it took to complete. It required the involvement of numerous city agencies, and a developer that was committed to keeping the building affordable.

“Thanks to this collaborative effort, the legacy and the future of the birthplace of hip hop is once again secure,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, the Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

DJ Kool Herc, 58, the building’s famed former tenant, said he was more than satisfied. He has been working with tenants to get the building fixed up since 2007.

“Through it all, we fought hard to make this a better place, and today we’re seeing that work pay off,” the hip-hop legend said.

Tenants say the building’s new owner, Workforce Housing Advisors, deserves major props.

“It has been a whole new overhaul,” said Gloria Robinson, who has lived at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. for 21 years.

The 55-year-old, who led the building’s tenant association through years of broken elevators, busted pipes and rampant rodent problems, said Workforce has completed the renovations while promising to keep rents affordable.

“Now, we can really call this home,” Robinson said, noting the buiding’s new elevators, appliances, heating and water systems.

Over the past five years, Workforce has made a business of buying distressed apartment buildings, rehabbing them and working to keep rents affordable for tenants.

The group has acquired 13 Bronx buildings since 2009 — many facing foreclosure — and completed gut-renovations of almost half of the properties.

The remaking of 1520 Sedgwick was completed with the help of nearly $16 million in loans from the federal and city governments and the nonprofit Community Preservation Corp.

The 101-unit building has had a rocky couple of years. It fell victim to real estate speculation in 2010 when a developer, hoping to flip the property for a quick profit, defaulted on the $7 million mortgage. The owner, Mark Karasick, had already angered tenants by stripping the building of its Mitchell-Lama status, hoping to force out older residents and jack up the rents.

But the real-estate bubble burst, and the building eventually slid into disrepair and foreclosure.

Karasick made matters worse when he prevented the building’s designation on the roster of the National Register of Historic Places.

“Unfortunately, the new owner bled the property, collecting the rents while deferring critical maintenance needs,” Visnauskas said.

The residents rallied, enlisting Herc as a spokesman.

Soon, Sen. Chuck Schumer, city officials and Workforce stepped in.

“This building, because it’s iconic; there’s real pressure to do it right,” Workforce principal John Crotty said of the revamped site. “And do it well.”