Columbia University pledged today to spend more than $32.5 million in West Harlem on affordable housing, a new park, landscaping for public housing complexes and the like. In return, the school’s expansion plan received the endorsement of Borough President Scott M. Stringer.
It was, if you think about it, a small investment to make, given that the new 17-acre campus, north of 125th Street and generally west of Broadway, is going to cost something like $6 billion.
President Bollinger, who shared the podium with Mr. Stringer at a press conference this afternoon in the borough president’s offices, said, however, “We want to do our part… This is not a trivial amount.”
Mr. Stringer’s endorsement is not binding; only the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the Mayor have a real say in rezoning. But it helps turn around a narrative that has been dominated by community opposition to the plan, including the local community board’s 31-2 vote against Columbia.
Some $20 million will be devoted to an affordable housing fund that will partially offset the indirect displacement that the new campus is expected to cause outside the footprint.
But given the fact that it costs, conservatively, somewhere around $400,000, and sometimes as much as $1 million, to build an affordable apartment in Manhattan, the contribution would only go so far in alleviating the indirect displacement. The draft environmental impact statement, for instance, says that “approximately 3,293” nearby residents would be forced out because of gentrification.
In addition, Columbia said it would turn a piece of its campus into a park, pay for its maintenance, and make other improvements around the area, including $11.25 million over 25 years to keep up a new waterfront part nearby.
Mr. Stringer said he would recommend against the use of eminent domain in the plan, but did not make that a condition of his support. (The university has already forsworn eminent domain to take residential property.)
Nick Sprayregen, owner of storage facilities in the footprint who could see his properties taken by eminent domain (albeit with "just compensation”), e-mailed to say, “Mr. Stringer is now in effect backing Columbia’s continued forced relocation of tenants and the threatened use of eminent domain against all who refuse to sell to Columbia with the threat of condemnation hanging over their heads.”