Esplanade Gardens: Maintenance and the Jewel of Harlem

The New Republic has a great story on how the deferral of maintenance and the failure to quickly address issues before they spiraled into more complex issues, has led to the shocking deterioration of Esplanade Gardens, “The Jewel of Harlem”.

This middle-class housing project has had a number of attempted solutions to the maintenance crisis, tried from within and from the outside. In all cases, poor planning, delayed implementation, and shoddy workmanship have left a majority senior residents suffering under unacceptable conditions.

Esplanade Gardens was – when founded – trumpeted as a way to build wealth for middle-class Black New Yorkers. But its crumbling infrastructure shows how far off the rails this vision has fallen.

Opened in 1967, Esplanade Gardens’ co-op apartments were birthed out of the Mitchell-Lama housing program—a 1950s equity initiative to increase home ownership among middle-income New Yorkers. Across the city, the program was seen as a way for Black families to acquire intergenerational wealth and gnaw away at centuries-long inequality in housing.

The six-building, 1,872-unit complex is over 50 years old and has received little maintenance over the decades. At the same time, as a middle-income affordable housing program, Esplanade Gardens has operated at a financial deficit at times, pulling from a shallow pool of residents’ monthly fees for issues with immense depth. Because Esplanade shareholders (the name co-op apartment owners use to describe themselves) own their apartments and hold equity in the shared housing corporation, responsibility is complicated—the trinary control by Esplanade Gardens Board of Directors (elected by residents), the hired outside management company, and the city’s housing agency leaves everyone pointing fingers and residents hanging in the balance. Then the invasive, often poorly executed capital improvement project starts—old structural negligence is laid bare, there’s a lack of accountability, and shareholders’ apartments are caught in the mix.

What’s more, Esplanade Gardens has a large population of elderly and Black residents, existing at an intersection particularly vulnerable to the lack of care in Harlem, New York City, and the United States for aging populations. They live at the epicenter of what happens when once grand programs made to transform inequities in housing are left to wither as time passes, hurting those they were meant to benefit along the way.

To read the full article, see:

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