The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Everyone knows a New Yorker who’s got an enviable apartment situation: the inheritor of a rent-controlled lease, the early adopter of a hip neighborhood. But most jealousy-inducing, perhaps, are the Mitchell-Lama people—residents of those masses of middle-income apartments, mostly built in the sixties and seventies, that are a lifeline for thousands of cash-strapped Manhattanites. Though most of the buildings have stopped taking new buyers, a diminishing few still keep their waiting lists open, and if you’re a hunter on a budget who’s not in a hurry, they’re worth seeking out. Monthly maintenance for a one-bedroom averages about $650; the purchase price is a small fraction of what you’d pay on the free market. Residents need to be under an income cap, which depends on the building, the year you applied, and the size of your family; at one Upper East Side development, a family of four has to make less than $50,250 per year. And the wait, well … keep waiting. (We know one woman, put on a Mitchell-Lama list by her prescient grandmother when she was 13, who moved in at 26.) But a few Mitchell-Lama buildings have open lists that aren’t endless.

The best of the open locations is probably Tanya Towers, at East 13th Street and Avenue B (pictured), where there’s a two-and-a-half-to-three-year wait for $517 studios with terraces. (But it’s limited to senior citizens and those with disabilities.) As for larger apartments, “no one is giving up a one-bedroom,” says a spokeswoman. “It all depends on who passes away.” There are also open lists in a couple of rapidly gentrifying areas uptown. Riverside Park Community, at Broadway near 135th Street, has only a two-month wait for a studio, and at Riverbend, on Fifth Avenue near 138th Street, studios have a six-month wait and one-bedrooms take two and a half years. (The list for larger apartments is closed.)

What’s it like to live there? The residents are diverse, a mix of people who’ve moved up the economic ladder but haven’t left the building, underclass strivers, and those for whom Mitchell-Lama was designed: teachers, secretaries, civil servants, veterans. José Alvarado had to wait about five years to land a studio apartment at Knickerbocker Plaza, at Second Avenue and 92nd Street. Alvarado pays $270 a month, plus $10 for air-conditioning. “I wish it were bigger,” he says, “but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

As Good As It Gets?
Helen Hunt is moving on—again. Just three years after buying her Tribeca loft, she’s put the three-bedroom, 3,159-square-foot apartment on the market for $4.95 million. (The Romanesque Revival building by architect Albert Wagner, who also designed the Puck Building, was converted into fourteen luxury condos in 2000, its lobby decorated with drawings by Sol LeWitt.) Hunt’s broker, Corcoran’s Jon Capobianco, declined to comment, but the listing’s Website gives a virtual tour sure to satisfy any voyeur (open living room and dining room, cast-iron columns, new fixtures, fireplace, no visible Oscars or Emmys). Hunt bought the apartment after divorcing her husband of only seventeen months, Hank Azaria—the star of the new series Huff and the voice behind a handful of characters on The Simpsons—and moving from Los Angeles. At the time, Hunt, 41, said she wanted to act on Broadway, and last year drew decent reviews for her turn in Life (x) 3. Hunt’s publicist didn’t return calls. No word if she’s still mad about Manhattan or if she’s heading back to the other coast.

Photo: Douglas Elliman

Triple Assessment
260 Park Avenue South
Two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom, 1,880-square-foot condo.
Asking price: $2.575 million.
Charges and Taxes: $3,013.
Broker: Shaun Osher, Douglas Elliman.

This apartment in a new condo conversion on Park Avenue South is in contract at full price—but the buyer might have saved a few bucks if he or she had consulted our panel.

Ivana Tagliamonte, Halstead: “You don’t get a key to Gramercy Park, but it’s surrounded by great restaurants,” she says, adding that it’s one of the few new condos in the neighborhood, and that buyers “like being able to say it’s on Park Avenue.” But “the asking price is high—especially for less than 2,000 square feet.”
Her assessment: $2.35 million.

Judith Thorn, Warburg: “The dining and living rooms are small, especially when you stick some furniture in,” she says. There’s a communal storeroom, but no private ones—“unusual for a luxury condo,” she adds. “And $3,000 per month in charges for an 1,800-square-foot apartment is a lot. However, this apartment on this floor is particularly nice—it’s on a corner and you can see the trees.”
Her assessment: $2.25 million.

Nicolas Bustamante, Bellmarc: The high ceilings and big windows make the apartment feel big and bright and “much higher than the third floor,” says Bustamante. He was also impressed with the crisp details (dark stained floors, white walls and appliances) and high-end fixtures. “The finishes are beautiful.”
His assessment: $2.4 million.


The Waiting Is the Hardest Part