The Penn South co-ops

Penn State
Penn South was subsidized workers’ housing decades before Chelsea became fabulous. Will its duffel-coat-clad residents vote to join the party?

The Penn South co-ops, those fifteen towers in a park between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in Chelsea, almost sold out its socialist roots during the last real-estate boom in 1986. In the end, though, the board decided not to trade its tax subsidies for the ability to sell apartments at market rates. This week, it’s up for a vote again. “Who knew then that Chelsea would become such a hot neighborhood?” says Penn South’s treasurer, Walter Mankoff.

Like the Grand Street co-ops, Penn South was built as union housing. And, judging by the bifocaled crowd (“Miriam! Can you hear what he’s saying?”) at a tenants’ meeting last month, many original occupants still live there.

When Penn South was built in 1962, the tax abatements were granted in trade for the caveat that outgoing tenants had to sell back their apartments for essentially what they paid for them. Most residents make under $40,000; for those who meet the qualifications and stick out the decade-plus waiting list, a one-bedroom sells for $15,000.

On April 4, the 2,820 shareholders will vote on whether to stick with the 1986 plan, which hasn’t stopped monthly taxes and charges from climbing to nearly $800 for a one-bedroom as the complex ages and gentrification increases the apartments’ value. When the plan ends, in eleven years, it could go market-rate. The other option is to amend the tax contract and freeze the building’s taxes until 2027.

And while some shareholders, like Andrew Alpern, 62, are crusading for privatization (“Why be ghettoized as low-income housing?”), there was a lot of dissatisfied cane-scraping across the linoleum.

“It’s almost a moral obligation to keep Penn South the way it is, given the benefits we’ve all enjoyed,” says lifelong resident Gena Feist. Others express disgust at the thought of selling for profit, decrying “landlord swindlers” in their midst.

Still, this isn’t Irving Howe’s town anymore. “The 150 apartments vacated a year could be sold,” Alpern says, then mordantly adds, “vacated involuntarily, of course.”

Swimming to North Haven
Sex and Death to $895K

If you sat through Spalding Gray’s latest traveling monologue, Morning, Noon and Night, you’ve heard all about how he fell for Sag Harbor village life. He and his wife, arts booker and manager Kathleen Russo, came out for the weekend and before long had bought journalist Robert Sam Anson’s three-bedroom 1860s house. Five years later, they’ve decided they need a bit more room and are selling it for $825,000. “It used to be the schoolhouse,” says their broker, Sotheby’s Tara Newman. They found a bigger, slightly older, more expensive house in nearby North Haven (asking: $895,000), where neighbors include artist Eric Fischl. “It’s a real captain’s house, with the original floorboards from a ship,” she says. He told Newman, “I’m finally ready to move from Ishmael’s house to Ahab’s.”

Big Deals

Upper East Side
1075 Park Avenue
3-bed, 21/2-bath, 2,300-square-foot co-op. Ask: $2.75 million. Sell: $2.35 million. Maintenance: $2,350. One week on market.

Dips in the Dow notwithstanding, Park Avenue’s still stockbroker country. The buyer of this classic seven showed up unexpectedly a few days after the original buyer failed to pass the board. “As soon as we put it back on, it went again that same day,” says William B. May’s Roger Erickson, who’d been selling the place. “He had no trouble, went right through. Really nice people.” The buyer, who works for Morgan Stanley, and his wife, also in finance, are empty-nesters who “decided to move back into the city and enjoy their lives again.”

25 North Moore Street
2,149-square-foot condo. Ask: $1.31 million. Sell: $1.31 million. Charges: $1,532. Two months on market. might be cooling off a bit, but the outlook was far rosier last summer when its vice-president of engineering signed a contract for this raw loft space. It’s in the newly converted Atalanta Building, a former refrigerated-storage warehouse that was fenestrated to make it fit for human habitation (one hopes the A/C works well). His fifth-floor corner unit has fifteen hand-drilled windows facing south and east and an open floor plan – perfect for hosting one of those “pink slip” parties (HotJobs laid off 100 people last week). “He saw it on the Internet and called me up,” says Helene Luchnick of Douglas Elliman.

The Penn South co-ops