Conifer’s remake of Southeast Towers ‘worth the wait’

Conifer’s remake of Southeast Towers ‘worth the wait’

Being uprooted from the apartment she had called home for the previous five years was not an enjoyable experience for Shelly Nalty.

After all, who likes packing up everything and moving? Especially when the move would only be temporary.

Southeast Towers
Southeast Towers

But in order to overhaul 336 apartments within Southeast Towers, Conifer Realty LLC has needed to relocate small groups of residents every six or eight weeks while their apartments were being renovated.

Now that she’s back in her “new” apartment, Nalty is one happy tenant.

Think George and Louise Jefferson happy. Nalty is joyously singing “Movin’ On Up,” the theme song from the former CBS sitcom The Jeffersons to explain how she feels.

“It was well worth waiting for,” Nalty said of her remade apartment. “This is finally my moment of living good.”

Conifer began the rehab project on the affordable housing complex in late October and has completed 32 apartments so far. Work on another 32 is underway. The construction crew isn’t just slapping on a new coat of paint and replacing the carpet though. Each unit is undergoing a complete makeover.

New kitchen appliances, new plumbing, new electrical systems, new windows, new ventilation, new air conditioners (one in the living room, another in each bedroom), new hardwood-like flooring in the living room and dining room and kitchen, new carpet in the bedrooms, and a new tub and toilet.

“When I get out of bed, every morning I’m like, ‘Wow,’ ” Nalty said. “The plan was built for me, I believe that. They thought about me when they did this.”

Conifer actually decided to tackle the rehab challenge — the two towers were in various stages of disrepair — in 2017, before the firm even owned the property. Conifer specializes in creating and managing affordable housing communities, and chairman and CEO Tim Fournier knew the complex adjacent to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square had been ignored for decades.

Conifer closed on the purchase in December 2017 and spent the next 18 months or so securing funding to re-create property. The 336 units in the 17-story tower are being re-created (Phase One). An eight-story building that houses another 40 units is beyond repair and will be demolished and rebuilt in Phase Two.

The price tag for Phase One: $53 million. The project received approval under the Department of Housing and Urban Development Rental Assistance Demonstration program. Funding sources include Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Equity from Red Stone Equity Partners, tax-exempt bonds and subsidy loans from the New York State Housing Finance Agency, credit enhancement from Citi Community Capital, and a HOME Loan from the city.

Much of the work has gone on quietly. Satisfied tenants provide the motivation for Conifer employees.

“It feels good to see the excitement and enthusiasm when people move back in,” said Lisa Kaseman, regional vice president of development for Conifer.

Under previous ownership, just 26 of the units had project-based rent subsidies. Under Conifer, the entire property will be affordable housing, with the vast majority of residents paying no more than 30 percent of their income for rent.

“When we took this project on, we knew the work would be extensive; the building had been neglected for decades,” said Robert Lampher, executive vice president of portfolio management for Conifer. “Conifer is proud to be able to ensure long-term, high-quality affordable housing in this prime downtown location for the next 30 years.

Once upgrades to all apartments are finished, common areas will be refurbished. A great room will include a television, fireplace and seating, and there also will be a community kitchen and fitness room featuring a kids play area, said Scott Dueker, Conifer’s development design director.

“When we’re done, this will be a completely different community,” Lampher said. “It’s not just bringing affordability, we’re bringing a real quality.”

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