high rise residential

Cobble Hill Towers Hears Call of the Condo

By Christine Haughney

For generations of space-starved New Yorkers, Cobble Hill Towers has been an affordable oasis. More than 130 years ago, its architect, Alfred Tredway White, designed its nine low-rise, red-brick buildings to demonstrate that housing for the poor could be both humane and economically feasible.

The buildings were known for their distinctive wrought-iron breezeways and features that were considered amenities at the time, like cross ventilation and access to sunlight. Rents were $1.50 to $2 a week. Today, the buildings are perhaps better known for a less attractive feature: the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which was built in the 1950s and sits right across the street.

Still, the realities of real estate have finally arrived at Cobble Hill Towers, as it goes through the gallstonelike and quintessentially New York process of conversion.

In 2008, Frank Farella, the local developer who brought the property back from the brink in the 1970s, formed a joint venture with Hudson Companies to turn Cobble Hill Towers into condominiums. A number of rent-stabilized tenants have already taken buyouts and left, and renters who remain have until March 22 to decide whether to accept an offer to buy in at a discounted price for so-called insiders.

So far, the 188-unit building has accepted offers from nine residents, said Debbie Bhatt, Hudson Companies’ project manager for the towers. Residents who do not take a buyout or buy-in can remain as tenants, and Hudson estimated that about half the building will do so.

Amanda and Jonas Abry said the deal offered them a rare chance.

“We never, ever thought we would be able to buy in the neighborhood,” said Ms. Abry, who added that they were paying less than $500,000 for the two-bedroom apartment she, her husband and their 2-year-old son, Elijah, live in. “We never were able to save that much money.”

They currently pay a market-rate $2,500 a month in rent, she said, adding that they had thought of the apartment as “one of those places where you may be able to rent, but just not buy where you live.”

Ms. Abry said her family was happy with the apartment because it was newly renovated when they arrived in June 2009. Most apartments there are walkups, but the Abrys have a ground-floor apartment so they do not have to carry Elijah up stairs. Their apartment also sits on the building’s inner courtyard, which Ms. Abry said makes her feel as if she is living on a college quad.

Ms. Bhatt wrote in an e-mail that the insider’s price for each apartment was “based on its layout, location in the complex and views” and that the average offer, if enough people bought apartments, could drop to $459 per square foot, “a fantastic opportunity when the Cobble Hill market” is $800 per square foot.

But there are also residents who say they have been soured by the buying process. Some tenants pooled $6,400 to hire an independent engineer, who reported that the building needed $6 million in repairs, including new roofs, windows, balconies and stairs. Hudson said that the developer had committed to making most of those changes, but that it had not agreed to replace balcony drains and cellar and crawl-space floors. “We just drew our line at taking care of lots and lots of things and not feeling that some items they mentioned were worthy of replacement,” said David Kramer, a Hudson principal.

Carl Rosenstock, a resident since 1997, said he wanted to buy at Cobble Hill Towers. At first he was offered a price of $300,000 for his one-bedroom, or about $627 a square foot. He estimated that the apartment needed $50,000 to $75,000 in updates.

Ms. Bhatt said the latest insider price for the apartment could become $270,000, but Mr. Rosenstock said he found an even better opportunity: he bought a two-bedroom condo in Park Slope that records show cost him $527 a square foot. He has already moved into his new home and is getting ready to return his keys at Cobble Hill Towers.

“You’re talking about a fourth-floor walkup with a view of the B.Q.E.,” he said about his old apartment. “I ended up with a duplex and a backyard patio.”

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