MDG Design + Construction partners with Resource Furniture to maximize space in two affordable housing properties with tiny footprints
Location is everything, but a bad layout can break a deal even in one of Manhattan’s hottest neighborhoods, where affordable housing stock is scarce. MDG is known for their ability to renovate properties with residents in place and offer creative value-add development skills. However, even MDG felt challenged by the awkward layouts when it set out to renovate two buildings at 120 and 122 West 139th Street in Harlem. An innovative Plan B that enlisted Resource Furniture opened up brand new possibilities.
In 2018 MDG purchased a package of six failed co-ops and distressed rental properties from the City of New York. There were substantial liens on the properties, which were all in very bad shape, and ultimately the city had taken over. MDG does a lot of very large-scale work, but smaller affordable projects like this one align with the roots of the company and remain close to the heart.
Two of these buildings, 120 West 139th Street and 122 West 139th Street, were especially problematic due to their very odd footprints. Each building has five floors with four apartments per floor. Each floor consists of two long, skinny, two-bedroom floor-through apartments as well as two studio units. The ground floor studios are 250 square feet, and upper floor studios are 272 square feet.
The two-bedroom residences are equally disadvantaged as even the master bedrooms are approximately 8 ft. by 8 ft., barely big enough for a queen-sized bed. At first, MDG decided the obvious solution was to tear down walls in order to enlarge the studios, “but we would have wound up in developer purgatory,” said Matthew Rooney, CEO of MDG Design + Construction, as reconfiguring the floor plans would have been cost-prohibitive for this affordable project: 24 apartments priced at 80% AMI (Area Median Income), 15 units at 50% AMI, and one apartment reserved for the super.
The Liveability Quotient
Given the market demand for affordable housing, there is no question that all the renovated units would have rented unfurnished, but MDG wanted to create a more livable home for their residents — they did not want to just phone it in.
Recalling the popularity and success of the micro-units at Carmel Place in Kips Bay, many of which were furnished by Resource Furniture with wall beds and other multifunctional furnishings, MDG looked to Resource to help turn lemons into lemonade. Incorporating wall beds in the tiny studios and some of the smallest bedrooms, this sophisticated and stylish upgrade helped these cramped footprints feel larger, and function like a bigger space.
The renovation was carefully orchestrated, as the existing tenants needed to have a place to live while the renovations were underway. MDG accomplished this by “checkerboarding”— as an apartment was ready for renovation, the tenants were moved to an empty apartment, then they were able to move back home after their apartment renovation was completed. This method enabled MDG to efficiently renovate apartments with as little disruption as possible.
Existing residents had the option of a renovated apartment with or without a wall bed; with no premium for furnished units versus unfurnished units. That is because the furniture — like the renovated kitchens — was included in the scope-of-work financing.
“I am not sure if the project would have worked without the furniture,” said Rooney. When asked what the payback period was, Rooney answered, “The payback has already happened. The furniture cost less than the construction to reconfigure the apartments would have. The subsidy levels would have been untenable. Plus, there was no waiting for permitting.”
Resource Furniture was excited to be part of the solution that helped MDG bring this much-needed affordable housing to market.