Gentrification has a familiar face: The kid from Big has turned a Harlem crack den into an eco-friendly building.
Thu Oct 11 2007
Photo: Michael Kirby
When David Moscow (the Big kid) moved to Harlem three years ago, let’s just say he had a rough first night. While he was in line at a neighborhood bodega, a man crashed through the door, grabbed a bottle of hydrogen peroxide from a shelf and bathed what appeared to be a fresh stab wound. Moscow stared in disbelief.
It wasn’t the neighborhood welcome he had expected. “I’d been living in Chelsea,” he says. “I thought, City life is city life.”
There wasn’t much he could do. Moscow, now 32, had just bought a four-unit townhouse on West 115th Street; he’d live in the parlor apartment and rent out the other three. What happened next is perhaps more surprising. Not only did Moscow stay uptown, but he bought the vacant lot next door. And this month, after a protracted (and pricey) construction period, he’ll open what may be the city’s first privately funded, low-income green housing. (Bloomberg and Spitzer beat him to the eco-punch by opening a 64-unit complex in the Bronx in August.) Over breakfast at Society Coffee on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, the kind of Wi-Fi espresso bar that’s emblematic of a gentrifying Harlem, Moscow says it was primarily his political upbringing—he was raised in a commune, he attended the progressive public school Central Park East, and his father once worked in collaboration with the Black Panthers—that shaped his real-estate raison d’être. Over the next five years, he’d like to amass 250 units. “If I can do 50 percent low-income housing,” he says, “I’ll be able to look at myself in the mirror.” Moscow hopes to produce his own socially conscious Hollywood movies with the rent roll, too.
With that end in mind, he set about purchasing the city-owned vacant lot, which he describes as a crack den (“You would get a contact high coming out of the subway”).
Loci Architecture, a Soho boutique firm specializing in green living, designed the four-unit building, which features renewable resources like bamboo flooring, a zinc-clad front and something called a cold-adhered membrane roof. There were early victories: When the city found out about Moscow’s plan to include low-income units designated for Harlem locals, it knocked a zero off the purchase price. But problems ranged from the global (the rising price of steel) to the local (a homeless man masturbating on site). And compromises had to be made to keep the low-income equation tenable, including the loss of costly wheatboard, formaldehyde-free cabinets. (Market-rate tenants will pay $3,500 a month for a two-bedroom duplex; “low-income” one-bedrooms will rent for a city-mandated $1,280.)
It’s all part of Moscow’s commune-lite take on community.The actor (who just shot a movie with Ben Gazzara) dreams of opening a day-care center and an afterschool program on the block. “It’s the true sense of a cooperative,” he says. As for the neighborhood, he’s grown to love it. Especially since a little bit of Hollywood came uptown. Yup, an organic grocery just opened.