After Mitchell-Lama



RENT $1,465.63 [former Mitchell-Lama housing]

SQUARE FEET 800 [two-bedroom in 1974 Waterside Plaza complex]

OCCUPANTS Claude Furones [photographer]; James C. Hovey [special-services representative, Four Seasons Hotel]

Ah, you have Philip Larkin’s poetry! [Claude] “Let us kiss then,/In this room, in this bed,/ But when all’s done/We must not meet again . . . ”

Look at your yellow daffodils. You are so fortunate to live by the water. I was just sitting on the plaza with the umbrellas shaped like white sails. Before James, who looks like Prince Charles, comes out, could you explain the rent situation here? I, I . . . it’s a deal struck between Ravitch and the old tenants.

Who’s Ravitch? He ran for mayor once. [James appears.] We won a battle that lasted four years. The tenants got together. [Claude] Only the old people.

Let’s backtrack. [James] To when everything was joyous and you were an artist. [Claude] I had friends going to NYU medical school who moved here. [James] You told me you had to be an artist. [Claude] I was paying something like $275. That’s when Ravitch ran this joint. [James] But . . . [Claude] They got an abatement . . .

[Our conversation got very complex. It was too much for all of us. Subsequent research revealed Waterside came out of the 1950s Mitchell-Lama state legislation to create more moderate and middle-income housing. It was largely thought of as one of the most successful government housing programs. Developers got low-interest mortgages, big tax abatements for putting caps on rents. Approximately 115,000 units in 269 developments were built. But after 20 years, developers had the option to buy out. It was like affordable housing that could vanish as in a fairy tale. Some 23,000 units have been pulled out. Those built before January 1, 1974, revert to rent stabilization. Later ones, like Waterside, can go to market rents.] [Claude] Ravitch wanted to triple the rent. [James] We were shelling out $400 every couple of months to pay for the lawyer. [The settlement for original Mitchell-Lama tenants was a 9 percent increase a year for two years, 7.5 percent every year thereafter.] [Claude] The tenants’ association has gotten smaller since the settlement. New people have come in. They don’t care.

They’re paying something like $2,200 for a one-bedroom. Are there a lot of United Nations members living here? There used to be. Then, it was a wonderfully mixed group. My allergist still lives here. How did James and I meet? Ten years ago, I was working very late at a design agency on 58th Street. There was a gay bar downstairs, the Townhouse. I thought, oh man, I need a drink. He was walking home from the Four Seasons to 12th Street. We struck up a conversation. I didn’t see him for three weeks. He had chicken pox. I didn’t know. I was the first boyfriend to meet his parents. [James] They loved him. They ran a bed-and-breakfast, 17-room house, in Cooperstown. They were the first. Now there are 90. I went to California when I was 18. I was part owner of a vegetarian jazz club in Venice, the Comeback Inn. My restaurant was rated as one of the Top 10 in the country. [Claude] Top 10 vegetarian. [James] I was the chef. I increased their sales. [Claude] Of course now you don’t cook at all.

Here’s a photo of James on Venice Beach. What long silky hair you had. You were selling huaraches? [James] I imported African baskets and hats. The Annie Hall bag was my best seller. [Claude] I grew up in Bridgeport, the armpit of the nation. We came from Cuba in 1960, right after the revolution. My father ran the family business, grew coffee. [James] A coffee plantation. [Claude] That sounds so colonial. Here, my parents went to work wherever they could—factory work. I went to graduate school at the New School and NYU. I was in the Open Theater. I was their photographer while I studied with Joe Chaikin.

Look, black-and-white photographs from Cuba. What’s that plant? [James] I thought it was a century cactus. [Claude] No, they were succulents. Cacti would flower.