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NEW YORK CITY-An idea first floated by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn last February is getting a tryout as a $20-million pilot program to turn unfinished or unsold condominiums into subsidized housing. Through the Housing Asset Renewal Program announced Wednesday by the Bloomberg administration, the city intends to provide developers with enough incentive to restart stalled projects.

Although details still remain to be worked out, HARP would entail developers setting aside a portion of their projects’ units as affordable for moderate- or middle-income families. In return, the developer would receive a subsidy and a guaranteed buyer or rental income stream.

The city says HARP will focus on two types of problematic developments: completed projects with a high number of vacancies and stalled sites that are still under construction. In late July, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development will issue a Notice of Funding Availability for the new program, soliciting proposals from developers and lenders.

According to a release, projects will be selected through a competitive process based on three goals: neighborhood stabilization, efficient use of public funding and the deepest discounts below market rate on prospective units. “Everyone would agree that a completed affordable project is a better investment for our city than a skyline of half finished projects,” says Melinda Katz, chair of the Council’s land use committee, in a statement.

Adds Marc Jahr, president of the New York City Housing Development Corp., “In designing the program, we carefully considered the implications of stepping in to developments that the market had effectively stepped away from. We concluded that in this tough real estate market there are great, cost-efficient opportunities to create affordable housing for New York’s residents, while stabilizing neighborhoods.”

The pilot program would convert as many as 400 units into below-market-rate apartments for moderate- and middle-income families. That translates into a per-unit subsidy of about $50,000.

Since it’s a pilot program, HARP will initially be smaller-scale than Quinn’s vow last February to “add thousands of new affordable homes” from existing unsold stock. Quinn proposed the idea in her annual State of the City speech.

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