Manhattan Plaza 20-Year Pact 'Helps Actors'

The new 20-year contract protecting tenants' rents at Manhattan Plaza should prove a boon to the actors who live there, particularly in light of their mercurial income. That's the view of Mary Lou Westerfield, chair of the building's management policy advisory panel.

The new agreement was signed Sept. 10 by the Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association, the Manhattan Plaza Management Policy Advisory Committee, and the Related Companies, the new owner of the Midtown residential building. The pact protects all the building's 1,689 units.

"The new Section 8 contract is a Mark Up to Market contract, which provides for higher contract rents, and we were concerned that the people we refer to as 'middle income' -- the working actors -- with higher contract rents would be priced out of their homes. With this new agreement, we have the Related Companies' guarantee to provide rent concessions so those paying maximum rents under the old contract continue to pay that rent and not at higher rates."

Section 8 refers to a pact regulated by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD). The entire Manhattan Plaza building is a Section 8 facility, Westerfield pointed out. The Mark Up to Market program would bring rents up to market levels -- with HUD still paying the difference between those levels and the rents paid by tenants -- and restructure the owner's existing debt to a level supportable by the rents.

"In essence, [the new contract] means for Section 8 tenants [that] they pay no more than 30 percent of income in rent. That's true across the country. Whatever the contract rent is, set by HUD, the difference between 30 percent of income and the total rent is made up by HUD."

It follows that, if a tenant's income increases, so does the portion of rent he pays. If his income drops, so does the portion paid for rent.

Westerfield said that the advisory committee and the tenants' association also negotiated and received "a 41⁄2 percent cap, so there will never be more than a 41⁄2 percent rent increase. If HUD increases the rent one year by 2 percent, the increase is only 2 percent. If the increase is 6 percent, the tenant pays only 41⁄2 percent."

The pact also includes protection for the 10 percent of Manhattan Plaza's units that are regulated under the Mitchell-Lama subsidized-housing program regulated by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). "Every unit in the building is protected under the new agreement," Westerfield said.

Westerfield is national director for policy at Actors' Equity Association. The Manhattan Plaza committee she chairs consists of representatives from all the major performers' unions: Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the American Guild of Variety Artists, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. The committee also includes representatives from Manhattan Community Board 4 and the Clinton Planning Council because Manhattan Plaza sits within those jurisdictions. The apartment complex is located at 400 West 43rd St.

The agreement among the tenants' association, the policy committee, and the landlord took eight months to negotiate, Westerfield said. "It is a recorded document attached for the life of the complex, even if the building is sold."

She added that the landlord proved very open and that the unions and public officials cooperated in the negotiation process.

"We were extremely pleased with Related's behavior," Westerfield confided. "Manhattan Plaza is different, and they realized it's different and were trying to accommodate those differences. The elected representatives and the unions supported us in this and participated in this."

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, state Sen. Tom Duane, Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, and City Councilwoman Christine Quinn "and their staffs were all amazing," Westerfield said.

Nadler said in an email to Back Stage that he was "so pleased" with the new pact:

"All of our discussions were informed by the guiding principles of maintaining Manhattan Plaza as an affordable home for performing artists, protecting the many tenants who were pioneers in settling there years ago, and ensuring that the rents for future residents also remain affordable," Nadler said. "We achieved all these goals, and in addition made sure that this agreement will be attached to Manhattan Plaza for the life of the 20-year Section 8 contract. It is very gratifying to know that Manhattan Plaza will continue to thrive intact and continue to be an asset to New York and the theatre community in particular."

Marisa Redanty, president of the tenants' association -- in a separate email -- echoed that enthusiasm:

"I have always believed that Manhattan Plaza was an icon of sorts," Redanty observed. "It began as a social experiment bringing all classes together and ended up becoming the unexpected 'Miracle of 42nd Street.' Our unions, elected officials, HUD, HPD, and even Related recognized this and that is why we have such a solid and well-thought-out plan for our future. The Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association takes great pride in our work and the end result. Judging from the flood of emails, phone calls, and letters we have received, I know the residents are ecstatic. Manhattan Plaza will be here for a long, long time."