Places that Matter

Manhattan Plaza

Manhattan Plaza
Subsidized apartments for people in theater professions
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Place Matters Profile

Manhattan Plaza is a subsidized housing project built in the 1970s. Under a unique arrangement, 70% of the buildings' 1689 apartments are reserved for people who work in the theater, with the rest set aside for various other Hell's Kitchen residents in need of good housing. Since opening, Manhattan Plaza has fostered a close-knit community that offers its residents many social opportunities as well as host of services including, notably, groundbreaking projects serving the elderly and those with AIDS.

Manhattan Plaza was originally conceived in the early 1970s as a middle class housing development designed to help revitalize Hell's Kitchen. The builders, Richard Ravitch and Irving Fischer, created a plan for two large apartment towers with a number of amenities such as security, recreational spaces, shops and tennis courts. Construction was halted, however, when the developers realized they would have to charge higher rents than they had first envisioned.

In a lucky coincidence, the towers happened to meet the qualifications for federal Section Eight housing subsidies. These national subsidies, which gave incentives to developers to create affordable housing, kept rents below market rate for low-income residents. With the additional incentive of a new innovation--the underground parking garage that would earn income for the complex--the project seemed sustainable, and building began again in 1974. The apartments opened in 1977.

A builder, Daniel S. Rose, and a theatrical producer, Alexander H. Cohen, made the unusual suggestion that Manhattan Plaza should serve the often financially struggling workers from the neighboring theater district. In order to qualify for subsidized housing as a performing artist, applicants must have earned at least half of their income in the theater, film or television, for the past three years. This formula remains the same as it was in 1977, but by 1978 there was a waiting list. As of 2004, there is even a waiting list for the waiting list, and names are no longer being accepted.