Historic New York apartment complex Manhattan Plaza has reopened their highly-coveted, oft-lengthy waiting lists for select studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments to prospective tenants eager to stake out residence in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen.
Renters looking to secure affordable housing in a neighborhood where the monthly median rent is nearly $4K may apply for a spot in the 46-floor, 1,689-unit building on W43rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenue through one of several affordable housing programs.
The Mitchell Lama Program, a New York State program established in 1955 to ensure the availability of middle income housing, allows applicants who earn under $163K the chance to apply for a $1,950/month studio, applicants who earn under $193K can apply for a $2,300/month one-bedroom, and applicants who earn under $224K can apply for a $2,679/month two-bedroom unit. Additional waiting list spots are available through the Manhattan Plaza Section 8 programs, where eligible residents are not required to pay more than 40 percent of total income for housing. Manhattan Plaza’s Section 8 programs include subsidized rents for Performing Artist and Theater Support professionals, residents of Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) who are over 18, and residents of MCB4 who are over 62.
The value of a Manhattan Plaza apartment is not lost on New Yorkers, leading to a dearth of available units and excruciatingly slow turnover. Said Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association President Aleta LaFargue: “Once people move in, it’s rare that they leave. There are people I know that were on the waiting list for 10 years.” LaFargue herself is a lifelong resident of the complex, adding: “I’ve lived here for my entire life — 44 years. I’m almost as old as the building.”
Completed in 1977, Manhattan Plaza was originally conceived as a luxury and middle-income complex when New York’s financial crisis left the city unable to fulfill the entirety of its $95 million commitment to the project. In order to make up a $30 million deficit, the city of New York applied for Federal Section 8 funding. After complaints from nearby tenants unwilling to welcome Section 8 residents into the neighborhood, real estate developer and former Manhattan Plaza owner Irving Fischer (along with his team) proposed the idea of encouraging professionals from the performing arts industry, many of whom already qualified for Section 8’s financial requirements, to apply. When the complex opened, 70% of apartments were reserved for arts workers who qualified for subsidized housing, 15% were allocated for elderly and disabled residents already living in the immediate area, and 15% were designated for residents already living in subsidized housing in the neighborhood. Demand far outpaced supply and there were 3,000 names on the waiting list within the first year.
This intersection of Manhattan Plaza’s resident communities would go on to cement its longstanding identity as a crossroads of New Yorkers from all walks of life. Financial security for performers seeking housing and the building’s closeness to the Theater District led to a cornucopia of famous and soon-to-be-famous tenants, including Al Pacino, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Tennessee Williams, Alicia Keys, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Menken, and Samuel L Jackson (who worked as Manhattan Plaza’s first security guard). Manhattan Plaza and its creative tenant population would even be the impetus for one of America’s most well-known sitcoms when tenant Larry David mined his experience living next to an eccentric comedian named Kenny Kramer into the concept for Seinfeld. The complex’s rich artist legacy would later be archived through the documentary Miracle on 42nd Street, produced in part by Manhattan Plaza resident and casting director Mary Jo Slater.
Manhattan Plaza’s early years would also coincide with the onset of the AIDS crisis in New York, leading to a share of its residents ostracized and suffering with little familial or governmental assistance. Reverend Rodney Kirk, the complex’s first Director of Development, created the Manhattan Plaza AIDS Project as a system of support for tenants battling the virus (Kirk would be posthumously honored for his work with AIDS patients and his advocacy for the elderly, with a venue named after him on Theater Row).
LaFargue also recalls the complex at the time of the crisis, noting that its legacy of advocacy has lived on. “We have a lot of services for the elderly — a lot of the elderly people living here don’t have a lot of family. We had a huge population of people with AIDS during the epidemic, and a lot of those people did not have support — this building became their support system and we took care of each other. It was a really special thing,” said Lafargue.
Today, the plaza remains a beacon of the Hell’s Kitchen community, still known for its wide-ranging supportive and cultural programming. LaFargue, who has served as President of the Tenants Association since 2016, got involved with the organization to advocate for additional children’s programming and quickly found herself invested in the future of the plaza’s distinct financial ecosystem. “After Trump was elected, nobody knew what would happen. We felt that at any minute they could vote out Section 8 Housing — a lot of people were really scared about what could happen to our subsidy,” said LaFargue. “We felt like we needed real advocates in the event that it happened. So I ran for a seat and became their secretary” before eventually being elected president.
Under LaFargue’s leadership, the plaza has maintained its financial subsidy and supportive resident programming (as well as a productive working relationship with the building’s newest owners, The Related Companies). Long-standing traditions like the yearly tenant street fair and regular talent shows as well as newer celebrations and year-round children’s programming are returning after COVID-related pauses with the help of tenant fundraising and support from building management.
The complex’s long waitlist is a testament to the need for more housing with the resources and security bestowed on Manhattan Plaza citywide, said LaFargue: “I ran for City Council last year and that was one of the issues that I was really passionate about. We have this great situation here and I just didn’t see why it couldn’t be replicated in other places.” Tenants fortunate enough to gain a place at Manhattan Plaza know how precious the opportunity is in an increasingly hostile renter’s market. As LaFargue said of the complex, “I think having people from all different economic levels and cultures living here is an incredible thing. People are very well protected here, and it’s a good place to grow old, because you have a strong community around you.”