Since 1983, Broadway Housing Communities has developed permanent, affordable housing for some of New York’s poorest individuals and families in West Harlem and Washington Heights; created an award-winning early childhood center; provided mentoring and support services for adults, children and families; and strengthened entire communities through engagement with the cultural arts.

With 124 units of affordable housing, an expansive early childhood education center, green initiatives and a focus on culture and the arts, Broadway Housing’s newest endeavor, situated in Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district, is a model of urban community revitalization.  The Sugar Hill Project is also home to ArtPlace’s 2012 top-ranked award recipient, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

Broadway Housing Communities Founder and Executive Director, Ellen Baxter with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Community Board 9 Chair Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas.

ArtPlace caught up with Ana-Ofelia Rodriguez, Director of Community Development for Broadway Housing Communities, to talk with her about the project.

ARTPLACE:  Have you gained any political traction with your efforts?  If so, with whom and how did you do it?

RODRIGUEZ:  The Sugar Hill project wouldn’t be where it is now without the active support of our local elected and appointed officials. These are the people—and their staffs—who really understand the importance of bringing housing, education and the arts to the community. The fact that Broadway Housing is committed to bringing all three elements together—because we know the combination is exponentially more powerful than any one element alone—has deepened the support of our elected leaders.

But it starts with their respect for our record of accomplishment:  we’ve been serving the communities of Upper Manhattan for nearly 30 years.  That kind of commitment matters. It gives us credibility: we know what we’re doing, we know who we’re doing it for and we know why we’re doing it. That’s why, when we were able to assemble the core funding to buy the property in Sugar Hill, our political leaders were advocates for the project.  And their endorsement made a difference when we went to funders.

It’s widely known that affordable housing is one of Mayor Bloomberg’s highest priorities. We were honored that he participated in our groundbreaking ceremony last summer and we appreciate his many expressions of support for our work. Moreover, we are fortunate to be located in Congressman Charles Rangel’s district. After all, it was his trailblazing tax credit bill that has served as an essential component of financing for affordable housing in New York City and throughout the United States.  And we were able to leverage new tax credit programs to support the museum component of the Sugar Hill project. But we’ve had support from all levels of local government:  City Councilmember Robert Jackson allocated $2,000,000 and the entire Manhattan delegation provided another $1M of support for Sugar Hill. This year, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer allocated $500,000 to support a rooftop farm initiative which has all kinds of creative placemaking potential.

Again, though, it’s all the result of our deep history in the community. It’s why we received financial support from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone to explore the idea of making a children’s museum an integral part of this project—even though at that point we were known primarily as a housing organization.  It was an affirmation of our track record of success in joining education and arts programs to permanent, affordable housing opportunities.

We are grateful for the political partnerships that have supported and sustained us through the years. But the truth is, it’s our commitment to the people who live in the communities we serve that has earned us the trust and admiration of our elected officials and enabled us to pursue creative placemaking on a more ambitious scale.