Penn South

Coordinates: 40°44′52″N 73°59′54″W / 40.74778°N 73.99833°W / 40.74778; -73.99833
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40°44′52″N 73°59′54″W / 40.74778°N 73.99833°W / 40.74778; -73.99833

The Penn South cooperative as seen from the Empire State Building

Penn South, officially known as Mutual Redevelopment Houses and formerly Penn Station South, is a limited-equity[1] housing cooperative development located between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and West 23rd and 29th Streets, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. The complex has 2,820 units in ten 22-story buildings. Penn South is so named because of its location southwest of New York Penn Station.



Penn South was sponsored by the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union based on a cooperative model promoted by the United Housing Foundation.[1] The ILGWU first proposed a slum clearance project in Chelsea in early June 1956.[2] Later that month, the New York City government endorsed the Penn Station South project.[3] The New York City Committee on Slum Clearance recommended Penn Station South for federal funding in August 1956.[4] However, local residents opposed the development because its proposed site would displace an estimated 7,500 residents.[5] In response, in mid-1958, the Committee modified the plan so that two churches within the future development's site would be preserved.[6] Ultimately, four churches were saved,[7] including the Church of the Holy Apostles, which later became a New York City Landmark[8] and a National Register of Historic Places landmark.[9] The UHF's president, Abraham Kazan, later called the preservation a "mistake" because it had prevented Penn South from being developed earlier.[7]

The site of Penn Station South was eligible for federal funding under the Title I of the Housing Act of 1949. The site was slated for demolition in July 1959. Despite this announcement, one developer started renovating three tenement buildings three months before their scheduled demolition date, in the hopes that these buildings would also be granted exemptions from demolition.[10] In early June 1959, the federal government allocated $12 million toward the project.[11]

The ILGWU acquired title to the land that June 28 and immediately began relocating residents.[12] Residents who already lived on the land filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the land sale.[13] Groups of residents also organized picket lines and filed affidavits that attested to the hardships caused due to their relocations.[14] In another act of protest, tenants living in the future Penn South site withheld rent payments to the ILGWU, their new landlord.[15] The relocation proceedings were tense: one attorney who represented the protesters received death threats in response to his involvements in the protests.[16] After Manhattan Borough President Hulan Jack received a report about "harrowing" relocations that were done in preparation for Penn Station South, Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. instituted new rules for Title I relocations around the city.[17] Some former residents alleged that they had been relocated into tenements.[18] Jack created a Citizens Watchdog Committee to oversee the treatment of residents who were being relocated. However, the committee itself disagreed on whether tenants were being treated unfairly during the relocation process.[19] The committee was disbanded in December 1959 due to an inability to resolve these disagreements.[20]

Ultimately, the vast majority of residents moved peacefully. By October 1960, all 2,646 families who had lived on the site had been relocated; they had received bonuses of up to $500, as well as a guarantee of new housing.[21] In addition, as part of an agreement between the ILGWU and the site's residents, 600 of the families who had formerly occupied the site would be given housing in Penn South.[22]


Penn South buildings along Ninth Avenue

Early on in the construction process, supporters of Penn South wanted to include "Chelsea" in the name, in order to better integrate it with the surrounding community.[23] The New York state government awarded $2.42 million toward the Penn South project in April 1960.[24] The construction of the development was funded by a 20-year, $23 million mortgage, to be repaid between 1962 and 1982 at a rate of 5.125%.[25] In May 1960, it was announced that the historic Grand Opera House on 23rd Street would be demolished to make way for Penn South.[26] The theater burned down in a fire the next month.[27] RKO Pictures later constructed a new theater called Chelsea West Cinemas in Penn South near the site of the old opera house,[28] now used by the School of Visual Arts as the SVA Theater.[29]

Construction was delayed in July 1961 by a month-long strike by concrete-mixing workers. By that time, the ILGWU had hoped to complete and sell half of the apartments in Penn South, but were only able to find tenants for a quarter of the apartments.[22]

A dedication ceremony was held on May 19, 1962. President John F. Kennedy addressed the workers on the project, with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in attendance. Kennedy praised organized laborers for their work on the Penn South project, and cited the development as an example of what could be accomplished when laborers collaborated with public and private developers.[30][31] That October, some tenants were prevented from moving into their units due to a union dispute regarding sink installations.[32][33] The Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association, an African-American-run bank, opened a branch in Penn South in 1963, marking the first time that an African-American-run bank had been allowed to operate in a non-African-American neighborhood in New York City.[34]

Later years[edit]

The opening of Penn Station South spurred new development and gentrification in the surrounding community. Despite the initial resistance to moving out, many of the site's former residents were given preference for the new housing. As of Penn South's 20th anniversary in 1983, about 600 of the site's original families had moved back into the complex. A New York Times article published that year said that Penn South was "widely regarded as one of the best-run cooperatives in the state".[25] Penn South was composed mostly of elderly residents by 1990.[35] A community garden and a seniors' program opened in Penn South in 1986, and an exercise room and playground was opened in 2000. The co-op renovated its brick facades in 1997. It subsequently replaced its underground electrical infrastructure in 2003 and its HVAC system in 2011.[36]

Penn South Building 7

Building 7 of the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. Apartment 9J in the B portion of the building had been home to civil and gay rights activist Bayard Rustin from 1962 until his death in 1987.[37]

Notable residents[edit]

  • David Graeber, anthropologist, activist, and author; lived there from 1961 to the 2010s[38]
  • Bayard Rustin, civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights activist; lived there from 1962 to 1987[39]


Penn South contains 2,820 units in ten 22-story red-brick buildings numbered from 1 to 10.[40][41] The site is bounded counterclockwise from the west by Ninth Avenue, 23rd Street, Eighth Avenue, and 29th Street, and occupies an area of 36.44 acres (14.75 ha).[24] The buildings were designed by Herman Jessor.[40]

Each housing unit has between 2 and 6 rooms.[41] Penn South's desirability among prospective tenants has increased over the years: adjusted for inflation, the average cost of purchase was $650 per room in 1962, and it rose to $2,295 per room in 1983.[25] As of 2012, there were 6,000 names on a waiting list of prospective residents looking to purchase one of the units in the development.[41] In 2014, Penn South's management opened up a lottery system in which it randomly distributed some vacant apartments to applicants who met specified criteria.[42] Nearly 50,000 people applied for 1,200 vacant apartments.[43]

Although the residents of Penn South were generally lower- to middle-class, they were also known as a group that was "rich in spirit".[25][41] During the 1975 New York City fiscal crisis, residents prepaid their rents six months in advance so the nearly bankrupt New York City government would be able to use the funds.[44] Additionally, Penn South was among the first cooperative developments in New York City to draw power from gas, at a time when most other developments paid four times as much money to consume power from oil-powered generators.[25] The possibility of Penn South generating its own power had been proposed as early as 1960, before the development had opened, due to disagreements with utility provider Consolidated Edison over electricity rates.[45] The co-op was providing much of its own power, heating, and air-cooling by 1986.[36]

Seen from 26th Street

Penn South is served by the M20 bus operating on Seventh Avenue (southbound) and Eighth Avenue (northbound), and by the M11 bus operating on Ninth Avenue (southbound) and Tenth Avenue (northbound). The M23 Select Bus Service route operates crosstown along 23rd Street just south of the complex.[46] The closest New York City Subway station is the 23rd Street station on the C and ​E trains at Eighth Avenue. Penn South is also situated one block east of the High Line elevated park and within less than 1 mile (1.6 km) of Penn Station, Chelsea Market, Chelsea Piers, and the Hudson River Park.[47] The northern section of Penn South is located across from Chelsea Park on Ninth Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets.[47] PS 33, a public school, is located just south of the park.[48]

Tax abatements[edit]

During Penn South's planning, the United Housing Foundation faced opposing demands. The mostly low-income families who already lived on the site wanted Penn South to have lower rent rates so that they could continue living in the area. Simultaneously, another proposed UHF development in Coney Island, Brooklyn, was being challenged by developer Fred Trump, who promised to pay higher tax rates on the Coney Island site than the UHF would.[49]

To help keep Penn South affordable to those with limited incomes, New York City gave the development a 25-year tax abatement between 1961 and 1986. Taxes on properties in Penn South were levied at the same rates as on the older buildings they replaced.[25] After the tax abatement expired in 1986, the cooperative's shareholders voted for a 25-year phase-in of real-estate taxes, which was approved by the city's Board of Estimate.[36] A further adjustment was made when the development asked the city in 1999 for tax relief when the building boom in Chelsea caused the project's assessed value to skyrocket. The city responded in 2001 by allowing the development's taxes to be calculated based on the cooperative's income, as is done with Mitchell-Lama housing. In return, the development must remain a limited-equity cooperative until 2022. Under the terms of agreements reached with the City of New York in 2002, and separately with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Penn South's eligibility for tax abatements offered by Mitchell-Lama was extended to 2052.[36] Penn South shareholders voted in 2011 to extend its contract with the city until 2030; in return, the city government awarded the co-op more than $25 million to rehabilitate the complex's HVAC system.[36] In February 2017, the New York City Council extended Penn South's tax abatement to 2052, ninety years after the development's opening.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "About" on the Penn South website. Accessed:2011-03-10 Archived December 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Grutzner, Charles (June 2, 1956). "UNION MAY PUT UP BIG CHELSEA CO-OP; I.L.G.W.U. Considers Area Near Garment District for Slum-Clearance Project 'Big Six' Plan Discussed Board Approval Is Needed". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  3. ^ Bennett, Charles G. (June 30, 1956). "PLAN BOARD BACKS NEW CITY HOUSING; 5 Low-Rent Projects in Three Boroughs Are Approved-- Speed on 5 Others Urged Bronx Developments Bellevue Project Included". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  4. ^ "34 Million Co-op Housing Planned Near Penn Station; Slum Clearance Project Proposed for Area Near Pennsylvania Station". The New York Times. August 19, 1957. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  5. ^ "UNION HOUSING OPPOSED; Group Opens Chelsea Office to Fight I.L.G.W.U. Plan". The New York Times. March 2, 1958. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  6. ^ Grutzner, Charles (July 16, 1958). "CHELSEA REVISION SPARES CHURCHES; Moses Alters Plan to Tear Down 2 on Penn Station Housing Project Site". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Wicklein, John (November 22, 1962). "Old Religious Structures Stand Amid New Housing; CHURCHES SCORED BY A DEVELOPER He Says Pressure Was Put on City to Let 4 Stay on Penn Station South Site MOLLEN DENIES CHARGE Kazin Calls Old Buildings an Obstacle to Constructidn of Cooperatives Here Move Called a Mistake Ten Buildings in Project CHURCHES SCORED BY A DEVELOPER Believes Church Can Survive". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  8. ^ "Holy Apostles' Long and Varied History". NY Press. April 4, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  9. ^ "National Register Information System – Church of the Holy Apostles (#72000867)". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  10. ^ Freeman, Ira Henry (April 3, 1959). "3 HOUSE REBUILT ON SITE OF PROJECT; Contractor Remodeling Old Tenements Despite Title I Razing Due in July". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  11. ^ "Penn Station South Given $12,000,000 By U.S. for Housing". The New York Times. June 13, 1959. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  12. ^ "I.L.G.W.U. TO TAKE TITLE FOR PROJECT; Housing on West Side Will Displace 1,679 Families – City to Aid Shift". The New York Times. June 29, 1959. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  13. ^ Grutzner, Charles (June 30, 1959). "CITY CHALLENGED ON TITLE I LAND; Penn Station South Tenants Seek to Block Sale – Court to Act Today". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  14. ^ "TITLE I PROTESTS MOUNT IN CHELSEA; 30 Affidavits to Be Filed With Jack Today Citing Hardships on Tenants 4 FACE SECOND EVICTION Residents on Site of Penn Station South Project to Resume Picketing". The New York Times. August 24, 1959. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  15. ^ Alden, Robert (September 3, 1959). "CHELSEA TENANTS CALL RENT STRIKE; Mass Meeting Angrily Votes to Fight Removal From Title I Housing Site". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  16. ^ "Mayor Getting Bellevue South Tenants' Plan" (PDF). New York Post. August 30, 1959. p. 9. Retrieved May 28, 2018 – via
  17. ^ Crowell, Paul (August 27, 1959). "MAYOR TO CHANGE RELOCATION RULE IN TITLE I HOUSING; Inspection of New Quarters to Be Speeded – Double Moving to Be Barred CHELSEA AREA ASSURED Jack Sets Up Committee to Ease Displacement – Rift With Wagner Is Healed MAYOR TO CHANGE RELOCATION RULES". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  18. ^ "Charge Project Relocates Tenants Into Slums—Sponsors Deny It" (PDF). New York Post. August 9, 1959. p. 25. Retrieved May 28, 2018 – via
  19. ^ Phillips, Wayne (December 2, 1959). "PENN SOUTH UNIT ON HOUSING SPLITS; Jack Watchdog Committee Divides on Treatment of Tenants to Be Moved". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  20. ^ Phillips, Wayne (December 5, 1959). "JACK TERMINATES PANEL ON TENANTS; Watchdog Group at the Penn South Project Dissolved Amid Loud Dispute". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  21. ^ Ennis, Thomas W. (October 9, 1960). "TENANTS ALSO AID THEIR RELOCATION; 2,646 Families in Chelsea Moved to Make Way for Penn South Housing 64% FOUND OWN HOMES They Received $250 to $500 Bonuses – Program Cost Put at $728,504 TENANTS ALSO AID THEIR RELOCATION". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  22. ^ a b "Penn South Co-Op Set Back by Strike". The New York Times. July 29, 1961. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  23. ^ Grutzner, Charles (November 15, 1959). "CHELSEA' SOUGHT IN PROJECT NAME; ' Penn Station South' Fails to Identify Neighborhood, Some Residents Say". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  24. ^ a b O'Kane, Lawrence (April 3, 1960). "STATE BEGINS AID TO CITY RENEWAL; Lincoln Square and Penn Station South Among 9 to Share $4,800,000". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Malinconico, Joseph (June 5, 1983). "PENN SOUTH MARKING 2 DECADES OF SUCCESS". The New York Times. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  26. ^ Talese, Gay (June 1, 1960). "23d St. Theatre Fisk Bought For Showgirl to Be Demolished". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  27. ^ O'Kane, Lawrence (June 30, 1960). "DOOMED THEATRE BURNS IN CHELSEA; Empty 'Opera House' Once Owned by Fisk Razed – Hotel Is Evacuated". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  28. ^ "RKO First In Face-Lifting Projects" (PDF). Brooklyn Daily. February 15, 1963. p. 18. Retrieved May 28, 2018 – via
  29. ^ Elkies, Lauren (March 31, 2008). "Cinematic changes on West 23rd Street: Theater leased by School of Visual Arts". The Real Deal. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  30. ^ "Penn South – Rising to the Challenge". AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust. December 2, 2011. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  31. ^ Hunt, Richard P. (May 20, 1962). "PRESIDENT URGES UNIONS TO WIDEN THEIR SOCIAL AIMS; Praises I.L.G.W.U. Housing at Dedication Here as an Example of Progress CALLS FOR PARTNERSHIP Says Labor, Private Groups and U.S. Must Join Forces --10,000 Hear Address Raises a 'Grievance' President, at I.L.G.W.U. Housing Site Here, Urges Labor to Widen Its Social Aims ASKS PARTNERSHIP FOR U.S. PROGRESS Praises Project as Example of What Can Be Achieved by Working Together Project Called Example Discards Text Request Is Recalled". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  32. ^ "TENANTS OF CO-OP BARRED IN DISPUTE; Workers' Clash Over Sinks' Affects 189 Families". The New York Times. October 7, 1962. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  33. ^ Katz, Ralph (October 20, 1962). "Plumbers and Carpenters Agree On How to Install Co-op's Sinks". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  34. ^ Robinson, Layhmond (May 11, 1963). "Negro Savings and Loan to Open First Unit Outside Negro Area". The New York Times. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  35. ^ Kenney, Ted (December 9, 1990). "If You're Thinking of Living in: Chelsea". The New York Times. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  36. ^ a b c d e History, Penn South. Accessed September 1, 2017. "In April 2011 Penn South cooperators again voted in an advisory referendum to extend the contract with the City for an additional 8 years of tax abatement to 2030. In exchange, the City agreed to a package of over $25 million in financial aid to Penn South to help fund the replacement of the heating, ventilating, and air cooling system (HVAC). Most recently, to secure a $189 million refinance with HUD, Penn South shareholders voted to extend our contract for 22 additional years, through 2052."
  37. ^ "NRHP nomination for Bayard Rustin Residence" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  38. ^ Roberts, Sam (September 4, 2020). "David Graeber, Caustic Critic of Inequality, Is Dead at 59". The New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  39. ^ "Bayard Rustin Residence". NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  40. ^ a b White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot (2000). AIA Guide to New York City (4th ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-8129-3107-5., p. 188
  41. ^ a b c d Buckley, Cara (April 19, 2011). "Soul-Searching at a Defiantly Affordable Co-op". The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2017. Founded by a labor union in 1962, Penn South has 2,820 units scattered over six blocks, still charges rock-bottom prices and once was so left-leaning that resident Communists pilloried resident Socialists.... The complex, which was sponsored by the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union and is formally known as the Mutual Redevelopment Houses, is one of the last of a breed of New York co-ops built for the working class.... Some 6,000 people are on the now-closed waiting list, and if history is any indication, many will die before getting in.
  42. ^ Katz, Mathew (July 23, 2014). "Buy a Chelsea Apartment for Just $64K by Hitting Penn South Lottery". DNAinfo New York. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  43. ^ Katz, Mathew (August 12, 2014). "Up to 50,000 People Applied for Cheap Chelsea Apartments, Officials Say". DNAinfo New York. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  44. ^ Daniels, Lee A. (June 3, 1983). "ABOUT REAL ESTATE; WHEN CO-OPS IN CITY DECIDE TO PAY OFF THE MORTGAGE". The New York Times. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  45. ^ Sibley, John (February 22, 1960). "3 Projects May Fight Con Edison By Building Own Power Plants; 3 Projects May Fight Con Edison By Building Own Power Plants". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  46. ^ "Manhattan Bus Map" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. July 2019. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  47. ^ a b "MTA Neighborhood Maps: neighborhood". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 2018. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  48. ^ Edwards and Kelcey Engineers (1989). "Manhattan General Mail Facility: Environmental Impact Statement". p. IV-228. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  49. ^ Grutzner, Charles (December 10, 1958). "CO-OP DEVELOPER FIGHTS OPPOSITION; Foundation Fears Tax-Rent Squeeze on Coney and Penn Station South Projects". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  50. ^ Stiffler, Scott (February 2, 2017). "City Council Extends Penn South Tax Abatement Through 2052". Retrieved May 30, 2018.

External links[edit]