While the competition is relatively small scale, the department hopes it will have an outsize effect on neighborhoods.
“It’s really important to have continuity on the block,” said Hayes Slade, a partner at Slade Architecture and the president of the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter, who is one of the jurors. A vacant lot in the middle of the block is “like missing teeth,” she said, and the competition aims to fill those gaps.
Entrants will be asked to focus on a property on West 136th Street in Harlem, a 17-foot-wide, 1,665-square-foot mid-block lot that is overgrown with weeds and home to a number of feral cats. It was chosen because many of its challenges, including narrow frontage and limited sunlight, are present at other lots on the list, according to a spokesman for the project.
The department may consider co-living or micro-unit arrangements, but it is mostly anticipating plans for two- or three-family homes for buyers selected through the affordable housing lottery, although income limits have not been established yet. Below-market-rate rentals are also being considered.
Some in the community are apprehensive, as they have seen city-subsidized developments, on larger lots, that they believe neglected the needs of longtime residents, said Paula Z. Segal, a senior staff attorney for the Community Development Project’s Equitable Neighborhoods practice.
About 10 blocks away from the small lot in Harlem, an almost 8,500-square-foot property recently used as a community garden is expected to become a 36-unit, below-market-rate apartment building, with a restaurant and “tech incubator” space.
Units will be reserved for tenants making 30 to 90 percent of the median area income; for a family of three, that ranges from $28,170 to $84,510 a year. But that is a poor match for local tenants, Ms. Segal said. The median household income in this part of Harlem is about $38,000, according to census analysis by the data site Social Explorer.