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The Father of Affordable Housing

Tracey Porpora A- A A+

R. Randy Lee’s Mark on the City is Measured not Just in His High-Profile Projects, But Also In His Spearheading of Developments for Middle & Lower-Middle Class Residents. 

In the 1960s, R. Randy Lee foresaw the need for affordable housing in New York City—particularly on Staten Island. Since then, this highly-touted lawyer, developer, philanthropist, and community activist has developed more than 5,000 homes across the city—more than 1,000 houses on Staten Island alone—many of them affordable condominiums and apartments, as well as several retail sites.

As co-founder of the Staten Island-based law firm Lee & Amtzis, LLP and CEO of the residential development company Leewood Real Estate Group, “Randy Lee” is a highly recognizable household name throughout the borough. “I’ve built homes in the Bronx, Westchester County, and every one of the boroughs of New York City. I have five decades worth of experience in the building industry. I’m proud of the affordable housing I’ve built in Stapleton, Mariners Harbor, and Concord,” said Lee. “I worked with the Partnership for New York City, and the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development during the Koch administration to build several thousand affordable houses in all boroughs. These were for middle income New Yorkers…working families. At the same time, I maintained a building operation on Staten Island developing market-rate houses, and provided homeownership opportunities in all price ranges. I’ve built homes on Staten Island that are over $1 million and down to $100,000 during that time period.”

In fact, Lee served as a pioneer in the affordable housing industry in New York City. “The idea of having people buy homes and put down roots in inner city neighborhoods was unheard of before we started developing affordable housing in New York City,” recalled Lee. “One of the first projects I built was in Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. There hadn’t been a new home built anywhere near there for 40 years. Now, going back to these neighborhoods years later, you see how different they are, and they’re better maintained today. I believe my biggest accomplishment is going into these inner-city areas and changing them.”

Today, Lee’s real estate development continues to flourish on Staten Island. “Currently, I’m working on an affordable senior citizen rental project on Victory Boulevard in Tompkinsville. Construction has started on 39 units there,” he said. “I also have a similar development that should be starting sometime later this year in the Bronx that will have 100 units.”

In addition, Lee is the co-developer with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty of the Sea View North facility, which will consist of a 188-bed affordable assisted living facility. “[It] will include a commons building that will be open to the community, and in the building will be the Shakespeare Theater, which will be a 99-seat venue. In addition, there will be more than 200 independent senior living condominiums for people age 55 and older. Seventy of the units will be in the affordable category,” he added. “This will be a signature project for Staten Island. We think this project–thanks to the graciousness of our elected officials—will be the kind of facility where prices will be at least 25 percent less than the going market rates for similar homes. It will be a top-class, first-rate facility, and far below what people would ordinarily pay. “

Meanwhile, the law firm of Lee & Amtzis, LLP has been in existence since 1969. “The law firm concentrates its efforts and expertise on real estate matters. We represent home builders, land owners, banks, and investors in all aspects of real estate matters,” said Lee, noting that he graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1969.

 

 

Philanthropic Efforts

Meanwhile, Lee’s philanthropic efforts on Staten Island have included helping many non-profit organizations, including the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, Project Hospitality and the Community Agency for Senior Citizens. “I have worked with many non-for-profits, particularly the Doe Fund, a homeless services organization in Manhattan. We built the first single room occupancy residence in Manhattan, and we’ve done similar projects in the Bronx. We also did an exquisite 400-bed shelter in Brooklyn,” Lee added.

Lee also serves as the executive vice chair of the SIEDC board of directors. “The SIEDC has evolved over the years to become a very active and important group for business development and growth on Staten Island,” said Lee.”We’ve held the Health and Environmental Conference and another health conference this year. We do an annual business conference in April, which we’ve done for many years. We have also operated the Staten Island film festival for many years.”

In fact, Lee was recently presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the SIEDC for his philanthropic efforts to improve the borough of Staten Island. “Having lived and worked here all my life, I have always taken pride in this borough, and will continue to do whatever I can to make Staten Island the best it can be,” said Lee.

Lee also has been involved with the Urban Affordable Housing Coalition, the New York State Affordable Housing Association, and the New York State Title Attorneys Bar Association. Within the industry, he is chairman of the board of the Building Industry Association of New York City (BIANYC), a senior life director for the national Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) and chairman of NAHB’s Legal Action Committee. Lee also was recently inducted into the New York State Builder’s Hall of Fame, and was named Man of the Year by BIANYC.

Lee is on the forefront of enhancing Staten Island’s image as chairman of SINY. “This group’s main purpose is to boost the image of Staten Island throughout the city and region. We want to change the image, and make people realize that Staten Island is a great place to live, work, and recreate,” maintains Lee.

In addition, Lee has been vice president of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) for more than 30 years. “A few years ago, we finished construction on our $40 million flagship facility on Manor Road,” says Lee. That’s a project that took 20 years to conceive, execute, and open.”

Future Challenges

In addition to developing affordable housing, Lee feels it’s important to have competitively priced market rate housing in the borough for young earners. “We need to figure out how to provide housing for young professionals so that our children don’t run away from Staten Island as soon as they’re able because they can’t afford to live here,” he explained.

Lee noted that he is also working to increase Staten Island’s public transportation system in order to prevent younger residents from moving away from the borough. “At the SIEDC, we’re working on the West Shore Light Rail System, which will create a rail that will start in Tottenville and come through the West Shore. It will go over the Bayonne Bridge and hook up with the Hudson/Bergen Line in New Jersey,” he said, “This will allow someone to get on the train in Tottenville and wind up in the Port Authority in Downtown Manhattan in under an hour.”

Lee—who has been married to Eileen Lee for 43 years, and has two daughters and three grandchildren–cites his staff as part of his success. “I have good, loyal people,” he says. “With their help, we hope to overcome the challenges that face everyone in our business and the marketplace. We hope to help Staten Island prosper.”

 

Leewood Real Estate Group
www.leewoodgroup.com at 718.983.3950
 
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