Affordable Senior Housing…or a Sculpture Park

Affordable Senior Housing_Elizabeth-stAffordable Senior Housing Needs King Solomon

In 1980, City-Owned Block 493, Lot 30 was set aside for a school or affordable housing.  In 1981, half of the site was developed  with 152 units of project-based Section 8 affordable housing called the Little Italy Restoration Apartments (LIRA). The other half of the site has been undeveloped since the 1970s.

The site has been leased since 1991 to a private individual Allan Reiver for use by his company, Elizabeth Street Gallery, on a month-to-month basis for $4,000 per month. In 2010 the census reported an 18.7% drop in Nolita residency among people 65 years +.   In 2012, the city committed to developing additional affordable housing in Council District 1 beyond the 500 permanently affordable units being developed at the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.   In 2013 a group called Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden, joined with the gallery to oppose the housing proposal and instead open the space for garden use; since then access is through the gate when volunteers are available to unlock it. The site is still under lease by Allan Reiver. It is neither Greenthumb or City parkland.  Neither the City or the Parks Dept. has made any commitment to make this site a park in the future.

In September Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) submitted a proposal for $6 million in funding toward building a 75-100 unit affordable senior housing facility. The residents around the sculpture park and CB#2 exploded.  Seniors and Senior Housing advocates cheered.  The scene at the LMDC Hearing was highly charged…and polarized.  The Villager; The LowDown

Seniors are the fastest growing demographic in the city overall and will account for more than 20% of the population by 2030. In this Census tract people currently over 55 years account for 25% of renter occupied units; those under 25 years account for 3.5%. Between 2009 and 2013 this tract’s population of citizens 62 years and over dropped 18.7%, the largest drop of any age bracket.

Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden’s well-financed campaign to keep this gated facility as a garden has garnered a significant foothold with The Villager, less so with the New York Times and DNAInfo.  Community Board #2 contends that the District is deficient of parkland and that senior housing can be sought in possibly available sites around Hudson Square in the West Village.  One of these would be at the site of a water tunnel maintenance site, the other possible affordable units in the as yet undefined St. John’s site on the West Side Highway.  To date the City has refused even park installations on their Water Tunnel locations because emergency access and security for NYC’s precious water supply is paramount.  Not everyone agrees with this assessment, particularly Tobi Bergman, CB#2’s Chair.

The position that this proposal is Affordable Housing vs. Parks in CB#2 is misleading. (1) Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden does not qualify for this LMDC
grant; (2) This is not a Parks Department site; (3) Residents and visitors do not live or work or play by Community Board boundaries. There are, in all, more than five official Parks Department sites within a five block radius – more than nine acres; two more are planned or in development within six blocks, all of which accommodate recreation and enjoyment for citizens of all ages.  Further, the design for this proposal could easily incorporate public green-space, perhaps not as expansive, but nevertheless public and green.

For those supporting affordable senior housing, the Elizabeth St. site, in the middle of rampant gentrification, provides a unique opportunity to restore balance to Senior Citizens in Little Italy/Nolita who are constantly subject to displacement, the majority of whom reside in buildings without elevators. Even Institutions like Old St. Patricks Cathedral School and the Italian American Museum have contributed to gentrification well beyond the means of low-income seniors.

As a much discussed City affordable housing initiative, this site is uniquely affordable, the LMDC grant would make it more so. It is also a site well- suited to senior needs with nearby transportation (#6, J, Z, M103), senior health services, parks, navigable and safe streets and sidewalks, food shopping and deliveries.

At the same time, this site is high value to the City.  Alternatively it will likely be sold at a premium price, contributing to City coffers, with a condition that the purchaser build affordable units elsewhere. This happens frequently.  With this outcome there are seldom conditions that promise a number of units or secure the level of affordability at which they will be offered. And, in this scenario, Little Italy becomes more dense, more gentrified and less green.  Senior affordable housing, if indeed this type is secured, would likely be in Queens or Staten Island where land is cheaper than Manhattan.  The Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden get more wealthy neighbors.

So, back to King Solomon.  The baby is low-income seniors.  The two mothers are Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden and HPD.  OR, the baby is Block 493, Lot 30.  The two mothers are Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden and low-income seniors?  OR, maybe you have another configuration in mind.

NoHo-Bowery Stakeholders, by vote, have advocated for low-income senior affordable housing on Elizabeth St.

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