Residents at an Upper West Side senior residence run by the Salvation Army are on edge as the building’s future is unclear.
The Salvation Army, which has operated the Williams Residence at 95th street and West End Avenue for decades, has filed papers paving the way for the building to be sold, according to a letter sent by local politicians to the Salvation Army leadership claiming the leadership misled them about their intentions (the letter is posted below). The Salvation Army has also told residents that their rents could rise 30% to 100% to pay for changes to the building.
The Williams Residence is an apartment building where people over 50 can get meals and services like physical therapy. It has a diverse group of residents (the monthly calendar “includes a writer’s group, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bible study, a Yiddish club and bingo among the many offerings,” according to the Times). The rates, according to the West Side Council for the Aging, run from $1,014 for a kitchen-less studio to $3,995 for a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen (the rents are not subsidized or regulated, but it’s considered one of the more affordable senior residences in the neighborhood).
The residence opened in 1965
after being bequeathed to the Salvation Army by brothers Edgar and Lyndon Perkins Williams (Update: The Salvation Army says they bought the residence; it wasn’t bequeathed and there are no restrictions on the deed). It has room for about 300 people. But lately, the Salvation Army has been allowing many of those rooms to go empty, resident Eva Yachnes told us:
“When we moved to The Williams, all of us expected to spend the rest of our lives, barring the need for nursing home care, in this place. We took the apartments that we could afford, and have been paying modest yearly rent increases. About a year ago, we began to notice a strange thing: when apartments became empty, they were not rented out. Anyone asking for an application was told that they were not renting apartments at this time. Different reasons were given, mostly along the lines of “We’re renovating,” or “We’ll be renting in the Fall.”
There are now over a hundred empty apartments. Once or twice we have seen realtors being given a tour of the facility. When we asked the Majors Carver and Major Boone, who run The Williams, what was happening, they all claimed to know nothing.
As you may imagine, we grew extremely concerned for our futures. It seemed likely that The Salvation Army was looking to sell the building. They have done so in the past with other residences that they owned. The Salvation Army no longer has another place in Manhattan to put us, so if they sell The Williams we will be out on our own. Most of us are in our eighties and nineties, with some residents close to a hundred years old.”
After the residents called City Council member Helen Rosenthal, the Salvation Army called a meeting and told residents that they didn’t plan to close the building, but that rents were likely to rise. A letter given to residents says that improvements were being considered for the building and that rents could be expected to rise by 30% to 100% from current rates (the letter is posted below).
“In the discussion that followed, we were not given a timeline for any of this to occur. For many, if not most of the residents, it would be impossible to pay such a raise in rent. We have been looking for alternatives, but there is nothing in Manhattan that offers housekeeping and meals that would be affordable to us.
Many have put their names on waiting lists for subsidized senior housing, but those who are too frail to cook and clean for themselves can’t go to such housing. We are hoping that The Salvation Army will make these proposed rent increases in a compassionate way by grandfathering the present residents so that we continue to get increases at the old rates. They are a religious and charitable organization—surely they wouldn’t want to throw old people out of their homes in order to make a profit.”
Later, Yachnes said residents found out the organization was planning to sell the building to a private entity, and may be clearing out the remaining residents to deliver the building empty to a buyer. She said they feel “betrayed.”
A Salvation Army spokesperson said the organization had no comment on the potential sale or rent increase. The spokesperson did not answer a series of questions sent by West Side Rag. The major in charge of the residence also did not respond to questions.
The Salvation Army is an international faith-based organization founded in the 19th century to help “the downtrodden, the tired, and the poor.” In the past few years the organization has been selling several buildings in New York, including a homeless shelter in Chinatown that fetched $30 million and will become a new upscale hotel and condo complex (a new shelter is expected to open in Brooklyn’s Chinatown). The Salvation Army also emptied and sold two buildings in Gramercy Park and Murray Hill a few years ago despite protests and political opposition. The group has said in the past that they can use the money they raise from real estate sales for more charitable work.
Helen Rosenthal says “we’re working closely with the tenants” but did not respond to our further questions about whether there has been any agreement to sell the building.
The letters below were handed out to residents at a meeting. Click to enlarge.