The Salvation Army has made a deal to sell The Williams senior residence on 95th street and West End Avenue to a private developer for $108 million, and plans to remove the remaining seniors from the building. The nonprofit expects to build a new 10-story residence on East 125th street where the seniors who live at the Williams can move.
The plan is drawing opposition from the people living in the building and from politicians at the local, city, state and national level. The momentum has increased since we broke the story of the potential sale last week.
“It’s outrageous that the Salvation Army would do this,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told us in an interview Tuesday. “But it’s not a done deal. Not yet.”
Brewer says that if the Salvation Army feels that it must sell, it should sell to another nonprofit that will maintain the building for seniors.
For the building to be sold to developer Brack Capital Real Estate, a state judge and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman must sign off. Schneiderman’s office didn’t get back to us. The Salvation Army has already applied to Schneiderman’s office for permission and building resident Eva Yachnes says that building residents have until July 2 to respond.
Among the politicians who are pushing back against the plan are Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, Congressman Jerry Nadler, State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, and Public Advocate Letitia James.
“By selling the Williams to a luxury housing developer, the Salvation Army will force a vulnerable population of seniors out of their homes – many of whom are not physically, mentally, or financially capable of moving,” said Rosenthal in a statement.
“The Salvation Army’s proposed sale of the building to a private developer is in complete opposition to its charitable mission,” said O’Donnell.
Politicians, residents and their supporters plan to rally in front of the Williams at noon on Wednesday and are hoping locals will come out to join them.
The Salvation Army has run the Williams Residence since 1965. Residents there get services, including meals, housekeeping and physical therapy. They pay between $1,000 and $4,000 to live there, depending on the size of the room and the services. It’s considered affordable, but it’s not an income-restricted residence — in fact, the Salvation Army requires that residents make more than twice as much as they need to pay the fees, according to the West Side Council for the Aging. There are 352 apartments in the building, but resident Eva Yachnes tells us that the Salvation Army has allowed more than 100 to remain empty as they worked on a sale.
The Salvation Army has hired BerlinRosen, a political consulting and PR firm that touts its liberal bona fides and has close ties to both Schneiderman and Mayor de Blasio. In a press release issued through BerlinRosen on Tuesday, the nonprofit said the deal to sell the building is the best way for the Salvation Army to help the seniors. They claim they would otherwise have had to make substantial renovations to the residence that would have displaced the resident anyway.
“A lot of thought went into this project, and after a lot of analysis, the creation of a new facility allows us to serve the most seniors with the best facility,” explained Major James Betts, General Secretary for The Salvation Army Greater New York Division. “We are excited about how much more we will be able to offer to seniors and the community at large with this move.”
The Salvation Army performed an exhaustive analysis of all alternatives, including renovating the Williams Residence, which would have required residents to move during the renovation process and would have increased occupancy fees significantly.
The Salvation Army has declined repeated requests to answer questions about this project, but will apparently speak with us tomorrow.
The new residence on 125th street and Third Avenue (pictured at right) is expected to have “250 apartments for people 55 and older and will include a fitness facility, a city view dining room, a café, outdoor space including a rooftop garden, as well as meeting rooms and places for the residents to gather,” the press release says. “The senior residence will sit above a community facility which allows The Salvation Army to also offer many additional services, including a full basketball court sized recreational area, library, computer room, music and art room, cafeteria and numerous game rooms and classrooms.”
But residents and their supporters note that the seniors are not looking for fancy new cafes — they want to be close to their doctors, friends and family. Some even left rent-stabilized apartments to move into the Williams because they wanted a more senior-friendly environment.
Offering to move the seniors to s new neighborhood doesn’t make much sense, said Carol van Deusen, whose mother was a resident at the Williams. The people who live there now aren’t destitute; they just wanted a place to live in the neighborhood that had some senior-friendly services.
“Why bother [moving them to a new residence] at all. These people are not the usual people who go to the Salvation Army for help….They pay good money to live at the Williams and had to prove their income ability when they moved in. There may be some people who have limited resources especially if the SA threw them out of there other properties when they sold them; like the one on 18th Street now selling apartments for 30 million dollars. One friend of mine pays $4000.00 a month for her one bedroom at The Williams. She’s 89 years old and although she can’t hear, she’s as sharp as a tack. And then to read how the SA will pay for their move and not raise their rent for at least 18 months…”