By Joy Bergmann
Social services agency Volunteers of America is selling its nine-story building at 340 West 85th Street, forcing the relocation of its executive offices and the closure of its Brandon Residence for Women, a 124-room boarding house-style rental for professionals and students since 1953. The sale will allow the nonprofit to continue its good deeds in a more efficient way, a spokesperson said.
Although VOA of Greater New York is a major provider of supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans, and runs dozens of other housing, vocational and health programs, the Brandon Residence residents are not social services clients. They’re tenants in an unusual setting: a women-only SRO offering two meals a day, private room with shared bath, utilities and 24/7 door staff on a quiet block between West End and Riverside Drive. The price? About $1250 a month, a tough-to-replace bargain in an area where even the rent for studios costs $1800-$3500.
“The residents were told of our decision to sell in early March 2016. Since that time, VOA-GNY has worked with our long-term residents, one-on-one, providing them with the comprehensive and compassionate support they need to find safe, affordable and appropriate housing,” says Rachel Weinstein, Vice President and Chief Development & Communications Officer at VOA-GNY. “We are doing everything we can to ensure a smooth and safe transition for them.” Everyone must vacate by March 2017.
The Brandon’s dissolution represents the loss of over 100 affordable housing units on the UWS and the ouster of a go-to resource for single women in transition (or simply on a budget).
Author M. Jan Holton mentioned her time at the Brandon during the early 1980s in her recent book Longing for Home: Forced Displacement and Postures of Hospitality. “By the time I lived there it was home to a wide variety of women and circumstances. Certainly some of us were students, but there were also some long-term elderly residents or working-class immigrants earning low wages who could not afford an apartment in the already competitive New York City market.”
Another writer who lived in the Brandon in 2014 explained in New York magazine why the place mattered: “A room of one’s own. It’s what I need right now, and it’s what the women in this room before me needed.”
A handful of more recent residents posting on Yelp raved about the pancakes, the view and the staff – though the lack of free, in-room WiFi irritated. “It’s kind of a wacky place,” reviewed Jenny B. “But it’s in a nice, safe neighborhood within walking distance to plenty of places. A block to the train.”
The agency says it will reinvest proceeds from a sale into its core services – noting the building is “no longer practical or economical for VOA-GNY.” Cushman & Wakefield is handling the sale, but the property has yet to appear on any of the major commercial real estate sites. “There is no asking price,” says Weinstein. “And all discussions regarding the sale are confidential.”
VOA-GNY joins the growing list of Upper West Side nonprofits looking to cash in on the recent – if fading – real estate boom, including Collegiate School’s sale at 78th and West End Avenue, and the Salvation Army’s sale of the Williams Residence at 95th and West End Avenue, which will compel its elderly residents to move out by the end of 2017.