A rendering of the proposed affordable housing complex on 108th Street, as seen from across the street.

By Joy Bergmann

Community groups are circling their wagons in preparation for a potentially contentious fight over the proposed construction of 304 units of affordable housing for seniors and families at 149 West 108th Street (between Amsterdam and Columbus), a site currently home to two city-owned parking garages and a senior housing facility, Valley Lodge.

Plans have evolved since WSR reported on the project back in March and June. A lengthy public process is set to start in the late spring, and the city and nonprofit that aim to build the housing are already getting their plans ready.

While the garages are owned by the city, the project is being run by the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH), a local nonprofit that manages housing for seniors, the disabled and low-income people. The WSFSSH owns the Valley Lodge senior residence that would also be demolished for the new project. The City requires a seven-month review process, called ULURP, because city-owned property will be conveyed to WSFSSH and because the proposed building would reach 11 stories at its highest point, higher than the local zoning regulations would normally allow. The earliest that hard-hat work could begin would be late 2017, according to WSFSSH.

108th parking
One of the parking garage on 108th street that could be demolished.

The current initiative is to create one building that would become home to approximately 400 people, mostly seniors. The project requires demolition of the two parking garages on either side of Valley Lodge.

According to the project’s parking study, at least 550 off-street parking spaces will disappear with the two budget-rate garages. The vast majority of spaces are kept by monthly subscribers from the 10025 and 10024 zip codes who pay about $365/month. The average parking rate in the area is $470/month.

A previously discussed idea to demolish a third garage on the block and construct a second building will not be pursued for at least five years, according to WSFSSH Executive Director, Paul Freitag.

Freitag says that local support for the project has been growing steadily since the group first presented it to Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee in December 2015. “More than 16 community organizations have come out publicly in favor,” he says. “We’ve been building affordable housing for 40 years, and doing so in ways that the community appreciates.”

Not everyone appreciates doing so on this particular block.

“It’s a really bad choice of location,” says attorney Michael Hiller who represents the opposition activist group Save Manhattan Valley (SMV), which he says has had over 1,700 people sign its petition against the plan. Hiller previously led the successful effort to stop developers from converting First Church of Christ, Scientist into condos.

For months, Save Manhattan Valley co-founder Meryl Zegarek says, the debate has been wrongly framed as people versus parking.  “What has been overlooked and not reported are the severe, adverse environmental impacts threatened by this project.”

SMV commissioned its own impact study (expected to be released soon) and says the properties at issue are contaminated with asbestos, lead and other chemicals. They say construction dust would release ambient particulates endangering residents, especially students attending Booker T. Washington Middle School (MS 54) across the street.

Freitag says proponents are conducting their own environmental study as part of ULURP and will release its findings in the spring. In any case, “We will make sure demolition and construction are done in a safe manner. Hazardous materials can be contained and not endanger the community. Such materials are contained all the time.”

Zegarek says their firm’s study also found “severe shadow impacts” across MS 54’s play spaces and the Anabil Aviles Playground just east of the proposed building.

WSFSSH’s shadow study refutes this, says Freitag.“We’re building on the north side of the block…and will not cast any shadows on [MS 54’s] ball fields on the south side of West 108th.” As for the Avilas playground, the proposed building’s graduated architecture – it steps down to six stories – means that any forthcoming shadows would be similar to the ones currently cast by the garage.

Though SMV says preservation of parking isn’t their primary issue, they say elimination of at least 550 spaces will have an adverse impact on the neighborhood. Zegarek says locals should expect increased traffic congestion, emissions and crashes as frustrated motorists endlessly circle the blocks seeking spots.

Councilman Mark Levine shares that concern. “While I support the goal of expanding affordable housing in the neighborhood, I’m not yet ready to support this plan until we better understand how an additional 500 cars on the street will be addressed.”

Opponents have also asked:  Couldn’t these units be built on one of the city’s 3000+ underutilized properties [according to this 2014 survey by the Municipal Arts Society] instead of this block?

“New York City is in desperate need of affordable housing and we are using each and every one of our assets to deliver,” says Juliet Pierre-Antoine, an HPD spokesperson. “Construction and land costs make affordable housing development more challenging than ever. As a result our public land is a precious resource as we work tirelessly to build much-needed affordable housing opportunities for all New Yorkers.”

In fact, there isn’t quite so much city-owned property available for building. The MAS study seems to indicate only four sites in CB7:  the 108th St. garages at issue, an occupied building at 165 West 80th, an occupied building at 107 West 105th and 266 West 96th, which is reportedly already being targeted for development.

WSR asked SMV if they could point to a specific, equivalent, available location – meaning, close to public transit, offering nearby retail like groceries and pharmacies as well as having an adequate, residential-appropriate footprint. We haven’t heard back.

Some elected officials have already endorsed the project.

“While too many are looking for silver bullets and shortcuts, or saying ‘it can’t be done’ when it comes to our need for affordable and senior housing, it’s organizations like WSFSSH that are in the trenches doing amazing work,” says Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “This proposal for a 100-percent affordable housing development is what I want to see more of, not just on the West side, but across all of Manhattan.”

Times columnist Ginia Bellafante also weighed in, questioning whether the concerns raised by opponents should stall a project that could ease the housing crisis.

“During a housing crisis so acute — the number of people arriving in homeless shelters each night now exceeds 60,000 — there comes a time to ask when some democracy is arguably too much, when need and inconvenience can no longer be weighed equally.”

SMV’s attorney promises to be watching the city’s every move.

“When the ULURP process begins, we will make sure the City complies with all its requirements. If the City commits procedural errors or substantive errors of law, we will institute legal action on behalf of Manhattan Valley residents,” says Hiller. “We would prefer to get in a room with WSFSSH and the City and find an alternative solution. We are hoping the city changes its perspective on this so we don’t have to sue.”

For now, residents can voice their support for or opposition to the project online.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 33 comments | permalink
    1. Mark says:

      WAIT they would destroy that playground? It’s too bad what happened to that area, that cop with the itch to scratch painted over the mural on 107th and now this. Congrats yuppies, you won.

      • PedestrianJustice says:

        No. The playground remains where it is. The plan includes improvements to the playground, also, I believe.

        • Dan says:

          The playground, Anibal Aviles Playground, will remain, and WSFSSH has committed to building a publicly-open bathroom on their property but accessed through the park. The new construction will also add light and windows facing the park at night, discouraging the occasional illegal drug activity that takes place.

    2. Fair is Fair says:

      To all the commenters who forcefully (and often nastily) suggested that ‘if you do not have kids then you should shut up and stay out of the school rezoning issue’ well now is the time to practice what you preach. And before you try the ‘homelessness affects us all’ rationale be reminded that you were having none of the ‘education of children affects us all’ argument.

      • DenMark says:

        What are you trying to say here? People without cars shouldn’t have input?

        • Fair is Fair says:

          Quite the contrary DenMark. I think everyone in our community should weigh in on anything that they feel strongly about. My barb was directed at those commenters who felt that those of us who did not have school kids had no place giving our perspective on the rezoning.

    3. Vox Populi says:

      Can anyone explain why projected construction plans for the affordable housing project can’t include garage facilities in the basement of the building?

      • Joy Bergmann says:

        Please see p. 14 and Figure 23 of the parking study linked in the story. There are eight scenarios explored. The least expensive among them would cost $246,818 per space to construct.

    4. Paul says:

      Hmmm, let’s see.
      How should a City devote its limited resources?
      Housing for 400 people, or for 550 cars?

      Why is this even being discussed?

    5. KJ says:

      “Save Manhattan Valley” should be dubbed “Save Our Subsidized Parking Spots”. I get that some people will be inconvenienced by this development. But it is just than; an inconvenience.

    6. Sarah says:

      Since moving to the UWS, I have frequently been struck by the shallowness of commitment in people who consider themselves to be liberal. Your below-market parking spots just cannot outweigh the importance of providing housing for vulnerable seniors. Having a car in Manhattan is under most circumstances simply a luxury. If you can’t afford it without a city-subsidized rent (and the price will be set by supply), then you can’t afford it.

      • Eric says:

        Sarah, I get that for many people in the city a car is a luxury item. But there are those of us for whom it is not.

        Some of us have jobs that require us to carry more gear with us than one can carry down the stairs of the 110th St. station or that can fit in a cab. Some of us have to do almost daily errands with an elderly parent who lives in a part of Queens inadequately served by mass transit. Some of us have to take them to doctor appointments out of the boroughs.

        I get it. For many posters to this site housing trumps all. No point even trying to argue it. But the ‘luxury item’ generalization does not fit us all. And you know, we all have our cherished amenities, the loss of any of which leads us to fear the decline and fall of Upper Western civilization. For some people it is the loss of a laundromat, or a shoe repair shop. For others it is the loss of a service that makes important parts of our lives workable.

      • Eric says:

        Sarah, one additional response. I agree with you that the the rates should not be, in any way, subsidized. Asking for ‘affordable’ private parking would be ludicrous. And again, I get that for many people there is no way that parking could ever be as important as housing. But our neighborhood could sure use an ample supply of both.

    7. martin says:

      Get the government out of housing! Let people live where they want and can. Start setting people up outside of the city. Let the market take care of it. The government just messes things up.

      • harry says:

        I agree with Martin, Manhattan is prime real estate that comes with a price. Why do we need to import seniors into the middle of Manhattan as part of some social experiment. All of us would love to have a pied-at-terre in NYC as we grow older but few of us can afford this, so why is this luxury given to the poor? Is this social justice? Oh please, grow up. By the way, i voted for Hillary. Thanks, H

    8. Janet says:

      It seems that older people and privately owned cars are not a good mix for the USW. As wonderful as it may be to have one’s own car – and I had one until the day 38 years ago that I moved to the UWS – there are all sorts of alternatives available for personal transportation. Not so with affordable housing for seniors and other desperate for a decent place to live. Why should cars outweigh the needs of people, especially those whose lives are lived in the shadow of poverty, shabby and unlivable housing and the lack of respect that we manifest toward older people. If you own a car and have cheap garaging ($365/month it says in the article),it seems you can afford alternate forms of transportation. To deny others a decent and affordable place to live for one’s CAR is the height of selfishness and self-regard so “deplorable” that it beggars the imagination.

      Yes, you can get other transportation. Those elderly people are also someone’s family member.

    9. reed says:

      The proposed project by WSFSSH which may be supported by a select group of political figures are responsible for the eco-social or racial steering of a population into a small area within the Upper West Side….an area that is identified as Manhattan Valley. For decades groups such as WSFSSH have targeted this impoverished community for a multitude of projects and frequently without listening to our voices.

      This discriminatory practice denies full access to housing options and opportunities in a range of neighborhoods within the Upper West Side. Why is this? Simply because Manhattan Valley continues to be host to 40% of the affordable/supportive housing within the Upper West Side and WSFSSH thinks that ‘it is best’ for us to continue this intentional racial steering above West 96 Street. Affordable/supportive housing opportunities are limited below West 96 Street and they are scattered within a wider region, however this is not true above that magic wall that separates the ‘haves-and have-nots’.

      Truly an effective way to assist people using government housing subsidies would be a policy that voluntarily allows residents the mobility to move out of areas of poverty concentration: this simply means the creation of affordable/supportive housing within more affluent communities and not within already impoverished neighborhoods. Mobility programs that offer opportunities out of impoverished communities need to be developed and I would think that if organizations such as WSFFSH truly cared for people that are denied opportunity they would truly consider the negative impact they are creating for Manhattan Valley. It appears that WSFSSH is jumping on the numbers wagon by creating large affordable projects in already impoverished communities, thus creating a classic example of segregation: intentionally or unintentional this is the result of ‘what they think is best for our community’.

      Furthermore, HPD, the politicians and especially groups such as WSFSSH need to look at policy that adversely affects a community that is at risk and without opportunity. Funding along with fair practices need to be well-thought out in order to give opportunity to people outside of impoverished communities…….certainly WSFSSH does not care about the adverse effects they are creating as exemplified bythe West 108 Street project in Manhattan Valley.

      As residents of NYC and especially that of the Upper West Side we need to take a hard look as to where affordable/supportive housing projects are concentrated and the immense effects it has on already segregated schools, crime, quality of life and the business community. And most of all the loss of opportunity for our residents.

      • Samantha Davies says:

        Manhattan Valley already an “impoverished neighborhood”. Really!? The 1970’s are calling, they want your common sense back.

    10. Reed says:

      various letters were written in response to the project. Letters of disagreement were not printed. The concept of Manhattan Valley being an already segregated community was identified and discussed in one response.

      I am curious as to why segregation and discriminatory housing practices by social housing groups and public policy are not open for discussion by the newspaper?

    11. Mouse ears says:

      It’s weak that the Westside rag omits some facts. Of
      Course we need affordable housing. Manhattan Valley provides 40% of the supportive housing and social
      Services that exist on the upper west side. But spread it out a little going forward! The schools are failing in this cachement. Why on earth allow for more segregation in the two public primary schools in this area? Over 75% of the kids in these schools (see the DOE website) get free lunch. For all of the conversation below 96th street about segregated school zones – how can they justify adding affordable housing which is NOT for the families
      Who live in the neighborhood. It will be lottery where only 25% of the housing goes to people in CB7 due to federal guidelines. The rest of the residents will be imported from other parts of the city. So this plan does not support the people in need in our very own neighborhood. In fact it undermines the people in need who live in Manhattan Valley. This is not about
      Cars folks. Don’t let them deceive you. This is called poor urban planning and ghettos by design. Our
      Neighborhood is saturated and those making the decisions don’t live with here with us.

      • Jay says:

        We’ve heard this before…. that somehow Manhattan Valley is “overburdened” with supportive housing. There’s no reference for this statement. I believe it’s completely made up. Regardless, it’s a red-herring.

        Housing for the less fortunate is a good thing to have in your community and I can’t think of any real, long-term negatives with this project. Diversity is what makes this a neighborhood. Cars are not.

        • reed says:

          there are numerous references to the stats regarding affordable housing within the Upper West Side. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had a posting on the CB 7 website identifying each affordable site. By simplify adding the numbers it clearly demonstrates that Manhattan Valley is host to the majority of affordable/supportive housing sites within the Upper West Side. Lets be clear, the residents of Manhattan Valley have always embraced previous projects, however when it is evident that our community is segregated it is time to demonstrate to the officials that this can no longer be tolerated.

          It interesting that many of the concerned parties that support this project live outside our community. Furthermore, some of the members of WSFSSH have used blatant racist remarks as part of their strategy to push their proposal though in order to shame and to discredit many of the voices of Manhattan Valley. WSFSSH needs to be challenged for these racist comments and even more so for socio-economic steering of people into an already impoverished community without thought and consideration.

          • Jay says:

            “there are numerous references to the stats regarding affordable housing within the Upper West Side”

            Provide one. Anything that shows the methodology on how this was calculated…

            If this is the main talking point you have, you should have this information.

            I’m still confused what you and the rest of SMV folks see as the long term negatives on our community from having affordable housing for the elderly and other families? So, far just seems like it’s about cheap parking and/or run-of-the-mill NIMBYism. Unless, you have some other issues that aren’t presented above.

    12. Save me from Save Manhattan Valley says:

      It’s shocking that CM Mark Levine is still dithering on this. Clear aside all the pretexts, and “Save Manhattan Valley” is really about hanging onto a sweet parking deal in a city where the waiting list for affordable senior housing is seven years long. Levine knows better. Those 500 parkers are simply going to have to resign themselves to paying market rate, or they’ll decide that owning a car in an already congested and polluted city maybe isn’t as essential as they thought given the plentiful alternatives.

    13. KJ says:

      It’s certainly clever to try and use desegregation as an argument against the proposed development. On reflection, though, it’s a grotesquely racist line of argument. What Reed is suggesting is that the development will bring the wrong kind of people (presumably Black and Hispanic poor people) to the neighborhood. Furthermore, that powerful forces are intentionally dumping these undesirables north of 96th street.

      Of course, this racist conspiracy can be explained easily practical considerations, namely the availability of city owned land on 108th street.

      Reed’s allegations of racial segregation and housing discrimination are bizarre and grotesque.

    14. ksf says:

      Why can’t some reasonable percentage of the 500 lost spaces of parking for the nhd be constructed UNDER the new building?

      Explain that please!!

      • Joy Bergmann says:

        Please see the linked parking study in the story, pages 14-23, for a lengthy explanation of 8 different scenarios for possible spaces under the building.

        The options are quite expensive and max out at about 174 spaces.

        • The cost per square foot for construction of parking is highly exaggerated. At $450/SF you can build finished space like middle income housing or public schools which have heating, electrical, plumbing, bathrooms, kitchens and elevators.

    15. Samantha Davies says:

      Let me get this straight: They are fighting to preserve subsidized parking for a handful of people against subsidized housing for elderly people? How adorable!!

      Save Manhattan Valley claims that it’s not about the parking, yet they keep plastering cars with flyers that read, “Your may lose this parking space”.

      Most of the flyers end up on the ground littering the streets.