‘Sparks Are Going to Fly’ Monday Over Affordable Housing Project and Homeless Shelter

Rendering via West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The formal approval process for the affordable-housing project proposed for West 108th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, begins Monday evening, October 30th, at a joint public meeting of the Land Use, Health & Human Services, Housing, and Transportation Committees of Community Board 7.

“On big projects we often involve two or more committees,” said CB7 Chairperson Roberta Semer. They’ve also moved the meeting to Goddard Riverside Community Center, on Columbus Avenue and 88th Street, because “we’re expecting too big a crowd for our office,” Semer said. And they’ve called the meeting for 5:30 p.m., suggesting they’re anticipating a long night.

Representatives from the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH), the nonprofit developer of the West 108th Street project, will present plans for the expansion of Valley Lodge, a homeless shelter for seniors they have operated on that site for nearly 30 years, and the addition of 194 new units of permanent, affordable housing for low-income seniors and families.

“This is not like market-rate housing where a certain percentage is low-income,” said Paul Freitag, executive director of WSFSSH. “This is a 100% affordable development. Another thing that’s unique about it is it combines both a shelter and affordable housing. The idea is to provide a continuum of housing that makes sure residents end up stably housed.”

The new building will be what Frietag called, “outward facing,” meaning “it will serve the community as well as provide affordable housing,” he said. “We’re partnering with the Institute for Family Health and they will be doing a federally qualified health center in the building, open to any Upper West Sider — any New Yorker — who needs affordable healthcare.”

The project will also offer community meeting rooms and event spaces, rest rooms for an adjacent playground, and storage for a nearby Head Start program and for ambulances from the Central Park medical unit.

“The goal of the project is not to just serve the people who live in the building, but to really serve the greater community,” Freitag said.

Why, then, are hundreds of residents of Manhattan Valley, the community in which the project is to be built, expected to show up at Monday’s meeting to protest against it? Why have they hired Michael Hiller, a leading land-use attorney to represent them?

“I want people to have affordable housing,” said Meryl Zegarek, co-founder of Save Manhattan Valley (SMV), a nonprofit leading the fight against the project. “I’m not a mean person,” she said — twice. “I’m active in interfaith and social action. I do all kinds of things to heal the world. This is breaking my heart, but I really don’t think this is the right project in the right place.

“If we felt the community wasn’t behind what we were saying, we would stop,” she went on. “Most people don’t have a problem with permanent, affordable housing; that’s not the issue. Most support it or we wouldn’t live in Manhattan Valley, which has, at least, 40% of the supportive housing on the Upper West Side. We’re just against this particular project, which is taking something away from the community as it exists now. We don’t mind something being added to the community, we don’t want something taken away.”

What’s being taken away?

“One, the light,” Zegarek said. “Manhattan Valley doesn’t have a lot going for it. The biggest plus is the light. I’ve lived here for 18 years. I moved from the Upper East Side, which I hated; it was so noisy and congested. I came up here and I just loved the light and the openness and the old buildings and the rowhouses that make up all of the side streets.

“We have a zoning variance,” she explained. “There are people in my organization who worked very hard for years to keep all new buildings built on the side streets of Manhattan Valley at seven stories, nothing higher. This project wants to go to 11 stories, for three quarters of a block! They’re going to break the zoning law in Manhattan Valley in order to build this project. That law hasn’t been broken in 9 years.”

And then there’s the matter of parking, which many believe is the true motive for the protest. Building the facility would require the eventual demolition of three city-owned parking garages, holding a total of 725 cars, representing 25% of Manhattan Valley’s off-street parking.

“We actually spent a great deal of time and energy and, frankly, money exploring the parking situation to see if we could include parking as part of our project,” Freitag said. “We put an RFP out to parking operators, including the current one, and asked them how we could put parking under the building. Unfortunately, in this location, the bedrock comes almost up to the surface. We were told uniformly that the cost of excavating would be prohibitively expensive. We really tried.”

To which Zegarek replied, “Our argument isn’t with WSFSSH — they do fine work — it’s with the City. If the project goes forward, we’d like them to replace the parking, because they’re taking away a valuable resource that’s been here for 30 years. We put a man on the moon. We can figure out where to put some cars for people in the community.”

“There is a real concern on the part of the community I represent that their perspective on this matter has been misunderstood and exploited by the powers that be,” said Michael Hiller. “So many times I’ve heard that this is a matter of parking versus people. It’s not parking versus people. It’s people versus people. The principal concern of the neighborhood is that the City of New York is shoehorning this facility into an area when it’s not necessary to do so. There are thousands of other sites available for affordable housing throughout the five boroughs. My first hope is that we can find another place for this affordable housing.”

On Monday night, both sides will make their cases.

“So, it begins,” Meryl Zegarek said. “Sparks are going to fly. There are a lot of very upset people.”

NEWS | 41 comments | permalink
    1. John says:

      I wonder if anyone will have the guts to just come out and admit they don’t want more poor and homeless people in their neighborhood.

      Complaining about “light” seems to be the new go-to for NIMBYs of all stripes; whether opposing high-end towers or low-end affordable housing. Bottom line, the city needs more housing and that requires that we build vertically. There’s still ample sunlight available in the two enormous parks flanking the UWS, and if you need to be bathed in sunlight at all hours, there’s always the suburbs.

      • You need to examine the Environmental Study prepared by GHD Consulting before you assume that this is a NIMBY fight. When you review the Study and our White Paper on the subjects of adverse environmental impacts and the Fair Share Criteria, you’ll learn that: (1) this proposed project is rife with dangerous environmental hazards that are likely to lead to life-threatening conditions in the neighborhood; and (2) the neighborhood already has the highest proportion of public facilities in the City. What the people of Save Manhattan Valley would like to do is relocate the facility to a more suitable location — either within this District or outside it. At the moment, a Study by the Municipal Arts Society has confirmed that there are more than 3,000 alternate sites from which to choose. THAT’S what this is about.

      • H says:

        As I read this article I was thinking the same thing. Not a popular position to take but I think making the argument that oversaturating this area or the UWS as a community with various types of transitional housing and making a case as to how that has a negative impact overall would be the better argument (if that could be measured of course). While lighting and parking are no doubt important to many, it basically a weak position to take especially when dealing with an issue of humanity.

      • Elizabeth Kellner says:

        Manhattan Valley has 40% of the affordable housing in all of CB#7 plus including the very large Douglass NYCHA project. There are also dozens of supportive housing agencies which have located here over the 40 years I have been a resident because NYC owned so much abandoned vacant property and gave it away to non-profits. Those projects were never opposed excel;t by a small handful of people. Manhattan Valley is predominantly a community of working class and low income people with an ethnic diversity unmatched on the UWS. More “poor people” as you say is not the problem. Know the history and know the community before you make unfounded and unfair assumptions and judgments. I have lived here 41 years and know my neighbors pretty well. Also the private Collegiate School was supposed to finance some affordable housing at the southern end of CB#7 in exchange for getting their new $50,000/year tuitionschool located in Riverside South. Collegiate ultimately threw in the towel and literally bought it’s way out of that obligation by offering the city $50M. So instead of “poor people” as you put it at the southern end of CB#7 where there is precious little diversity, the housing is located in Manhattan Valley where no one who lives south of 96th St. has to worry about the changes it will bring to traffic, noise, pollution, pedestrian safety and quality of life

        • Jay says:

          There is little diversity on the southern end of CB7? When was the last time you visited? Clearly you haven’t been to the Amsterdam houses.

          Please tell us how a building for low income elderly residents will adversely impact the “traffic, noise, pollution, pedestrian safety and quality of life” compared to a parking garage? Be specific.

      • westy says:

        Plus you have the middle school right across the street – a low rise building and an enormous playing field. Plenty of sunlight on that block.

        Just a case of people who don’t want to lose 750 subsidized parking spots grasping at anything they think can of.

        Senior housing is a fabulous use to replace those decrepit garages.

        • John says:


          It would be interesting to see an unbiased study of how some impoverished seniors will negatively impact “traffic, noise, pollution, pedestrian safety and quality of life”.

          If anything, it seems like eliminating parking garages will improve most of those factors.

          I don’t personally have a position on this project, it just feels like most of the arguments against it are disingenuous. The complaint that MV already has a lot of affordable housing seems to tangentially argue that it’s the quality of tenants that’s the real problem here. I mean, even if MV already has a lot of affordable housing, why not add more where there’s a good opportunity to do so?

          @ Michael

          “What the people of Save Manhattan Valley would like to do is relocate the facility to a more suitable location — either within this District or outside it. At the moment, a Study by the Municipal Arts Society has confirmed that there are more than 3,000 alternate sites from which to choose. THAT’S what this is about.”

          This is as straightforward a NIMBY argument as you get. “This project is great; we love seniors; just put it somewhere else!” Of course, the next chosen location will have it’s own band of NIMBYs complaining about light, and potential toxins involved in construction, parking spaces etc. and claim that it should go in one of the other 2,999 locations.

          Incidentally, I read through the GHD Consulting report. Its assessment of dangers struck me as speculative and excessively alarmist. Was this report commissioned by a group opposed to this project? It seemed to be written with a pre-existing conclusion in mind.

    2. Josh P. says:

      I support affordable housing.

    3. Sherman says:

      Isn’t building “affordable housing” for the poor and homeless in one of the most expensive areas of the country an oxymoron?

      Manhattan Valley used to be a horrible and dangerous area. Now it’s undergoing a bit of a renaissance. Building this facility will likely cause middle class residents to flee and send MV back to the bad old days.

      • your neighbor says:

        Because people are so scared of the residents of a building offering affordable housing for seniors?

    4. Solution says:

      Solution: Charge for ALL parking on side streets, and use the proceeds to fund parking facilities.

    5. Chuck says:

      We don’t need to replace parking. Parking generates traffic. Traffic degrades safety, the environment, and quality of life. Of all issues and concerns, many of which may be completely valid, parking should be lowest on the list, particularly in such a dense and transit-rich neighborhood.

    6. Daniel says:

      Is there a way for those of us who can’t make it in person to express support for this project? Adding more affordable housing to the neighborhood is really important.

    7. Carbloader says:

      Does anyone know why Absolute Bagels is closed today?

      • H says:

        As I stated a while ago in regard to the design of the Nat. Hist. Museum expansion, build it in the shape of a bagel and there would be little complaint…so I’ll propose the same design for this building. People on the UWS care more about bagels than they do people.

      • J says:

        This is a great user name and comment combo

    8. mort says:

      put this on the East side, there is enough homeless housing on the upper west

    9. Emmaia Gelman says:

      How about interviewing he many of us local residents who support the project? The need for affordable housing is increasing because both population and the wealth gap are growing. More of it has to be built. Everywhere. Affordable housing is what keeps Manhattan Valley in a neighborhood character, not allowing it to slip into one giant bank and Duane Reade after another like the rest of the UWS. It’s aggravating to me that people are complaining about parking when fundamentally the complainers are using their vehicles for luxury purposes – to go upstate, not for work. (Worse still when they pretend they’re acting out of concern for working class people who need cars for work.) Those of us who live comfortably – in luxury, if we’re honest – need to get out of the way of efforts to allow others to live decently. Sure it will inconvenience us in some ways. It’s called sharing space.

      • lynn says:

        “Those of us who live comfortably – in luxury, if we’re honest – need to get out of the way of efforts to allow others to live decently. Sure it will inconvenience us in some ways. It’s called sharing space.”

        Perfectly said! The homeless are already in the neighborhood, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to have safe housing?

        • Sherman says:

          The homeless are already allowed safe housing.

          All they have to do is get a job and pay for it.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            Sherman: besides not understanding the housing market, and showing open disdain for large groups of people, you Apparently don’t understand the homeless population in NYC, nor the NYC job market.

            up to 25% of homeless in shelters ALREADY HAVE jobs. your bank clerk might be homeless; as might your food delivery man.

            further, large numbers of homeless are women with children. a recent report said that up to 10% of the NYC public school population will be homeless at one point or another during the year.

            some homeless got that way through mental health issues. but many others in NYC are victims of the lack of affordable housing.

            I imagine you will criticize me for “stalking” you, as you did on another thread. but the reality was that as I read down this thread, I got to your comment and was flabbergasted and outraged. it has nothing to do with the name attached; it was the content of the comment.

    10. Anni says:

      Isn’t this project only being sited here b/c someone screwed up the Collegiate expansion land swap and had to quickly find some city-owned property to use for the affordable housing component of that deal?

    11. Anni says:

      Is it true that this project is being sited here because someone (city? CB7?) screwed up the Collegiate School’s relocation land swap that was meant to create affordable housing near Collegiate’s W 70’s location?Since that UWS location was blown, a new city owned property had to quickly be found. This project is too hulking. Too tall. And it SHOULD be in a neighborhood that needs the strived-for economic diversity

    12. Mark Perchanok says:

      Also taken away would be a large playground.Would that be replaced?

    13. Alta says:

      Maybe just don’t own a car? Parking near your apt is not a right guaranteed to you by the city. If you want to park in front of your house, it’s time to move to the suburbs.

      What kind of selfish monsters are choosing parking over affordable housing….

    14. J says:

      I don’t believe the community is being accurately represented by someone who says “Manhattan Valley doesn’t have a lot going for it.” I love this neighborhood and am looking forward to welcoming our new neighbors. It’s time to live our values…not protect subsidized parking.

    15. 92nd Street says:

      Seems like a fixable issue.
      Drop the building height to 7 Floors and gauge the possibility of underground parking. Fees to aid the Shelter.

      My question is, will Low-Income Housing Residents feel the expensive Manhattan Valley neighborhood excludes their personal budgets?

      • H says:

        According to the article they’ve already researched putting parking underground and it would have been too costly due to the bedrock.

    16. david Zelman says:

      Why does the building have to be ugly? One of the reasons people object to developments such as these is because the building is so ugly is just begs for bad things to happen to it. Why not make it something that will enhance the neighborhood, that will bring people into the neighborhood? Why is the first words out of the developer’s mouth is CHEAP, LIKE OTHER UGLY Affordable housing BUILDINGS. We have an opportunity to do something positive in many ways, why end up this ugly thing.

      • Effy says:

        See Praeger University on YouTube – Why Is Modern Art So Bad?: “For two millennia, great artists set the standard for beauty. Now those standards are gone. Modern art is a competition between the ugly and the twisted…”.

    17. H says:

      Why is there always an issue on one side or the other with developments regarding the height of new buildings? I totally get the aesthetics and congestion (in some areas) but in a city where more land is not being built it would seem like a no brainer to build higher to accommodate more people. Why do we continue to use outdated zoning laws? It seems like if there was a true desire to build all types of housing (luxury, affordable, and anything in between, we could do so by simply building taller buildings. Perhaps too simplistic and pragmatic.

      • Julia says:

        Personally I LIKE it when zoning conforms to what I want and keeps many of the old buildings. But I don’t regard it as my right, and I note that every generation bemoans treasured buildings and other entities from the past….

    18. Rob G. says:

      I don’t blame those residents for being angry. Seems like the city is always targeting the northern reaches of the Upper West Side for low income housing and shelters. Definitely better than it was 30 years ago, but sometimes it’s 1 step forward and 2 steps back.

    19. Peter says:

      Build a new parking facility across the street in the huge play yard. Build the play yard ‘enclosed’ in glass with a bigger ‘for -profit’ car garage above it, to pay off the cost of the new structure….Win-Win !

    20. IZ says:

      Just back from the meeting. I went in with a truly open mind. My thoughts upon leaving were;

      1. I really don’t care about people’s parking.

      2. A segment of the people who attended the meeting because they apparently would be the beneficiaries of the housing are unpleasant and rude enough that I would just assune NOT have them as neighbors.

      3. Given that we already provide a vast amount of social service related housing it would NOT be a good idea to further saturate our neighborhood with low-income housing as it would set up a segregated type dynamic on the UWS.

      So, I’m opposed, but I sense that the project will move forward.

      • H says:

        I’m pretty sure if given enough face time that those losing a parking space would be just as vocal and rude as some people that would benefit from the project. In regards to “enough social services”, that really depends on the types of services. While I’d side with seniors getting housing over all of the other arguments against this project, I live about 15 blocks away so it’s really not something I’d advocate for or against. I do know and experience the negative impact of the homeless/transitional housing has in my area so if I were trying to decide on this project I’d like to know the specifics regarding “seniors and their families” as stated in the project proposal. I’d have to assume that seniors present less issues than are usually associated with these types of transitional housing developments. If they are using “senior” in an attempt to gain support but switch to more of a “project” type setting, I could see where many would oppose that. I think they should nail down who will actually be living there and under what guidelines, along with ways to ensure that the plan is helping those it is meant to help.

    21. B.B. says:

      Am going to make one general comment in response to various posts in this thread.

      New York City’s homeless crisis is booming in part due to the actions of the state and city.

      The ban on new construction of SRO and or other residential hotels (1955), coupled with the push to make literally every single apartment in NYC under rent control laws has removed a once huge supply of housing for the working and even middle class.

      Contrary to the bad associations of the 1960’s and 1970’s (when large numbers of recently deinstitutionalized mental patients pretty much were warehoused in SROs), plenty of such places long before and since served a vital purpose.

      SROs, boarding houses, “rooms for rent”, etc.. all served a vital purpose in providing an affordable housing resource. Now that these are largely gone persons who need housing, but don’t have the huge sums it takes to rent, are becoming or are homeless.



      If NYS and NYC would stop trying to micromanage every aspect of the housing market (with huge pushes from the hotel worker unions), the private and non-profit market would step in and help solve the housing issue.

    22. Julia says:

      Might as well built a psychiatrist hospital and police station in the neighborhood while they’re at it.

    23. L says:

      I would like to know if anyone has actually thought about REAL/quantifiable environmental impacts of demolishing these buildings and displacing 700 cars?

      I am talking ppm of of particulate matter in the air as well as greenhouse gases. Particularly on Tuesday’s or Friday’s when parking is limited to the sides of the streets that have the most no parking areas due to hydrants. It is unlikely that people will get rid of their cars unless there is a true culture shift. It is likely that people will need to dramatically increase their search time to find a spot and that current garages will not be able to accommodate the overflow. What is the pollution increase going to be? How will the quality of the air we all breathe be changed?

      How about the costs of the environmental remediation? Is the developer able to fund a full brownfield cleanup?

      as per the NIMBY issues – Yes this is a NIMBY issue but not in the typical sense. The argument being put forward is an equity issue. It is not the same thing as the Kennedy’s asking that wind farms not be built off the cape because it is a blight. This argument is asking that all UWSers add to the uplifting of the homeless and seniors out of poverty.

      There is a solution to keeping cars off the streets and building housing, we just need to think more creatively!

    24. Regardless of how you feel about this specific project, don’t you think we deserve a better process?

      As it is now, the city determines a desired result, and works backwards to make sure that any clear issues or problems with a project are either ignored or sidestepped.

      Time and time again, the so-called “community based review” processes outlined in the CEQR technical manual serve to merely disclose the adverse impacts of a project, rather than to truly mitigate or honestly address them.

      Personally, I’d like to live in a city where the adverse impacts of a project don’t require of a community to hire an attorney in order for the city to follow their own processes with integrity.

      I personally think that we can build affordable housing while also balancing the impacts to the surrounding communities. This will, of course, require a more thoughtful approach from City Hall that has developers following as opposed to leading the process.