By Alex Israel
After hours of discussion between local residents and Community Board 7, an affordable-housing project for West 108th Street was approved. It’s an important hurdle, but not the last one: elected officials will also weigh in before any construction can begin.
This resolution allows the NYC Housing Preservation Department (HPD) to dispose of city-owned parking garages currently home to 675 cars, and transfer the property to the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH), who will construct and manage 275 units of affordable housing with supportive services for seniors and families.
The property in question consists of western and eastern portions, separated by Anibel Aviles Park. In WSFSSH’s proposal, construction of the Eastern Site is proposed to commence nearly five years after construction of the building on the Western Site begins. The board’s resolution urges HPD to expedite the transfer of both titles to WSFSSH, without waiting the five years to begin on the Eastern site.
Nearly 40 members of the community came out to share their perspectives before the vote. While support and opposition for the project fluctuated, both sides agreed: more affordable housing in the neighborhood is important, and there would be no one better to do it than WSFSSH.
Those in opposition, however, asked the board to consider the other side of the issue. According to a report conducted by Philip Habib & Associates, the firm that prepared the Economic Impact Statement for the project, only 10% of the cars that park in the garages are driven in and out on a daily basis. Still, many cited the dependence on their vehicles—and thus the garages they park them in—as part of their livelihood.
“It is not a parking versus people issue… It’s people versus people,” said a resident of the neighborhood for fifty years. “If you destroy these garages you will be evicting those people.”
“We should not have to sacrifice one for the other,” a woman said, garnering heavy applause. Another man suggested the board ask our elected officials to determine “a solution that includes community parking and building housing.”
In their resolution, CB7 does not require, but rather “urges WSFSSH and the City to provide assistance and information to enable the parkers—particularly those for whom a car is essential for work, and/ or by reason of disability—to find alternative sites.”
Members of the board, in an effort to appease those whose parking will be displaced by the project, proposed an amendment to the resolution that would require WSFSSH to provide an alternative for on-site or off-site parking with equivalent parking capacity as a condition of approval.
This amendment ultimately failed to pass, following testimony from WSFSSH and HPD representatives, who indicated its implementation would derail the project due to a lack of economic feasibility.
Various members of Save Manhattan Valley, a nonprofit group fighting the development, also brought up safety concerns due to an influx of cars on the road and potential toxins at the demolition site.
Not everyone was in opposition to the proposal. Those in favor of moving forward with the project, including some who currently park in the garages, expressed their support for low-income seniors whose needs they felt were greater than their own.
“We must do everything we can to create more affordable housing in the city. If I have to give up something to see that that is done, I am happy to do so,” said a local resident.
Many residents of WSFSSH housing were in attendance to show their support. A Kowal House resident shared her story, calling on the board and the community to acknowledge that homeless people are “still worthy” of equal opportunity.
Micki Navarro, a WSFSSH Director who works directly with potential residents, gave an impassioned speech, inviting the community to “come and hear the stories” she is faced with every day.
CB7 took into account both sides while deliberating on the issue, ultimately siding in favor of the need for more affordable housing. According to their resolution, they believe “There is a significant need in the City and in the Community Board 7 area for the provision of housing for the formerly homeless and elderly, as well as affordable housing for families. While the loss of parking will inconvenience patrons of the garages, the need for affordable housing outweighs the need for parking garages.”
With the Community Board’s approval, the proposal must now pass through the Borough President, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council before moving forward. If approved, the project is planned to begin in mid-2018.
While some are disappointed in the board’s decision, many are thrilled for the opportunity to expand the community. According to one man, it’s the responsibility of the locals to welcome new residents with open arms. “As New Yorkers, this is what we do for each other. I am excited to welcome new people to this neighborhood that I love. By sharing it, we only make it better.”
A video of the three and a half hour meeting is here.