Senior Housing Development Approved After Long Debate; Some Car Owners Say They’re Being ‘Evicted’

A rendering of the new development.

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.

Members of the public (top) watched as community board members (bottom) debated the project.

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.

NEWS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. Steen says:

      Between this, landmarking the power station and the beautiful expansion of the museum, I have renewed hope for the UWS. All these things are of benefit to us as a community. None of these include luxury condos for part-time residents. I will take good news where I find it.

      • az says:

        Building higher than current zoning allows is not beneficial to the community and sets a precedent that will, I’m sure, come to haunt us in the future.

      • Wijmlet says:

        The expansion of the museum will diminish a beloved park and destroy some wonderful trees, bringing traffic and congestion to the nabe.

        • Christina says:

          @Wijmlet…Central Park is across the street! It has wonderful trees and a beautiful park! Traffic has and will be congested all over the city unless people decide not to drive in the city as much. Maybe take public transportation instead. What a concept! 🙂

    2. Christina says:

      I think the elderly ( as well as all human beings) are MORE important than automobiles! Find another way and place to keep your cars!

    3. David says:

      What would be wrong with digging deep and putting a parking garage under the complex? That way there would be space for the current parking tenants and the new senior tenants. The major problem would be what to do with the parking tenants for the two years + that the senior building is being constructed.

      • Alex says:

        During the meeting, a representative from WSFSSH discussed how they extensively researched this as an option, but ultimately found it was just not feasible economically. You can watch his testimony about this at around ~1 hour 52 min into the YouTube video.

      • Steven says:

        Previous articles on this topic have noted that this is unfeasible, apparently due to the relatively shallow depth at which the bedrock lies. Fred Flintstone is adamantly opposed to any intrusion into bedrock.

      • There is nothing wrong with digging deeper. The garages already have basements that are used for parking cars. The depth of the bedrock will not be determined until core drilling is done. An additional level below the current basements is a definite possibility. The cost of the garages have been over inflated. The real issue is the FAR that the site provides. In its current zoning designation there is not enough to build the housing economically. The upgrade that is being requested will make it cheaper to build. Adding garages would steal from the FAR and add to cost.

    4. Rob G. says:

      Throwing hundreds of extra cars onto the streets without a replacement solution is bad enough. But adding even more low income housing to a neighborhood that’s struggling with so much already is even dumber. How exactly does that help the neighborhood? We need to spread the wealth (and the non-wealth) more evenly.

      • Christina says:

        @Rob G…. This is about Housing the Elderly! They have priority over cars! Sorry! I hope you don’t need senior housing in your old age and none is available!

    5. Suzie says:

      This WSFSSH building will be an improvement to the neighborhood; many of the nearby structures are in obviously terrible condition (close to, if not actually, slums) It is likely that a substantial number of cars parked in these garages are not essential to their owners; probably they’re paid for and insuring (and parking in these garages) is relatively cheap. These car owners may finally give up their cars if they are used infrequently. I too would have preferred that a garage could have been constructed below the proposed building but I understand that the bedrock is too close to the surface to make that type of excavation feasible.

    6. your neighbor says:

      Thank goodness a win for the seniors and others without a voice.
      Lots of people in Manhattan have cars without garage space, especially not these subsidized parking spaces in the blighted buildings that are finally being removed.

    7. KVC says:

      I live right around the corner from there and I am so happy that some new life will come to 108th street! The parking garages make the block very dull and dark. I would much rather have buildings full of PEOPLE WHO NEED HOUSING than cars that are sitting there, 90% not even being used on a daily basis.

      Seniors need housing before cars, plus, we should encourage those who can to ditch the cars and help the planet.

    8. Daisy Zeigen says:

      Just for clarity on this matter, community boards in NYC don’t approve land transfer applications for NYC-owned real estate — that’s not in their purview. They resolve to recommend (or not)to the City Planning Commission and the Borough President. Approval can only be given by elected officials.

      It would be helpful if the Westside Rag reported more accurately on the outcome of the meeting as this story is misleading and has caused some unnecessary concern among neighbors nearby who are worried about the digging begin immediately.

      There are a number of steps remaining before the construction of the project on West 108th Street is approved to move forward.

    9. Francesca says:

      Is this about housing that profits the real estate guys at the expense of a newly formed and weird demographic cohort: the “formerly” homeless, the elderly and (unspecified) families? If there’s some kind of reasoning behind this project, beside economic gain, please let the public know.