By Carol Tannenhauser
A controversial affordable-housing project on West 108th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, will be voted on by the full City Council on Wednesday — and is expected to pass “overwhelmingly,” Council Member Mark Levine told West Side Rag today. It’s expected to house 194 permanently affordable apartments for low-income seniors and families, and 104 units for formerly homeless seniors.
Levine said he has decided to vote for the project, after receiving confirmation of certain “benefits to the community” that he, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Community Board 7 have been “pushing for months.”
“I did not formally endorse the project until the last couple of weeks or so, when we got letters from the administration committing to those benefits,” Levine said. “My stance throughout the process has been listening to all stakeholders in the community.”
One stakeholder vehemently disagrees. “It is shocking that we were not given any advance notice of the vote by our Council Member Mark Levine, after multiple efforts by our organization and our legal counsel to speak with him,” said Meryl Zegarek, co-founder of Save Manhattan Valley (SVM), a nonprofit formed in opposition to the housing project, which will be developed by West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH.) “This really is an indication of a breakdown of his relationship with his community. We are very disappointed that this was coming and he did not take the time to meet with us and talk about other solutions.”
Levine countered that he attended and hosted dozens of meetings and town halls with residents, and that the development went through an extensive public review process.
WSR has written extensively about this controversy, here, here, and here. It centers around the fact that building the affordable housing for seniors and low-income families will necessitate the demolition of three city-owned parking garages, holding 750 cars. SMV contends that this, and the building itself, will have negative repercussions on the residents and community beyond mere inconvenience, and has retained well-known “opposition attorney” Michael Hiller, to represent them.
“The environmental analysis prepared by SMV’s independent consultants confirmed that the new building would cast shadows across neighboring parks and playgrounds throughout the day in spring, summer and fall; and would likely precipitate traffic accidents and fatalities, increase our carbon footprint and release of ambient particulates and other pollutants into the air,” Hiller emailed. “This information was largely uncontradicted by WSFSSH’s environmental consultants.
“The people of Manhattan Valley fully support policies that promote affordable housing. And, to that end, we offered the City 10 alternatives to this site, including one location within the same District. The City has never offered a rational explanation for refusing to consider those alternate sites.”
“I made no secret of my belief that affordable housing was of prime importance,” Levine said. “But I also didn’t minimize the concerns of people who park their cars there; those are real concerns. I was partly assuaged by learning how much vacancy there is in nearby garages. We’ve had several surveys done to confirm that. To be fair, the prices at those garages are generally higher than those at 108th Street, and I don’t minimize that for middle-class families. But, at the end of the day, the mission of city government is not to offer subsidized parking, but to offer subsidized housing. The imperative of expanding affordable housing in a neighborhood where it’s desperately needed really trumps the need to supply affordable parking. I do feel that the additional street parking on 104th Street will be important.”
Levine was alluding to the fact that he “successfully petitioned the Department of Transportation to implement angle parking on the south side of West 104th street between Amsterdam and Manhattan Avenue – creating 33 new spaces.”
According to a release from Levine’s office, other benefits to the community include:
- “A new $2M synthetic turf field for the Booker T. Washington Middle School, replacing the existing badly worn-out field.
- A 6,000-square-foot Community Health Center on the ground floor of the new building, to be run by The Institute for Family Health;
- Major upgrades for the adjacent Anibal Aviles playground, including a comfort station with two new public restrooms, reconstruction of the western portion of the playground to include a sitting area for seniors, and placement of a Parks Department staffer to provide additional maintenance and educational programming;
- Two interior meeting places in the new building, with direct street access, for community programming;
- Three parking spaces for the Central Park Medical Unit’s off-duty ambulances; and
- A storage space accessible from the playground for the Bloomingdale Family Preschool Program.”
Levine also said he will be “introducing a bill tomorrow that would ultimately create neighborhood parking permits, so people who live in the neighborhood would be given priority for use of the streets. We have a big problem with commuters dumping their cars and hopping on the subway.”
“In addition to providing safe, affordable housing for seniors and families in the area, WSFSSH at West 108 will bring many benefits to the community, including healthcare services, community meeting spaces, a home for the Central Park Medical Unit and public restrooms for Anibal Aviles playground,” said Paul Freitag of WSFSSH in a statement.
Wednesday’s vote on the 108th Street project is the final step in the approval process.