Developer Wants Seniors to Move Into ‘Micro-Units’ With Fold-Up Beds In New Development on 96th Street


Kevin Parris (HPD Deputy Director of Planning for Manhattan), Melissa Auton (HPD planner), Hal Fetner (CEO), Carol Rosenthal (Fetner’s lawyer).

By Zachary Folk

The developer of a proposed 23-story building on 96th Street thinks seniors will want to live in micro-units there, and will use space-saving furniture like fold-up beds.

Developer Hal Fetner gave his pitch about the proposed new apartment complex at 266 West 96th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue to dozens of Upper West Side residents, who braved the rain and a high wind warning on Wednesday night to attend a joint meeting for Community Board 7’s land use and housing committees. The presentation was given by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development, as well as members of Fetner Properties’ management. Hal Fetner, the company’s president and CEO, fielded many questions himself about the new development.


The site of the proposed development.

If approved, the new building will have 171 apartments. Sixty eight of the units will be reserved for tenants making just above or below the area median income. These units will be distributed through HPD’s lottery program. The building is expect to have 80 studio micro-units in total, as well as 91 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

The property will have a health club located on the cellar floor. Additional tenant amenity spaces, such as a laundry room, entertainment rooms, and communal kitchens are planned for the first and second floors.

“The building has been designed to look like an Upper West Side building,” said Carol Rosenthal, an attorney for Fetner Properties. Elements of the current buildings in the lots will also be incorporated into the new structure, including the facade of the old MTA transformer station. It will also house community service organizations. Fetner already plans to relocate the current Salvation Army storefront to the new building after construction is complete. “We’re going to build the nicest Salvation Army in all of New York City,” Fetner said. “It’s for the whole community, and it’s in our building.”

The micro-units in the proposed development will range from 290 to 340 square feet. When asked whether there was significant demand for apartments that small, HPD was uncertain. “I think it depends on the area,” said Kevin Parris, HPD’s Deputy Director of Planning for Manhattan. “I don’t know what the stats would be for this community because we don’t have that kind of development happening here.”

Fetner did note that demand for these types of apartments in other parts of the city has grown in recent years. “There are micro-units that have already been built in Midtown that are occupied by young, middle [aged], and seniors, and they love it,” Fetner said. “There’s a waiting list to get into those buildings.”

However, several board members were disappointed with the scope of the current plans. “There’s not a lot of naturally occurring affordable housing in our neighborhood,” said Melissa Rosenberg, co-chair of the housing committee. “I think that’s our role, to keep advocating for that income diversity in the community.” Rosenberg was particularly concerned about the lack of choices for affordable housing. Currently 35 of the 68 affordable units are studios, while only 14 are one-bedroom and 19 are two-bedroom. There are no plans to provide any affordable 3-bedroom apartments.

“The discussion is ongoing,” Parris said. “We’re looking to be responsive to what we’re hearing, and also trying to make sure we do produce a financially feasible project that uses HPD’s resources to the best of our ability.”

Louisa Craddock, the other co-chair of the housing committee, also raised concerns about how the new building would cater to seniors. Fetner told the board in May that they envisioned many of the micro-units going to people over the age of 65, who currently make up 22 percent of the Upper West Side’s population. However, Craddock was unsure how the smaller-sized units would accommodate these kinds of tenants. “Seniors actually need more space. They have walkers, they have equipment, they may have aides that are with them most of the day,” she said. “They tend to bring their furniture with them that may be larger than your typical Crate and Barrel.”

“It’s not Crate and Barrel,” Mr. Fetner assured the board members. “We spent a lot of time researching it, and it’s actually great for seniors because it’s all automated. It’s beds and furniture that fold up, and with one push of a button it will fold down. So a senior citizen would have ease of access.”

Although they cannot control who applies for the affordable housing lottery, Fetner remains committed to providing more seniors with housing at this site. “I’ll go on the record and say I would love to get seniors into this building,” Mr Fetner said. “I’m happy to work with this community to figure out what the best ways of doing outreach are to make sure we have a higher concentration of seniors applying for these units.”

Fetner is planning to start construction on the project in 2020. The next public hearing for the project will be on November 20. The board will meet one more time for a final vote for approval on December 3rd.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 38 comments | permalink
    1. NO! says:

      Yeah, put Grandma in the closet. Ridiculous!

    2. Sherman says:

      Something doesn’t make sense to me.

      Most seniors already living in Manhattan likely already live in rent regulated apartments – or they own their apartments – so it is extremely unlikely they will leave their apartments to move to a micro apartment.

      Furthermore, a senior moving into the city – say, for instance, a retiree who sells his suburban home – will also probably not want to live in a 300 square foot apartment.

      I would imagine the only people who would want these micro apartments are twenty somethings who just want to get a toehold in the city and move when they’re more established in their careers.

      I believe the developer is throwing the word “senior” around to make this project more palatable to the HPD and Community Board.

      I’m also curious what kind of tax breaks the developer is getting for making some units “affordable”.

      He is not creating below market apartments out of altruism.

      • Evan Bando says:

        Many seniors who own are cash deficient and their co-op/condo is their primary source of wealth. Selling their property to unlock cash to live on is desirable if they can move into an affordable alternative like a micro-unit. Otherwise, in many cases, they would have to leave the city. That is something they probably don’t want to do. It’s not ideal but it has its logic.

        • Nonna Sequitur says:

          Your logic does follow. I don’t see a senior selling his/her own apartment to “unlock” cash so that they can live in a closet, whilst sitting on a pile of cash.

          IF they sell, it will be so that they CAN leave the city, living comfortably on the proceeds from the sale, somewhere where the cost of living is lower.

          • B.B. says:

            Not everyone who was born, raised, spent their lives in NYC, *and* raised their families here wants to pack up and move.

            What about their children, grandchildren, and increasingly these days great grandchildren?

            High Holy days just passed; think about families wanting to be together during that period. This isn’t always easy with Bubbie and Zayde are down in Florida or otherwise scattered across the country.

            • Get Real says:

              Nor, however, is it easy to visit Bubbie and/or Zayde in a closet.

              Look, if you’re talking about a Senior Citizen Home, that’s one thing; but the number of seniors looking to cash out their apartment so they can live in a closet is infinitesimally small, asymptotic to zero.

          • Evan Bando says:

            Nonna, they wouldn’t be sitting on a pile of cash to live in a closet. They would be downsizing so they can use the cash (that they currently don’t have) to live on. Not everyone is as cash rich as you perhaps. Get Real, you say “the number of seniors looking to cash out their apartment so they can live in a closet is infinitesimally small . . . zero.” How do you know? If an elder would move into a senior living facility where the rooms are, as you rightly say, small, then, of course they would do the same to live in a private residence even though it too is small. People need options. Even an option that does not make sense to you.

    3. Ben David says:

      Love it! Mayor de Balsio and elected officials will do nothing to clean and or develop a block that is now a disgusting part of the UWS, and a hangout for drug dealers. Thanks to creative developers, such as Mr. Fetner, for stepping in with solutions. It sure beats the eyesores that are there now.

      • Paul says:

        If the developer were doing this without City assistance then HPD wouldn’t have been at the meeting.
        Of course the City is assisting the project.

      • B.B. says:

        Micro apartments became legal and got their first push under former mayor M. Bloomberg’s administration.

        It was then that laws were relaxed to allow apartments smaller than currently zoned minimum of 400 square feet.

    4. Diane says:

      Not just a 300 square foot closet, but asking seniors to pull their bed out every night and put it away every morning…give me a break.
      Dumbest thing I’ve heard since Trumps last tweet.

    5. Kathy says:

      SRO
      Sad

    6. Stef Lev says:

      How insensitive and insulting.

    7. Upper West Sider says:

      Just what we need…another giant building only adding residents and commuters to the already overcrowded and slow-moving subway. And good luck getting retailers to fill the bottom of your building because as far as I can tell there are several vacant store fronts per block…how about a nice park instead or a good restaurant!

      • sp says:

        Agree entirely. Landlords are sitting on empty retail properties for, in some cases, decades in our neighborhood. What used to be the Sterling Optical shop on Bway between 101 and 100 for example, has been empty for about TWENTY years. These people are delusional, and itsnour neighborhood that suffers the consequences.

    8. RonnieT says:

      I agree with both NO! and Sherman. Microapartments will not be satisfactory for Seniors on any level – physically or mentally and especially the latter. It has a definite ‘put-’em-in-a-closet feel. Microapartmenys will end up being pied-a-terres for commuters or temporary homes new-arrivals to the city. For Seniors? It’s a joke!

    9. StevenCinNYC says:

      I can understand being skeptical about claims of a developer, but what he is saying sounds responsible and well planned. I like that they will incorporate the facade of the substation. Plus, he says that they will make it look like an USW building. The micro apartments are not all on the lottery so they are expecting to be able to get market rates for them, too. That says to me that they are not just thinking of them as only for people who qualify for the lottery, suggesting they see them as a valid value proposition. Maybe they are not ideal for all seniors, but I know people who live in very small spaces, and it is a real trend here and elsewhere.

      Who knows, but maybe it’s all true and it’s a good plan from a good developer.

      • Kathleen Carpenter says:

        Can’t help wondering what the “market rate” for a tiny apartment with an automated Murphy bed would be! And, as a senior myself, may I say that living out what remains of my life in a tiny apartment with a fold away bed is not actually appealing. I always wonder who these people are that developers/corporations assure us are so happy!

        • EricaC says:

          I was trying to imagine my mom pulling out a fold-out bed – or worse, putting it away. Micro-apartment, maybe. She lost interest in maintaining “stuff” as she got older, and chose to live in a 500 sf studio, so who knows. But a murphy bed sounds unworkable.

      • Julia says:

        I agree. Not everyone is living in a rent-controlled apartment or a coop bought at the bottom of the market. There are some people for whom it would be a way to stay on the UWS.

    10. Eva Yachnes says:

      Ironic that the new building will have the “nicest Salvation Army (I presume he means Salvation Army store)” when the Salvation Army is moving the seniors now living in the Williams Residence for Seniors around the corner from his building out of the neighborhood.

      The Williams does have some apartments as small as the ones that he intends to build, but since meals are served in a dining room in the building as part of the rent, and there are large communal areas including a library and movie space, it’s easier to live in a small space.

    11. Josh says:

      If these apartments sound small to people, why don’t we make the building bigger?

    12. Margaret Ryan says:

      I can just see myself at 80 trying to unfold my folding bed. Or huddling in the corner of my micro unit when the weather’s bad. Surely we can do better than this.

      • Leon says:

        I thought the same thing about the bed but if you read carefully, it says it is automated, so it isn’t like they will be exerting themselves.

        Better they are living in these tiny apartments than in a cardboard box on the sidewalk.

        • B.B. says:

          Early Murphy beds were known to have a very light trigger. That is while down they suddenly could (and did) fold right back up into wall; taking any one or thing along for ride.

          It was either people couldn’t get the bed down and remain that way, or it suddenly folded up into wall.

          Sadly some did end up dying “entombed” in their Murphy bed stuck in wall. It did however make for plenty of fodder for comedy in theater and films.

    13. 123Train says:

      Sounds like half of this building is going turn into another SRO. If the HPD and CB7 had any real concern for the future of our neighborhood, they would encourage this developer to build something that would attract working millenials and young families. And sorry, but having “nicest Salvation Army in all of New York City” is a dubious achievement at best. Ugh

    14. Chuck D says:

      Mr Fetner said. “I’m happy to work with this community to figure out what the best ways of doing outreach are to make sure we have a higher concentration of seniors applying for these units.”

      Um, is this legal?

    15. Jo Umans says:

      I have an idea. Why not have Fetner live in one of these fold-up-bed places, then see if he would change his proposal.

    16. TravelgalNYC says:

      I was at this meeting, and the headline is very misleading. Many on the Community Board were hoping that this new building might house seniors, and asked Fetner if he plans to market to them. There was much discussion about the need for affordable senior housing. Fetner said he would be happy if seniors moved into the building, but of course by law could not just allow seniors to live there. He simply answered a question posed by the Board, he did not go out of his way to emphasize how this was the perfect building for seniors. He seemed like he was just trying to please the people asking the question. I personally am more concerned about what ‘affordable housing’ implies and what kind of residents that means in our neighborhood. Here in the West 90’s (very different from the West 80’s and West 70’s) we have public housing practically on every block, along with numerous shelters and halfway houses. I might be in the minority, but I’d love to see a nice building go up that doesn’t have homeless people camped out in front, and mentally troubled people defecating on the corners (as is the case right now on W. 96th). I wonder where the Board members live? Let’s put some affordable housing in the West 70’s or West 80’s.

    17. Glen says:

      Talk about “bait and switch.” They approach the planning board as if it were “senior housing,” and if G-d forbid they get the OK. When it finally opens and no seniors show up (how does a lifetime’s worth of belongings fit in a 300sq ft apt), they rent to the recent grads moving to town; the only people who would not mind living for a few years in a walk in closet.

    18. MF says:

      Umm…I am 77 years old and just recently added a Murphy bed to my large, rent stabilized studio apartment in which I have lived for 40 years and have no intention of moving. Murphy beds nowadays are extremely comfortable and easy to get up and down for someone who is still getting around fairly well and living without an aide, which I hope to do for many more years.

    19. David S says:

      I’m not sure why we’re calling these “micro-units”. When I was shopping for an affordable rental studio in the early ’90’s, the typical place I saw was around 330 square feet. Go into any walkup building in Manhattan and that’s the size of the studios you’ll see. Add in the space-saving features and building amenities they mention, and it strikes me as a livable, if not ideal, situation.

      • B.B. says:

        City doesn’t have strict minimum apartment size per se, rather things will vary by zoning, type of housing, etc…

        See: https://jorgefontan.com/micro-apartments-minimum-apartment-size-nyc/

        Yes, in former mansions, brownstones, row houses, and other once private homes you have apartments with < 400 square feet. These units were carved out when various rooms were turned into apartments.

        Even in some prewar multi-family rental or co-op buildings you find same. Many of these "micro" apartments were former servants quarters, utility areas, and other spaces surplus to requirements as tastes/lifestyles changed.

        Then of course you have former residence hotels/SROs that were converted into rental housing. Tudor City is filled with these small (micro) "efficiency apartments".

        In fact much of Tudor City was designed and built as efficiency apartments for same reasons micro housing is becoming next trend; single people (young, older, newly married, etc..) didn't need large apartments. When not at work they would be out enjoying all that NYC had to offer.

    20. Walter Wilson says:

      Having a senior building on such a steep incline is not the best choice. It is difficult enough for many seniors to get around on a flat surface with walkers, canes and wheelchairs. Adding to this difficulty is not in the best interest of seniors.

    21. B.B. says:

      Since some of you seem to have difficulties imagining what micro apartments actually look like….

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9yvOTyMZyo

      When done well such apartments are far from “closets”. In fact micro units really are nothing more than upscale SRO housing if you will.

      https://nypost.com/2018/08/01/what-its-like-to-live-in-nycs-old-school-micro-apartments/

      https://www.nbcnews.com/business/real-estate/affordable-or-offensive-nyc-moves-ease-rules-tiny-apartments-n486906

      This explains things rather well.

    22. az says:

      What self-serving nonsense. There are waiting lists to get into buildings with micro units because most people can’t afford a decent-size apartment these days.

    23. William Raudenbush says:

      Fun Fact: the maximum number of apartments in a building that you can develop is based on a zoning calculation known as “density factor.”

    24. Leslie Rupert says:

      Someone needs to explain how someone with arthritis, bursitis and a verity of other ailments is going to open and close (or fold) furniture. Did any consider balance issues that plague many seniors.