ANHD – Affordable Housing is the Right Use for the Elizabeth Street Garden Site

December 3, 2018

Community Board 2 in Manhattan will hold a hearing this week to decide what will happen on the Elizabeth Street Garden site, a site recently allocated by the City for deeply affordable senior housing.

This hearing could be contentious since the Elizabeth Street Garden, with its carefully landscaped statuary, is an especially lovely community garden. Most New Yorkers agree that our city needs more affordable housing, and most New Yorkers agree that our city needs more open space. So, how should we decide between these two needs? The Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD) believes a decision should be made based on the greatest need for the neighborhood – and the city – and not on the exceptional details of any one garden site. The community board should approve the affordable housing plans for the Elizabeth Street Garden site.

The proposed affordable housing is a high-quality project that secures the most benefit for the community out of the project subsidy. The developers – led by the mission-driven not-for-profit RiseBoro Community Partnership and Habitat for Humanity – are building a 100% affordable project with 123 apartments for low-income senior citizens earning between $21,930 and $43,860 annually. That’s real affordabilityThe project will also include 6,700 square feet of publicly accessible space for gardening and recreation. The new public open space may not be as exceptional as the current garden, but it will still be an important amenity for the community.Together with the deeply affordable senior housing, this project meets many community needs in one site plan.

We all know affordable housing is increasingly scarce in New York City, and we all know that we’ll all get old someday, highlighting just how important affordable senior housing really is. The statistics from the recent New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey make clear just how serious this scarcity problem is – New Yorkers over the age of 60 are 55% more likely to be severely rent burdened than residents between the ages of 30 and 59. That’s a problem we have to solve.

Lack of affordable senior housing may feel like a less urgent problem to some residents of Community Board 2 since that area, on average, has much higher incomes, is far less rent burdened, has fewer senior citizens, and is much less racially diverse than New York City as a whole. But there is still a significant population in Community Board 2 that needs deeply affordable senior housing, and more importantly, Community Board 2 has to be part of a city-wide solution to a city-wide problem.

Community gardens are part of the quality of life in many neighborhoods, and the decision to build housing on any garden should be made on a case-by-case basis, balancing all the needs of the community and the city. But the case for building deeply affordable senior housing on the Elizabeth Street Garden site is clear: Community Board 2 should approve this project.