Manhattan Borough President Recommendation

On February 26, 2019, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer issued her approval with recommendation regarding Haven Green. 

Her comments are below:

As New York City grows and changes, land use pressures become more acute. Access to open green space and access to safe affordable housing for our most vulnerable populations are two of the most pressing issues in our city. As land becomes scarce, addressing these problems becomes more difficult.

Lack of adequate open green space and housing are not only issues of land use but of public health. Access to open space provides opportunities for physical activity and social interaction, which contributes to better health outcomes for residents.

Homelessness can create or exacerbate chronic mental and physical health conditions. The lack of housing that accommodates the limited mobility of seniors can contribute to isolation and reduced access to services that could allow them to live more independently. Rising costs of living also burden seniors, who are often on fixed incomes. Seniors should not be subject to choosing housing over food and medication due to rising rents.

According to New York City’s City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR), New York City’s optimal open space goal is 2.5 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, including 0.5 acres of passive open space and 2.0 acres of active open space. The area in which the development is being cited has been acknowledged as an area that is underserved by open space, with presently
0.153 acres per 1,000 residents.

There is a senior housing crisis in this city. There are over 100,000 seniors on waiting lists for senior housing and the average wait for a unit on these lists is seven years. According to a May 2018 report from the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA), the population of New York City residents aged 60 and over will grow from 1.25 million in the year 2000 to 1.86 million by 2040. Additionally, according to the February 15, 2019 Department of Homeless Services (DHS) daily report, 60,965 adults and children were in shelters throughout our city. This is unacceptable. As our senior population increases, we must allocate more resources – both land and subsidy – to the development of quality affordable housing that accommodates the needs of an aging population.

Given the needs for both accessible green open space and affordable housing, it is imperative that we seek solutions that will address both issues. The Elizabeth Street Garden, in the five years since the proposed development was announced, has grown to become a cherished community resource as an accessible open green space. However, there is a growing need for affordable housing throughout the city and especially within Community Board 2, which has only seen 93 units of affordable housing built since 2014. While it is not ideal, we must compromise and find a solution that addresses the need for affordable housing while preserving as much public open space as possible.

Haven Green will create 123 affordable housing units for seniors earning no more than 60% of area median income. Thirty-seven of these units will be set-aside for formerly homeless New Yorkers coming from the shelter system, earning less than 30% of area median income. The seven-story building will have elevators, providing a much-needed amenity that will allow seniors, who often have mobility issues, to live more independently. Developing a building in an area that is well-served by public transit will enhance the lives of the residents, allowing them to travel to medical appointments with ease.

Haven Green will also provide 6,700 square feet of green open space. This is considerably less than the current Elizabeth Street Garden site and will decrease the open space ratio to 0.149 acres per 1000 residents. However, the open space that will remain is still significant and will provide
access to the public, consistent hours of operation, and community-led programming to ensure public green space for the entire community.

The building will meet Passive House construction standards, which will result in a more efficient building that consumes less energy and has lower maintenance and utility costs. RiseBoro has extensive Passive House experience and has committed to sustainable construction with their existing and future projects. Low maintenance costs can ensure sustained affordability over the life of developments; we should continue to support affordable housing developers who build sustainably.

In addition to housing, services will be provided on site for building residents and also to the community as a whole. Habitat NYC’s office will also occupy 11,200 square feet in the building, more than half of which will be located in the cellar of the building. This is consistent with other affordable housing developments within the city where non-profits occupy community facility space for their operations. Habitat NYC’s mission is to build and preserve owner-occupied homes throughout New York City. Habitat NYC, RiseBoro, and SAGE will also provide assistance with entitlements and benefits, wellness activities, and other educational programming such as computer classes and homeownership education. These organizations have decades of experience in housing development, advocacy, and providing a vast array of services that benefit the communities in which they operate.

We have met with the Elizabeth Street Garden and Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden. I appreciate all they have done in the past few years to make the garden a valuable community asset, providing much needed open space programming, as well as attracting visitors from around the world. Their efforts to preserve the garden in its current state have garnered widespread support and through community organizing and engagement they have been able to galvanize the neighborhood around this important community asset. I have received 3,097 emails regarding the garden and I understand the need for open space in this particular area. The applicant is also well aware of this and I believe they should continue to work towards a building that maximizes the amount of open space and the number of units that can exist on the site in order to meet both needs for open space and affordable housing. This may impact other uses and programming in the building, but must be considered as the need for open space in this area is critical.

There have been other City-owned sites offered up as alternates to the Elizabeth Street Garden site. Unfortunately, our housing crisis and growing senior population do not allow for an either/or scenario: we must build permanently affordable housing wherever feasible while also maximizing open space on these sites for additional public benefit. There have also been recommendations to increase the amount of open space via a follow-up zoning text amendment that could allow for a height increase. However, breaking the height cap in the Special Little Italy District in this instance may lead to increased community tensions without achieving a workable compromise.

As City-owned land become scarcer, it is imperative that we maximize community benefits when we transfer our resources for private development. It is not enough that Haven Green will provide affordable housing for 60 years while maintaining some open space for the community. We need to ensure that these benefits are retained permanently. I believe the only way this can be achieved is by mapping the open space around Haven Green as parkland and requiring that the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation manage the space to ensure public access. The housing units should also be permanently affordable; the land disposition agreement, regulatory agreement, and all other relevant legal documents should require that Haven Green remain an affordable housing development serving low-income seniors and formerly homeless in

Additionally, the community facility space should always be tenanted by a not-for-profit that performs community development and local services, as does Habitat NYC. This should also be memorialized in the land disposition agreement, regulatory agreement, and all other relevant legal documents. This space should never be rented to for-profit community facility uses.

Therefore, the Manhattan Borough President recommends approval with conditions of
ULURP Application No. C 190184 HAM provided that the applicant

  • 1. Make a more serious effort to design the building in order to generate at least 30%
    more open space than currently designed. This should be done in a way that does not
    compromise the number of affordable units currently planned for the site and does
    not require breaking the height cap of the special district;
  • 2. Requires permanent affordability of all housing units;
  • 3. Requires all community facility space within the building provide services to the
    community in perpetuity;
  • 4. Enters into an agreement with the New York City Parks Department so that the
    public open space is mapped as parkland and managed by the Parks Department; &
  • 5. Continues community engagement and participatory design to ensure the open space
    will reflect the needs of the surrounding community.

Full report here.