‘Give it back!’ Chin cries at Rivington House on AIDS Day

Councilmember Margaret Chin, left, led a vigil for Rivington House on World AIDS Day last Friday. Photo by Sarah Ferguson

BY SARAH FERGUSON | On World AIDS Day last Friday, Councilmember Margaret Chin and local activists held a vigil to honor the AIDS patients who lived at the now-shuttered Rivington House — while demanding that the city find a way to restore the building to the community.

The Lower East Side nursing home and AIDS hospice was sold to luxury condo developers two years ago after the Mayor’s Office inexplicably agreed to lift the deed restrictions, resulting in one of the worst scandals of the de Blasio administration.

Mayor de Blasio says the city’s lawyers have found no way to reverse the sale. But Chin has been pushing the mayor to arrange a meeting with the new owners (China Vanke, Slate Property Group and Adam America Real Estate), in hopes of persuading them to drop their condo plans and develop the building into a “state-of-the-art” senior nursing facility, instead.

Chin got de Blasio to agree publicly to set up a meeting during a contentious town hall forum last June, but nothing has been scheduled yet.

“Apparently, there is a team of people in City Hall working on it,” Chin told the small crowd of people holding candles outside 45 Rivington St.

“As long as I’m still here as the councilmember, we are going to fight to make sure we get this building back,” Chin declared. “The mayor promised to set up the meeting with the developers, and I’m still holding him to that promise.”

The local group Neighbors to Save Rivington House has also mounted an online petition and postcard campaign urging the mayor to “Call the Meeting” (www.change.org/p/bill-de-blasio-mr-mayor-call-the-meeting).

“I will continue to fight. I am not giving up. It’s not a done deal, and we still have hope,” Chin told the crowd, which broke into chants of “Give it back!”

Others in the crowd spoke movingly of the people who once resided in the facility, which opened in 1995 at the height of the AIDS crisis.

“This was a place for people who didn’t have anyone, who had no family and nowhere else to go,” said Alysha Lewis-Coleman, who said she came to sit with the patients as they were dying. Ironically, advances in the prevention and medical treatment of AIDS left the facility half-empty in later years, leading to its sale.

But as Chin and others noted, the Lower East Side now has a growing elderly population that needs care.

“We have over 25,000 seniors in this district, one of the largest [senior] populations in the city,” said Steve Herrick of the Cooper Square Committee. “We need this building back.”

Michel Campo, a longtime resident and member of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, agreed.

“It used to be we were losing people to the AIDS epidemic,” she said. “Now we’re losing people to the epidemic of real estate development.”

A stop-work order has been in place since April 2016 blocking the condo conversion. However, recently the Department of Buildings said it may allow the new owners to resume some “structural survey work” at the site.

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