The priority is clear: Senior housing over garden

BY MELISSA AASE AND ERIC WEINGARTNER | University Settlement unequivocally supports senior affordable housing and the Haven Green project on Elizabeth St. While the choice may be a difficult one — as many land-use choices can be — our community should choose and welcome affordable housing.

In this instance, the proposed development includes significant public and open space, making that choice a little easier.

Melissa Aase, University House’s executive director, at a rally last year to return the Lower East Side’s Rivington House — formerly an AIDS hospice — to use as a community health facility, including with nursing-home beds. (File photo by Tequila Minsky)

We recognize the new building would represent a loss to the volunteers who have worked in the last few years to animate that piece of city land as the Elizabeth St. Garden. But we encourage everyone, including the New York City Planning Commission and City Council, to make this choice based on the greater basic human need in all of our communities, for affordable housing.

University Settlement opened our doors on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1886, a few blocks from this very site. We currently serve 40,000 New Yorkers of all walks of life at more than 30 locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. We were founded on the belief that every person is an asset to the community’s well-being and quality of life. Our founding progressive mission is to work with neighbors to create a livable, healthy, equitable city, fundamentally assured through meeting the basic needs of all.

The elder population is growing more rapidly than other segments of the city’s residents, rising more than 26 percent in the last 10 years. Currently, more than 200,000 low-income seniors are on waiting lists for senior housing; five thousand of those seniors who are waiting for an affordable, physically accessible home are in our local community — and we know that this number does not represent everyone in need.

University Settlement’s housing protection program, Project Home, sees the crisis first-hand. More than 750 neighbors with housing crises come to us each year, and we have noted acute issues on Janet Freeman Way (Elizabeth St.’s co-name, named for a fierce community housing advocate we lost too soon).

Outspoken Village senior activist Jim Fouratt, with Councilmember Margaret Chin, right — Haven Green’s champion — spoke at a rally last year for the affordable-housing project. (File photo by Sarah Ferguson)

Through Project Home, we have directly assisted more than 105 households on Elizabeth St. and in Nolita near the proposed Haven Green site — and more than 60 percent were seniors. These cases included fighting for repairs because of terrible conditions; responding to fires and advocating for tenants to return to their homes; standing up to landlord harassment to buy tenants out for minuscule amounts; defending against spurious eviction suits; protecting from harassment through unending renovation; dealing with thorny lease renewal, arrears payment and succession issues, and more.

Projects like Haven Green are an important part of the solution to this crisis.

Haven Green is a meaningful compromise put forward by partners committed to the greater good. It preserves 8,400 square feet of open and public space (with 6,700 of that green space, open to the sky) that can and should be cooperatively programmed and activated by all the neighbors surrounding this site. (To help the imagination, a standard basketball court is about 5,000 square feet.)

A rendering of open green space on Mott St. that would be included in the proposed Haven Green scheme.

There is also a large public park two blocks away from the site, with active neighbors and invested organizations like ours, who welcome more volunteers, ideas and investment. The incredible energy of the Elizabeth St. Garden supporters would be invaluable in welcoming — and volunteering with — new elder neighbors on Elizabeth St., and continuing to improve our community equitably, literally from the ground up in several locations.

A rendering of the Haven Green project, seen from Elizabeth St., that the de Blasio administration and Councilmember Margaret Chin want built at the garden. The surviving open space would be accessible from Elizabeth St. through a passageway at left, and also by a gate on Mott St.

University Settlement is no stranger to fighting for open green space and public parks. In fact, one of our founders, Charles Stover, was a quiet crusader for parks. Known as the “Founder of Outdoor Playgrounds,” Stover launched the Outdoor Recreation League in 1898 and served as the city’s Parks commissioner.

At the same time, he and others worked to establish the first housing habitability codes for New York City. We don’t dispute the need for green. But even higher on the priority list is safe, affordable housing, particularly for those with greater health vulnerabilities, those who have built this community before us.

These are the stories that inform our opinion: tenants facing harassment from landlords; folks choosing between rent, food and medicine; elders in walk-up buildings who are losing mobility and becoming homebound and isolated; folks who must represent themselves in Housing Court, but don’t know their rights or speak English; adult children who must send their parents to assisted living or nursing home care in other boroughs because they can no longer stay here in the community.

With a desperate situation for our elders, the choice to prioritize housing on Elizabeth St. is clear, both morally, and in terms of public health, equitable community development and human compassion.

Our neighborhoods are stronger and more vibrant when our elders remain with us in the community, and, after a lifetime of contributions, older adults deserve our support.


Aase and Weingartner are executive director and chief executive officer, respectively, University Settlement

15 Responses to The priority is clear: Senior housing over garden

  1. Georgette Fleischer

    Could this push piece be any more nauseating?
    University Settlement must be looking forward to a big slice of something for their executives’ sycophancy toward City electeds who betray their constituents as they hover a wrecking ball over the Elizabeth Street Garden.
    Destroy beauty.
    Destroy fresh air.
    Destroy sunlight.
    Destroy mature trees.
    Destroy the Little Italy village green.
    I applaud State Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Yuh-Line Niou for joining their constituents as plaintiffs against the City of New York.
    Most apartments in Little Italy are small and cramped (I know mine is: it barely fits my daughter’s crib and small playpen). Should we build a few more small, cramped studios for a few elderly, or should we preserve a shared green open space of relief for everyone who lives and visits here? There are other ways to provide senior affordable housing. Build at 388 Hudson Street. Follow through on returning to rent regulation all the illegally deregulated apartments in Little Italy, including those that have been illegally taken over for Airbnb.
    This project is a pretext to please developers. It steals land from the public and transfers it for nothing ($1, I believe) to private profiteers.
    It would be tragic if it weren’t so disgusting.

    • Come on. You can admit that you don't want to lose your local sculpture garden without needing to portray providing 123 seniors with affordable apartments as horribly disgusting.

      I imagine you would be somewhat horrified by the prospect of demolishing a rent-stabilized apartment building for a sculpture garden, even if it was far more beautiful and open longer hours than ESG.

  2. Extremely painful to read. With the real estate industry and private speculators sitting on vacant properties all over the city, advocates of gardens and senior housing are pitted against each other. I read pieces like this and think "smash capitalism."


    The comments section in this week's NY Times on this controversial project had over 95% of the respondents, from across America, overwhelmingly stating that sound urban policy dictates preservation of green space for all over selected housing for the chosen few.

    So why is the Lower East Side's University Settlement unnecessarily insinuating itself into this Little Italy controversy?

    Has the $92,000 in Council funding that Margaret Chin provided University Settlement over the past nine years anything to do with the placement of this puff-piece? Of course it has. Play for pay is common with non-profits.

    Take Hamilton-Madison House, again on the Lower East Side, which – literally – bussed in scores of its Chinese-American seniors at the behest of Councilmember Chin to an HDC public meeting three years ago to pack the room as a Trojan Horse advocating for the destruction of Elizabeth Street Garden – because not a single senior citizen from the neighborhood would stoop so low.

    Again, Ms. Chin has given Hamilton-Madison House hundreds of thousands of dollars of our tax dollars over the years. It, in turn, like University Settlement, offers political cover to the council member.

    Isn't it sad how the directors of these non-profits use their position to seek to deprive our children and seniors of scarce green space?

  4. Outrageous disregard for the vital need of green open soaks and parks and given the crisis of climate change – the gardens are providing invaluable and essential role providing urban climate solutions reducing carbon, mitigating flooding and filtering the air and water run off. The community could have both as the housing can be built on another site- IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE ON THIS GARDEN SITE!

    The senior housing will serve a small group for 20 years and then could go market rate – preserving the garden would be for everyone and forever!

  5. This is not, and never has been, a binary choice. Everyone knows there is a much larger, City-owned site at 388 Hudson Street–a mile from this site–that could be used to create three times as much affordable housing, without destroying the only real piece of greenery (not an asphalt playground or park like all the rest in the area). Simply put, you cannot have a livable neighborhood without quality parks and green spaces–and destroying this magical garden would destroy the environmental and social capital the garden empowers. The substitute 6,000 square feet of space would be plunged into the shadows of the new building–an embarrassing postage stamp of dark and gloomy space the size of a basketball court! The obvious win-win is to move the senior housing project to Hudson Street, and save the Elizabeth Street Garden!

  6. If this was actually a community garden, then the screw the indigent seniors crowd might have a point. It isn’t. It’s alan reiver’s private sculpture storage space, never open to the public until the specter of development reared its head. He owns the adjacent building, and will stand to lose millions of dollars in property value if this project goes through. His son heads the “nonprofit”involved in this frivolous legal challenge.

    I’ve attended many community board meetings on this issue. The vast majority of garden supporters are rich white yoga moms who moved to the neighborhood long after it gentrified. Pretending that stopping this project will magically cause housing to be built on other city lots is disingenuous. Be honest, garden zealots. You want to keep this green space, and don’t care about poor elderly folks. That’s fine. I benefit from the garden, and stand nothing to gain from the development, but I’d rather see the entire plot bulldozed and covered in asphalt than to see this rich family’s AstroTurf and carpetbagger campaign succeed.

  7. Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew

    Yes, it is parks we fight for, but we fight for houses, too.

  8. Melissa is sucking up to Margaret Chin. It is a shame what has happened to University settlement under her”leadership”

  9. The response from HPD and Council Member Chin to the Hudson St. alternative is they plan to build housing there as well. This is disingenuous speaking politely. They know the 388 site was promised for parkland when the site was purchased by the City 20 years ago and they know Speaker Corey Johnson has pledged to support Community Board 2 regarding its future use. They know that CB2 offered to release the commitment of this site for housing only as a win-win to save Elizabeth Street Garden and build more senior housing and Council Member Chin knows she will have no say because it's not in her district. The shame is we could save the wonderful Elizabeth Street Garden and make it into a true public park and at the same time provide almost 5 times as much affordable housing for seniors. The decision to put housing at Elizabeth Street Garden was made by one person with no consultation with the community. There has to be a reason for five years of refusing to even have a conversation. We just don't know what it is.


  10. All good to build PERMANENT affordable housing. You got to love the boomer developers 20-30 year limit- as soon as the younger generation needs affordable senior housing- oops! now its market rate! Suckas!

  11. If you are going to side with taking away a garden from people on Elizabeth St., then please side with establishing a replacement garden for them in Sara Roosevelt Park north of Delancey St. And not some already established garden where they can go be subjects to those rulers (yes, I'm looking at you KW). But a garden of their own, just like the people who currently own space in SRP between Rivington and Delancey. 50/50 split. These park people currently in SRP should be happy to share space with the ESG folks. Asking the Elisabeth St. people to go volunteer at someone else's garden only exposes you biases and exposes the lack of honesty in your editorial here.

    And while your at it, please give back the blood money University Settlement received for looking the other way when Rivington House was sold. Pretending that the local Council Member didn't know that Rivington House was being sold just defies logic. That money should be put in escrow and used for whatever Allure provides as a replacement.

  12. True! University Settlement accepted 200k blood money for a service they don’t even provide. With no accounting for the money. They were aware the nursing home was going away. This is an opportunity for Melissa to get attention. She is better advised to clean up the mess she’s created in her agency with her poor treatment of her staff. Including the shabby treatment of her therapists in the clinic. They are volunnteers who are paid only if the medicaid patient shows up.

  13. Melissa, can University Settlement explain why 200K is being allocated to an existing program? What happened to HeART that it has a 200K shortfall? What, exactly, will the 200K pay for? Most importantly, how does this replace what was lost by Rivington House?

  14. What happened to the truth seeker?

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