West Side Federation will build new units adjacent to an existing, low-income residential building and add additional community and commercial space. On August 13, 2015, the City Council approved West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application to build a development around the pre-existing Borinquen Court building, which is a low-income residential building geared towards senior citizens and physically-disabled individuals. The development would be located in Council District 8—represented by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—on property bounded by Third Avenue, Alexander Avenue, 138th Street, and 139th Street in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx. The additions would yield a three-winged structure with Borinquen Court at the center, a 122-unit building attached to its west end, and a 56-unit building attached to its east end.
Borinquen Court was built approximately fifty years ago with restrictions placed upon it that prohibit its expansion beyond its original 145 residential units. West Side Federation purchased Borinquen Court in 2011, which became West Side Federation’s 24th low-income residential building. In February 2015, West Side Federation initiated the ULURP process to have such restrictions lifted, and to seek approval for the incorporation of Borinquen Court into a larger, low-income senior-housing development with relaxed parking requirements. Redtop Architects, LLP, a Manhattan architecture firm, designed the development. In addition to more-than-doubling the available residential units, the new development would provide 12,000 square-feet of commercial space on its ground floor. Borinquen Court’s existing on-site senior center would be expanded to 7,900 square-feet for use by the community and the development’s residents. Further, the development would include a roof garden, open space on the ground floor for senior citizens, and on-site social services, including four additional social workers.
On August 11, 2015, the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises heard testimony on West Side Federation’s ULURP application. Jennifer Steinberg, Senior Project Manager for Real Estate Development at West Side Federation, testified that both a health center and a pharmacy have expressed interest in occupying the west building’s commercial space. Moreover, she noted that West Side Federation had contracted with the New York City Housing Authority for Section 8 Vouchers for 171 of the new residential units, and the residents of these units will only be required to pay 30% of their income towards rent.
Subcommittee Chairman Donovan Richards expressed his excitement about the Work Force Development aspect of the project. Upon inquiring into any goals West Side Federation might have had regarding local hiring, he stated, “I would love 100% in a perfect world, but the standard is around 20%.” Laura Jervis, Executive Director of West Side Federation, testified that the general contractor would be hired via a bidding process, so West Side Federation planned to hire and negotiate with a contractor before hiring additional workers.
Subcommittee Chairman Richards requested more information on whether the development’s layout would be transportation friendly for seniors and disabled residents, such as those who utilize Access-a-Ride transportation services. Ms. Steinberg testified that all of the buildings would be located within one-tenth of a mile from the 6-train subway stop and six separate City bus lines, which are used frequently by the existing tenants. Further, Borinquen Court’s renovations include the construction of a circular driveway that Access-a-Ride vehicles would be able to use to drive up to its main entrance. The east and west buildings would have their own side entrances and would be physically connected to Borinquen Court via indoor walkways, which would allow for Access-a-Ride to pick up residents from any of these three entrances.
Council member Antonio Reynoso was primarily concerned with the development plan’s price tag. He noted that this is one of the first NYCHA developments, and while he was thrilled to see the “great return on what we’re getting,” he still found the project to be too expensive. Ms. Steinberg noted that the large price is unavoidable because the receipt of NYCHA Section 8 Vouchers is conditioned upon West Side Federation paying the prevailing wage.
Council members Ritchie Torres and David Greenfield inquired into any additional funding procured for the development plan. Ms. Steinberg testified that additional funding had been secured from various sources, including—but not limited to—direct subsidies from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and the Medicaid Redesign Team. She added that the Medicaid Redesign Team’s subsidy is conditioned upon West Side Federation granting preference to new tenants who are high Medicaid users.
The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises voted to approve the ULURP application at the conclusion of the August 11th hearing. The application was approved by the Committee on Land Use on August 12, 2015.
City Council: LU 0260–2015 through 0263–2015 (Aug. 13, 2015).
By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)