By George Capsis
If God sat down at the drafting board to design a perfect solution for seniors now living alone in a five-story walk-up, with an ancient dog that has to go four times a day, what would He come up with? He would have a nice, fresh-faced youngster offer a strong arm to help our ancient walk to the doctor and take Fido to happily meet his target hydrant for even a fifth visit.
Unfortunately, God does not work in City Planning. So, we hear a moaning chorus of West Village seniors once happy for the fifth floor view and now working up the courage to make just one more climb.
It is only when a government utterly fails that we can get one that actually works. Take the Great Depression. Eighty-five years ago, under LaGuardia and Roosevelt, ancient tenements came down through slum clearance, and the first, nice, clean, airy public housing units were built. However, the bureaucratic solution of one era becomes the bane of the next, so we now have one million residents and three generations living in NYCHA Land, all with a vested interest in maintaining poverty.
So, right now if you offer a West Village senior an apartment off in some foreign neighborhood like Chelsea or SoHo, he will hesitate and demur, “Uh, it’s not the West Village. This is my home,” and fight to keep his mouse-central apartment.
So, okay, God sits down at the drafting board for the many seniors facing eviction and/or a heart attack to design the ideal apartment and the ideal companion. What does He come up with?
Well, He would start with restoring lost functions by giving our West Village ancient a young, live-in companion. Some seniors already sublet or even pay for a young housemate to make up for near-zero muscle power.
We have many ancients being harassed by landlords who can get double, and even triple, the rent for a rent-stabilized or (god forbid) a rent-controlled apartment. All they can do is call Corey Johnson’s office and hope for free legal help while they contemplate the menu of senior fatal illnesses that await them. Peace, a little peace is almost more than they feel they can ask for.
Back to God at the drafting board. Suppose there could be an apartment designed to be shared, but with separations—one half for a senior alone, or a senior couple, and the other side for a young person, or even a young couple. The seniors enjoy peace and “60 Minutes” and the young, well, they enjoy what ever young people enjoy.
The senior rent is set a little higher because they are “enjoying” social security, but the junior side of the apartment is offered at about the price of a college dorm because the young persons will help out the seniors. They will shop (in this case, at Trader Joe’s, which is just downstairs) and they would take the seniors to the doctor and back in an Uber. They would even heat up some soup and make some toast. In the same building is a senior center, a free lunchroom, and an indoor, heated pool so both young and old can get some exercise.
The spot I have selected for this very first SENIOR SHARE apartment complex is Houston Street just before it hits 6th Avenue. That is the site of some nearly abandoned handball courts built by Carmine DeSapio for the Italian teenagers who have long since gone. The building has a deck wrapped right around it so the senior can just walk a few steps or roll a wheelchair out into the sun.
What’s so good about this idea?
Today, families come apart and move, so mom’s daughter is living with her family in San Francisco. This idea brings back young family members to help the ancients in their declining years, and it does another thing. It allows us once again to welcome the young college grad to the streets of the West Village so he can begin his journey to the Senior Share apartments.
The following is my recent email exchange with Trader Joe’s PR Director, Kenya Friend-Daniel. The content has been edited by WestView News.
Monday, January 15, 2018 at 3:55 p.m.
My name is Kenya Friend-Daniel, PR Director at Trader Joe’s. Rachel forwarded your inquiry to me. Thank you for reaching out. At the moment, I am not aware of a Trader Joe’s location coming to Spring Street, in New York. If I do hear of anything, I’ll reach out, or feel free to follow up, in the future. Again, thank you for reaching out.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 6:35 a.m.
Thank you for getting back to me.
The information about your new Trader Joe’s Spring Street location came from the Office of the Speaker of the New York City Council. I am surprised that it may not be correct. (Can you check?)
We are drafting a proposal for a senior care center in a very central location in the West Village and are projecting that it would be ideal for a low-cost supermarket. Do you want me to send you information on it so that you can forward it to the planning group in your company?
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 1:53 p.m.
We are expanding and therefore always looking at new locations that might be a great fit, so I cannot tell you that there never has been or will be any interest in the area. I can tell you that, currently, there are no confirmed plans to bring a Trader Joe’s to that location. I hope this helps. Thanks again.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 3:12 PM
Thank you for the response, Kenya Friend-Daniel.
This is not a casual matter. About a year ago, Associated Supermarket on 14th Street and 8th Avenue closed and 200 mostly seniors, and virtually every local politician, showed up to protest.
What I am telling you is important.
We lose supermarkets, restaurants, and every kind of retail business because of increasing rents (the price of land in Manhattan is exploding).
But seniors living on social security, and absolutely frozen in rent-stabilized apartments, find it difficult or nearly impossible to travel to a neighborhood that has a supermarket with lower prices. They are trapped.
Mayor de Blasio has dedicated his administration to building, or refurbishing, low-cost housing. Now that we have a new Speaker for the City Council who is even more dedicated to that cause, we have perhaps arrived at an ideal juncture for novel and innovative city planning.
We have selected a very central site—Houston Street at 6th Avenue, which is presently operated by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation (NYC Parks) as handball courts. These courts are now rarely used in season and, of course, are not used at all in the winter.
We are proposing a very new, very novel idea: Apartments designed for seniors with walk-in tubs and help alarms. Those apartments would also have an extra bedroom for a student who, in return for a low rent, donates a number of hours to shop, take the seniors to the doctor, and in general, offer some companionship. This allows students just out of college who want to come to New York to, at last, find living space in Manhattan, which they, or more accurately, their parents, can afford.
But as long as we are accommodating seniors and the next generation of New Yorkers, why not address the need for a low-cost, neighborhood supermarket?
The street level of this new concept in urban living will not only have to serve the seniors and juniors above, but also the entire neighborhood with a low-cost supermarket. This is where Trader Joe’s comes in. Obviously, if this new concept in city housing becomes a reality, it cannot favor one supermarket chain over another. The lease bidding has to be more or less open to all. However, if Trader Joe’s were to join with a developer to finance and actually build the new Senior Junior Center, it would, of course, have the rights to the location.
Okay, what are the obstacles to this plan?
The 30-year-old handball courts are managed by NYC Parks and there may be a few local residents who will want to keep them operating as handball courts. But, as I say, with both a mayor and now a Speaker of the City Council making housing the number one goal, we have a chance to make history.
Your response will be printed in the February issue of WestView News.
Oh, one more thought. Just before the last big snowstorm, Dusty went to shop at Trader Joe’s on 21st Street and 6th Avenue and discovered a line of people around the block in the freezing cold, waiting to get in.