By Alec Pruchnicki

The Medicaid-supported Robert Lott Assisted Living Facility, where I have my medical practice, often gets pleas from applicants who need low-income housing and home care services. We sometimes rehabilitate residents enough that they can go back to the community and live independently. Both groups have tremendous problems in finding housing because there is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Manhattan. Never, in the 13 years that I have been there, has anyone worried about housing complained about a lack of park space.

Since I first wrote about the housing crisis, and why housing should take precedence over park space on Elizabeth Street (“Selfishness 1, Housing 0” in the May 2016 issue of WestView News), park supporters have picked up support from many local politicians and held a large rally of reportedly several hundred people. I have looked into this and have been to the park about a dozen times altogether. As I reported before, of the hundreds of people I’ve seen in the park, I’ve counted five African-Americans, four Hispanic-appearing individuals, no kids or teenagers, and only a handful of elderly individuals. I don’t know how it happened but this has developed into the most exclusive park in that whole neighborhood.

PARKS ABOUND NEAR ELIZABETH STREET: The Elizabeth Street Garden, the DeSalvio Playground, Petrosino Square, and the Sara D. Roosevelt Park form a green space network on and around Elizabeth Street.
PARKS ABOUND NEAR ELIZABETH STREET: The Elizabeth Street Garden, the DeSalvio Playground, Petrosino Square, and the Sara D. Roosevelt Park form a green space network on and around Elizabeth Street.

Speaking of the neighborhood, all the other six parks have more diversity by age and/or race. (See the map above.) Community Board 2 (CB2) requested that the Parks Department take over financing of this park, and they were justifiably turned down. There are public parks all over the City that need funds, but this proposal would have taken money from them to support a park in one of the most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in the City. CB2 also argued that it had very little park space. But that applies to all of CB2, whereas this particular corner of it is surrounded by parks, especially if you realize that CB2’s eastern border of the Bowery excludes the massive nearby Roosevelt Park.

The CB2 proposal to study the possibility of building housing on an alternative site on Hudson Street was also appropriately turned down by the City. With all the housing needs throughout poor neighborhoods in the City, including the NYCHA system, how could diverting money to build housing in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the City be justified? And, how could Council Members from those neighborhoods ever agree to this?

There are other problems with this site. Council Member Margaret Chin was able to get funds for the Elizabeth Street housing site because she had the leverage of making it part of the massive Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) project. There is no similar leverage to get the Hudson Street site moving. Also, the Elizabeth Street site has been in the works for about four years and a new project on Hudson has not even achieved the first step.

West Village residents could also oppose a Hudson Street project for several reasons. First, the site is described as potentially hosting as many as 300 apartments (assuming funding) because zoning allows for taller buildings there. Taller buildings? Village residents have opposed the St. Vincent’s rescue proposals in 2007, Gansevoort Street development, St. Luke’s new high-rise residential building, and the St. John’s development on the basis of being too tall, among numerous other reasons.

If the entire population of this new building is to be composed of low- or moderate-income residents, would local Villagers who live in nearby multi-million dollar townhouses get nervous about the effect on property values in the area, or even the unlikely possibility (or fear) of crime? If apartments are mixed with both low/affordable and market rate/luxury ones would the project be stopped because it might encourage further gentrification in a neighborhood that is already pretty gentrified? This is what happened in Sunnyside, Queens and Inwood in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, there is still a housing crisis. This winter, homeless people will likely die from exposure on the City streets, while others suffer or die from violence in City shelters. Nobody will die because their neighborhood only has six parks instead of seven. Build housing on Elizabeth Street.

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1 thought on “Parks Are Good, Housing is Better

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      “homeless people will likely die from exposure on the City streets, while others suffer or die from violence in City shelters.”

      Oh come on, Alec, really??? You may not be wrong, but this statement has absolutely zero to do with housing at this site. Housing here will do nothing at all to get anyone off the street. This comment is so incredibly disingenuous as to ruin the credibility you’ve built over years. The worst thing you could have written that is wrong for this article. It’s a very trumpian dodge on your part, and you should be ashamed of yourself

      Not only will housing at this site do nothing for people living on the streets, it will do very little for low income seniors. Why not mention the AMI for this proposed building? Why not mention that people can make over $200K/yr and qualify to live here. It’s even more disingenuousness on your part to leave out the spec’s on who will live here. If poor people were actually going to end up living here, locals might object less, but folks like you leave out the details of who’s getting what and for how long.

      This location should have never been part of SPURA, and I bet even you know that. This housing should have been required in the Delancy plan, and this would have never been an issue. But not it is, and your neighbors would appreciate it if you didn’t spread such falsehoods.

      I have never been inside this park, but I still love. This neighborhood needs passive space, just walk past, just for the eye to stretch further than across a street, just to see some green, and just to smell oxygen coming from the greenery. I understand what you want in our community, and the people who love this park want the same thing. But we want the park, too. If a smart person like you are trying to make them mutually exclusive, then god knows where this debate goes. You should know better than to imply that this park is the reason people are dying in our streets. Nothing could be further from the truth, and you’re a sad man for not being honest in this publication. I feel very sad for you. Very sad.

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