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Critics Want WaHi EMS Station Replaced by Affordable Housing

By Farran Powell | August 28, 2012 2:43pm

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Construction is underway for an emergency medical services station at a vacant lot at the corner of 172nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, but some local elected officials are pushing for the space to be used as affordable housing.

The FDNY has wanted to place an EMS station in Washington Heights for the last 15 years, saying the area is the second busiest in the city in terms of EMS responses and will allow emergency responders to decrease response time, an FDNY spokesman said.

The city granted the land to the FDNY since the nearest Manhattan station is on 136th Street in Harlem to serve better response times to Northern Manhattan.

"Washington Heights has needed its own EMS station for more than 15 years and we finally have a site to where we plan to build it," said Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano.

But community leaders and elected officials, including Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, CB 12 Chair Pamela Palanque-North said the plan undermines an initiative to provide more affordable housing in Northern Manhattan. The group blasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg for making a "unilateral" decision regarding the space without consulting community leaders.

"We urge the Mayor to support our request for more affordable housing and to work in cooperation with our elected officials, the Community Board and our CBOs to see that this initiative becomes a reality," said Palanque-North.

"We have one of the highest needs for affordable housing in the entire city; opportunities to build more should be taken whenever possible," Rodriguez wrote in a press release.

The Mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the the Department of Housing and Preservation has added 12,085 affordable housing units and preserved 35,465 units across the city since 2004, less than one percent of newly constructed units have been added in Community Board 12 with 239 newly build and 1448 preserved affordable hoisting units, according to the depart.

"As far as construction goes, it’s a matter of resources and opportunity and neighborhood history," Eric Bederman, a HPD spokesman, said in statement.

Bderman went on to explain that the housing stock in Community Board 12, which serves Washington Heights and Inwood, remained in the hands of landlords and tenants during the 1970s and 1980s when most residents were fleeing the city. The city acquired most of the land for neighboring Harlem, located in CB 9, 10 and 11, through foreclosures on abandoned property - a practice that was discontinued by the city in the mid 1990s.

Preliminary 2010 Census data has shown that Washington Heights saw a population decrease of close to 10 percent since 2000, with 15,554 people leaving the area.

But community leaders say they are concerned that rising rents, a lack of available housing stock, and the need for more affordable hoisting will push residents out of the neighborhood.

"This is a community that has received less than 1 percent of all new affordable housing city wide, "  Rodriguez said. "I have attempted to work with the administration and FDNY to fine an alternative site for this EMS station, yet such efforts have been disregarded by the administration.

Some community organizers disagree with the city's decision to appropriate the 172nd Street vacant to the FDNY.

"There are other sites in the community which would be fine for a parking lot, such as the Safety City on 158th Street, said Jeanie Dubnau of the Riverside Edgecombe Neighborhood Association describing a Department of Transportation lot used to educate children on street safety.

"That site is never used and would be a fine parking lot for ambulances."