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Bronx Added Most Supportive Housing in City Over Last Decade, Stats Show

By Eddie Small | June 17, 2014 7:28am
 New Destiny focuses on factors like nearby services and a welcoming community when selecting locations for its housing developments.
New Destiny focuses on factors like nearby services and a welcoming community when selecting locations for its housing developments.
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New Destiny

BRONX — The Bronx has taken on more city-financed supportive housing in the past decade than any other borough — a move that not everybody in the community backs.

From 2005 through March 2014, the city has paid to create roughly 2,500 units of supportive housing in the borough, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Manhattan followed with approximately 1,711 units, then Brooklyn with 1,644, Queens with 52 and Staten Island with 19.

Based on 2013 population estimates, that means that the per capita distribution of units in The Bronx (0.0018) is about 90 times greater than that of the borough with the least, Queens (0.00002).

HPD defines supportive housing as a development that provides services for people who may need help living independently, such as the formerly homeless, people on very low-incomes and those with drug issues.

Locations are chosen based on a collaboration between the developer, community and either the city or the state, depending on which is providing funding, according to Cynthia Stuart, chief operating officer of the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

"If it’s a city-funded project, the city requires developers to reach out to the community stakeholders, including the local politicians and the local community board," she said.

John Dudley, district manager of Bronx Community Board 3, maintained that the city should be more responsible about dividing up supportive housing equally across the boroughs.

“I think we’ve shown a level of responsibility and care that maybe other communities haven’t,” he said. “Or haven’t been forced to because there are no developers knocking and banging on their doors.”

However, Dudley emphasized that he understood the practicalities and difficulties involved with providing a place to live for all New Yorkers.

“We have to meet the challenge of finding housing for everyone in this city,” he said. “It’s just a reality, and to not do it is an escape from your obligation.”

Bronx Community Board 4 District Manager Jose Rodriguez agreed on the need for more evenly distributed housing.

"I’m not arguing against the fact that these services are needed. This is not a knock on the individuals applying," he said.

"This is a knock on the policymakers not developing proper policy that is equitably distributed throughout the five boroughs."

Jessica Katz, assistant commissioner for special needs housing at HPD, vigorously defended the city’s record of spreading supportive housing evenly across New York.

Manhattan still has roughly twice as many supportive housing units as the Bronx dating back to fiscal year 1985 — 8,283 compared to 4,655 — and a majority of them are located in Manhattan South, which HPD defines as roughly everything below Harlem.

By comparison, Brooklyn has 3,791, Queens 168 and Staten Island 55 units introduced since 1985.

“We’re very proud of our record of developing a lot of housing in the Bronx, so I think we’ll continue to do that,” she said, “but there’s not a particular concentration of supportive housing.”

New Destiny Housing, a New York City nonprofit that provides housing for domestic violence survivors, looks for good access to services like schools and transportation when picking locations for its projects, and it tries not to pay more than $40 per buildable square foot, according to the group's Director of Housing Development Joan Beck.

The group's rate is becoming difficult to find in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant, but it is still a possibility in The Bronx, organizers said.

"The Bronx, you still can find this kind of thing, although it’s getting harder," she said.

"So it’s a matter of where you can find something that’s the right price, and the community has to be happy with you. We wouldn’t go somewhere where the community was not welcoming."

A 2008 study from New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy refuted assertions that supportive housing has a negative impact on nearby property values.

The study found that opening a supportive housing development did not have a significant impact on property values within 500 feet of the project. Rather, these places experienced "strong and steady growth" after the completion of the development and appreciated more than similar properties in the neighborhood that were farther from the supportive housing.

Stuart acknowledged that it could be counterintuitive to imagine supportive housing as benefiting a neighborhood, but she maintained that a nice new building was a better option than a vacant lot.

"You bring up a neighborhood, you start building gorgeous buildings, and that block is safer and people want to come live there," she said. "People want to build businesses there."

Katz also maintained that these developments had a positive neighborhood impact and that it was the responsibility of the supportive housing community to battle the negative myths surrounding it.

“Supportive housing actually has quite a good benefit to the community,” she said. “And once people see it and it’s in the neighborhood, it really is integrated into the rest of the block. We don’t hear "NIMBY" once the buildings are built.”