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Seniors Rally Against Salvation Army's Sale of UWS Building

By Emily Frost | June 18, 2014 6:06pm
 The building is for sale to a real estate developer for $108 million. 
Seniors Protest Sale of Williams Memorial Residence
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Seniors protested Wednesday the Salvation Army's decision to sell its West End Avenue home and move to a new building in East Harlem — a choice the nonprofit said is necessary given the cost of building upkeep. 

Residents of the affordable housing complex and elected officials called on the Salvation Army not to displace the 212 seniors living at the Williams Memorial Residence, which the organization has operated for 50 years. 

The building features affordable apartments for seniors, as well as two meals per day, housekeeping services and activities for residents all provided by the Salvation Army.

"The prospect of leaving the Williams is inconceivable," said Jean Poleshuck, 89, a tenants association leader, at the rally. "Moving shortens life spans, and it is a matter of life and death."

The nonprofit recently signed a deal to sell the building to the real estate developer Brack Capital for $108 million, said Salvation Army spokesman Major James Betts, noting the sale still needs the approval of Attorney General Eric SchneidermanBrack did not return a request for comment. 

The Salvation Army argues it has no choice. Repairs to the building, including to its heating and plumbing systems, would cost upwards of $20 million, a cost the organization lacks the capital to fund, Betts explained.

Chanting "we will not be moved," the several dozen senior residents assembled said they're attached to they neighborhood and don't want to leave, characterizing the move as unnecessarily stressful. 

"The mission of the nonprofit is to support senior affordable housing and not to sell to an owner who is going to put in a luxury development," said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The new building on West 125th Street at Third Avenue would have 250 units of affordable senior housing above a community center, and construction would be financed by the sale of the Williams property, Betts said.

The East Harlem building would take at least two years to complete, during which time residents could remain at the West End Avenue building as part of the deal with Brack, he added. 

The Salvation Army said it has been purposefully not filling up the Williams building — which has 353 units but only 212 current residents — because it had the sale in mind.

Brewer and Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, in addition to Public Advocate Letitia James, said at the rally that the move to East Harlem would mean a net loss of 102 affordable housing units at a time when wait lists for such housing are high.

"The waiting list is phenomenal," Brewer said.

But Betts argued that "the net loss is a short-term situation," noting, "We'll build more facilities." 

The Salvation Army decided to move the operation to East Harlem because it already owns the community center there, the spokesman said. 

Rosenthal and others urged the Salvation Army to consider selling the Williams building to a nonprofit organization, arguing that the city could possibly help with funding the purchase.

However, to sell the building "for less that it is worth would be paramount to us subsidizing a nonprofit or the city," Betts said. "Our donors would question that." 

Seniors like Adele Gold, 77, said she loves the Upper West Side and "thought this would be the last place I live."

Others also said they'd grown attached to the community and couldn't easily get across town given their mobility issues. 

Still, not all the residents are opposed to the move. 

Jean Kiskaddon, 88, said she would miss the proximity to Lincoln Center but could use the subways and buses to get around. She's also heartened by a promise by the Salvation Army to take care of moving costs.

"The organization has taken such good care of us," she said. "Why the Salvation Army would be the 'enemy,' I don't understand." 

The Salvation Army and elected officials did not know when the decision from the attorney general would come. His office did not immediately return request for comment.