UPPER WEST SIDE — Locals raged against a proposal to replace three low-cost parking garages with hundreds of new affordable housing units on West 108th Street — saying the potential loss of parking will lead drivers to "fights on the street."
West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) wants to build 280 affordable housing units and enlarge its existing homeless shelter, Valley Lodge, from 92 to 110 beds through a partnership with the city that would require knocking down three city-owned garages on West 108th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.
The city’s Housing Preservation and Development agency will sell the three garages — which house 675 subsidized parking spots — to WSFSSH for $1 as part of its mission to create affordable housing in the city, said Jessica Katz, an assistant commissioner for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
"We’re scouring all the opportunities we have [to build affordable housing], particularly on the Upper West Side where there’s almost no affordable housing opportunities left," Katz said of the plan.
But neighbors, many of whom referred to themselves as "working class" people who depend on their cars to get to work, were outraged by the plan and demanded that the development either be moved elsewhere or that the city find a way for the parking and housing to coexist.
Hundreds of residents filled a room to capacity at Jewish Home Lifecare on West 106th Street Wednesday for a meeting that turned raucous at times, with residents shouting out questions and demands amid loud applause.
Many said they resented the scenario of having to choose between a rare, lower-cost parking spot or affordable housing.
"To say that we have a choice here and it’s either people in affordable housing or automobiles — let’s not overlook the fact that those of us who own the automobiles and depend on them are also people," said longtime resident Arthur Pier.
City officials don't understand the needs of this particular community and are imposing their plans from on high, locals added.
"We’re talking about a plan that says… let’s screw up the life of the people who live here," said neighborhood resident John Moscow.
Locals said the immediate area, between West 100th to 110th streets, was already overburdened with affordable and supportive housing. However, parking is scarce, especially at the reduced rate of about $20 a day that the garages charge, they said.
A parking study by the consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard that was presented by HPD found that there are 3,500 spots in garages within a 12-block radius, but it did not investigate the vacancy rate at those garages, infuriating Community Board 7 members and residents who demanded that more research be done.
The study also concluded that building a subterranean parking garage two levels beneath the affordable housing would cost $17 million and yield just 118 spots. Any deeper excavation to create additional parking levels would cost substantially more, representatives from the firm said.
But residents and board members refused to abandon the idea that an underground garage could mean "having your cake and eating it too," as one resident put it, and asked for the idea to be studied further.
Without affordable parking and residents forced to look for on-street parking, "there will be fights on the street," said local resident Mimi Torchin. "Six-hundred or 700 new cars on the street and nowhere to put them will cause violence."
A handful of residents spoke up in favor of the housing, noting they didn't care about the garages.
"Affordable housing easily trumps cheap parking. I’m really kind of dismayed by how much street space, how much city space is given over to parking," said resident David Vassar.
"Those garages are an eyesore," added neighbor Julie Hertzog. "Parking is not a right — housing is a right."
In order to create 280 units, WSFSSH is asking for a zoning variance that would allow it to build slightly higher and cover more of the lots.
Before it can proceed, the project has to go through a public review process that will likely start next fall, Katz said.
That process will also involve a public session held by Community Board 7 to review the final plans and give feedback, though only in an advisory capacity, noted board member Richard Asche.