NOLITA — The city is releasing a request for proposals Wednesday for a controversial development of affordable senior housing on a popular neighborhood garden on Elizabeth Street.
The Elizabeth Street Garden, between Prince and Spring streets, is a volunteer-run green space filled with statues from a neighboring gallery. The volunteer group that oversees the garden frequently hosts free children's education activities, fitness classes and movie nights in the garden, and has been fighting the city's plan to build there for years.
The plan is connected to the SPURA development on the Lower East Side, and the senior housing on Elizabeth Street was secured by Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
“With the issuance of this Request for Proposals, we are taking an important step as a community to create affordable housing for our seniors, as well as establishing a permanent garden space at this location," Chin said in a statement.
The RFP, issued by the city's Department for Housing Preservation and Development, requires a minimum of 5,000 square feet of public open space for use by the community.
According to an early draft of the RFP obtained by DNAinfo New York, "preference will be given to proposals that maximize the amount of public open space without losing affordable housing units for seniors."
"This public open space should, to the greatest extent possible, recreate current features such as lawns, trees, walks and planting and seating areas with a variety of sun and shade conditions, and also to provide for continuation of current education and recreational programs and events," the RFP reads.
The RFP does not specify a minimum number of housing units, though the city has previously suggested the site could accommodate 75 apartments.
Affordable senior housing has been a priority for HPD Commissioner Vicki Been, who became emotional talking about the dire need for it during City Council hearings on Mayor Bill de Blasio's major housing policies, Zoning for Quality and Affordability and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.
“This RFP seeks to provide desperately needed affordable homes for our seniors while also establishing permanent open space at the heart of this historic neighborhood. The challenges we face in Soho and Little Italy, and across this city, demand that we make thoughtful choices and find creative solutions," Been said in a statement. "This RFP asks respondents to offer designs that artfully balance two very important concerns — the needs of our seniors and the need the community as a whole has for green space.”
Seniors make up 17 percent of Community Districts 1 and 2, slightly higher than Manhattan as a whole (16 percent) and New York City overall (14 percent), according to the RFP.
The RFP is open to both for-profit and nonprofit developers, and encourages partnerships with community development corporations or community-based organizations. It outlines special tax incentives for properties that are at least 50 percent owned by nonprofits.
The development is expected to have retail, and possibly community space, on the ground floor. The RFP encourages developers to outline how the income from the retail space can offer deeper affordability.
The affordability levels are not preemptively set by HPD — developers are expected to include in their proposals what levels of area median income (AMI) they can target.
Median household income of households with seniors is $65,630 in all housing units and $43,387 in rental units, up from Manhattan as a whole ($42,762 and $30,452 respectively) and New York City as a whole ($40,031 and $25,049 respectively), the RFP says.
The housing units are expected to be affordable for a minimum of 30 years. Typically, HPD re-enlists property owners in their programs when housing affordability nears expiration.
HPD is hosting a pre-submission conference where bidders can ask questions about the RFP on Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. at HPD's headquarters at 100 Gold St. Written questions can be submitted via email to MottElizRFP@hpd.nyc.gov by Nov. 30.
Proposals must be hand-delivered to HPD at 100 Gold St. no later than 4 p.m. on Dec. 14.
After HPD selects a bidder, the developer has six months to submit plans for the project. The developer is also expected to assist HPD through a public approval known as the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), which the RFP states could, along with the HPD design approval process, take at least a year.
The developer will also be responsible for conducting a Environmental Assessment of the project and making any modifications demanded by the City Council or the mayor. Both the City Council and the mayor must approve the project.