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Squatters Reclaim Hospital Site as City Plans for Development Stall: Locals

By Gwynne Hogan | June 15, 2017 4:20pm
 The buildings windows are smashed, the walls are scrawled in graffiti and the yard is overtaken by waist-tall brambles.
The buildings windows are smashed, the walls are scrawled in graffiti and the yard is overtaken by waist-tall brambles.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

EAST WILLIAMSBURG — Squatters have reclaimed the city's long-abandoned nurses' residence at the former Greenpoint Hospital, frustrating neighbors who are both concerned about safety and angry that redevelopment of the site has once again come to a grinding halt after three decades of neglect.

Residents of the Cooper Park Houses, adjacent to the abandoned nurses quarters, which sits at the corner of Debevoise and Maspeth avenue, say in the last two weeks they've seen squatters coming and going from the abandoned building with mattresses and dogs, disappearing into the building's basement through an unsecured door.

"We're concerned about our safety," said Debra Benders, 57, a lifelong resident of Cooper Park Houses at a Community Board 1 meeting Tuesday night, where she and other tenants implored the board to push the city to secure the premises. "There are a lot of seniors that walk that same path and kids that go into that park."

Compounding their frustrations is the fact that the city has blown a January deadline to put out a request for ideas for affordable housing on the site — something Williamsburg residents have been asking for since 1983.

"We’re always being denied, always given the runaround, pass the buck, you name it, they’ve done it to us," said Nilsa Roman, 52, a Cooper Park resident for the last 40 years.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose aggressive affordable housing agenda includes building and preserving 200,000 subsidized units, picked up plans for redevelopment plans at Greenpoint Hospital in 2015, after a contractor the city had selected in 2012 was arrested for bribery charges.

In November of 2015, the city hosted a series of "visioning sessions" to get neighborhood input for the redevelopment of the Greenpoint Hospital promising to release an official request for proposals soon.

But in February of 2016, the release of the RFP was delayed indefinitely because of issues with a laundry facility used by the Department of Homeless Services and because part of the site was being considered for the National Register of Historic Places

Then in December of 2016, Lin Zeng from the city's Department of Housing and Preservation came before the community board to present a revised report on the 2015 visioning sessions saying that the city was going to release an "Request for Expressions of Interest" not an RFP and it should be expected in January. 

But January came and went.

"We've continued to work on this exciting project and expect to be able to release the RFEI this summer," said HPD spokeswoman Juliet Pierre-Antoine. She did not respond to a request for further comment.

While redevelopment of the property is at an epic three-decade standstill, the city has allowed the abandoned nurses quarters building sink further and further into neglect with graffiti, weeds, squatters and trash. The city let a broken pipe to flood the basement for two years, which was only repaired following an inquiry by DNAinfo. 

The city operates a homeless shelter in one of the buildings on the site and St. Nicks Alliance owns and operates offices and affordable housing in other parts of the complex.

"The summer is like next week," said Eric Lang, housing director at St. Nicks Alliance, which is part of the Greenpoint Renaissance Neighborhood Coalition, who've been pushing for their plan for redevelopment of the Greenpoint Hosptial since the 1980's.

HPD's most recent update provided to DNAinfo was more than community members have gotten from the agency, he said.

"We are always puzzled why a process that was supposed to expedite things has resulted in no development," he said.