1921 Cortelyou Road Groundbreaking

IMG-0633Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director of Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) Management, Inc., opened 1921 Cortelyou Road’s groundbreaking ceremony by welcoming the Baptist Church of the Redeemer’s Reverend Sharon Williams. “This is all possible because of her and her congregation,” Speliotis explained.

When completed, the nine-story structure will include a 14,700-square-foot church and provide 76 units of supportive housing. The two uses will operate autonomously with shared service spaces only. However, the supportive housing aspect of the project appealed to the Reverend and her congregation as the type of work they are happy to partner with.

“I am honored that Reverend Williams and her congregation saw something in MHANY and selected us to help them transition a beautiful but outdated building into a beautiful and purposeful center of worship and center for community service and action,” Speliotis said. “I am honored that together the reverend and her congregation had the vision to embrace housing for a wide array of people including seniors, families, and young women who will be living on their own for the first time in their lives.”

When Rev. Williams took the microphone, she was poised to inspire the masses, albeit without a sermon. “You’re about to witness something you’ve never witnessed before, and you’ll never witness again,” she said. “A Baptist preacher is going to speak for less than 60 seconds.” She then told everyone to turn to their neighbor and repeat after her: “Neighbor … you are standing … on holy ground!”

Echoing her sentiment, Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), told a story about a man who now lives in an HPD supportive housing building, having overcome 8 years of homelessness and “the worst period of his life.”

“Safe, affordable housing is the foundation of well-being of all kinds: physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual,” she explained.

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Credit: Vanessa Blake (an Opulent World/Summer Shower Production)

It was a beautiful, sunny morning. All the joy in the air reminded us of our commitment to the work we do together. Mega Contracting Group, the general contractor, set up a striking backdrop of excavator machinery to let everyone present know that we are ready for action!

“What started ten years ago as a vision has become evidence that gentrification is not the only thing going on in our neighborhood,” Rev. Williams said earlier in the day. “Love and determination are making a positive change here, and hopefully, more is to come.”

Thank you to MHANY, the Baptist Church of the Redeemer, HPD and the entire project team for an inspiring morning. We’re also hoping there are many more to come.

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Extending The Bridge at the Partners in Caring Awards Gala

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ESKW/A team members mingle before the evening’s program begins.

On June 6, The Bridge held its 2018 Partners in Caring Awards Gala. In celebrating the organization’s work, two individuals were honored with awards, and funds were raised to bring help, hope, and opportunity to thousands of New Yorkers.

Cynthia C. Wainright, president of The Bridge’s board of directors, opened with remarks noting the agency’s 64 years of service. Currently, it houses 1,385 individuals from vulnerable populations in 24 buildings, two shelters, and over 500 apartments throughout the five boroughs.

“And next month, we will open a 66-unit residence on Maple Street in Brooklyn, which will support another 50 adults with serious mental illness and provide 16 affordable housing units for families,” Wainright added.

Wainright was referring to our East New York Avenue project with The Bridge. “No pressure,” one of our team members teased the project manager. The building is rapidly nearing completion.

An incredibly moving video showed Bridge clients living in their spaces and participating in programming that includes art therapy, horticulture therapy, and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) sessions. Residents marveled at how now they simply feel free and safe in their new homes. A service staff member encouraged them that this is not their last step either, as many clients have transitioned through Bridge shelters and programs to permanent housing. The video closed with the poem “Myself” by Edgar Guest.

“The stories were tear-jerking,” said Sunčića Jašarović, one of our architectural designers. “What a wonderful organization.”

After the video, a client named Gregory spoke about his success story. Having spent 15 years with The Bridge, he has earned his GED, begun a career in maintenance at Bellevue Hospital, and become a U.S. Citizen.

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Mike Ong, project manager on East New York Avenue (somewhat seen behind him).

“I try to achieve in life,” Gregory said. “If I didn’t believe in achieving, I wouldn’t have come this far.”

The Curtis Berger Award was given to Gary Hattem, an advisor to nonprofit organizations. His work with banks, trusts, and foundations has helped make The Bridge’s work possible.

“Society has experienced a loss of social cohesion and what holds us together, but The Bridge brings everyone together in a common cause, in a feeling of unity and purpose,” Hattem said. “Everyone has a place in New York City. Everyone has an opportunity.”

The Partner in Caring Inspiration Award went to Leslie Jamison, an author, instructor at Columbia, and graduate of Harvard as well as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her writing details her own battles with addiction and her journey to recovery. Guests received a hardcover of her most recent work, The Recovering. (And a tote bag. And a potted plant centerpiece, if they desired.)

“I found kindred spirits in the people who work at The Bridge,” Jamison said. “When I was fighting my addiction, I had access to all the resources—good doctors and therapists, a recovery community, supportive friends and family—that could help me recover. But many of The Bridge’s clients don’t have these resources available to them. The Bridge gives them access to all kinds of support they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

The night was an awe-inspiring celebration of the work the agency, architects, developers, and other groups have done—and a dynamic urge for the work to continue.

“The most important part of our work is that we are making it possible for people living in shelters, on the street, or in psychiatric hospitals to move into safe and affordable housing—fully furnished and equipped—so they can get their lives back on track. It’s a very tangible impact,” Carole Gordon, senior vice president for housing development at The Bridge, told us after the event. “The gala brought together people from so many walks of life. Hopefully they left with a good feeling and want to continue to support us in whatever way they can.”

If the donation thermometer is any indicator (it surpassed the $20,000 goal within minutes and was still rising as we left), then these efforts are sure to continue. And if this photo booth flip book is another indicator, then it’s a safe bet that people walked away with good feelings too.

NYLON #13: Homelessness in New York and London

By Kimberly Murphy, AIA

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On May 31, 2018, I attended the Urban Design Forum’s 13th session of NYLON at the Center for Architecture. The series brings together experts from New York and London to discuss shared issues facing our cities and to have an open exchange of ideas and conversation. Architects were joined by city agency officials, non-profit organizations, and other experts in conversations ranging from safer streets to affordable housing and homelessness.

It was fun to have our colleagues from “across the pond” share their experiences, struggles, and successes via Skype. The numbers vary, and programs have different names, but the bottom line is that affordability is dwindling in both cities, which leads to structural increases in homelessness. Structural causes for homelessness are those not related to behavior and include landlord policies and loss of stable housing. Joslyn Carter, administrator of the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), spoke about how the number of children and families in temporary housing has been rising. Rents have increased exponentially higher than incomes have, and working families cannot keep up.

So what is being done? Alice Brownfield, director of Peter Barber Architects in the U.K., shared several remarkable projects that included shelters and supportive housing. Their work is impressive and speaks to a scale of “home” that many urban dwellers don’t experience. It’s interesting to me that there was such low density in some of the projects, whereas much of our work in NYC is based on high-density city conditions and providing up to 200 beds (max) in a facility. The “cottage” feel of their Holmes Road Studios is very appealing. I also appreciate their embrace of brick masonry as a material.

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Credit: Peter Barber Architects (found via http://www.peterbarberarchitects.com/holmes-road-studios)

Common threads in the work were dignity of space, welcoming and bright entrances, and common areas that encourage socialization. Basic needs like security and high-quality programming were also core contributors to success.

Jonathan Marvel, of Marvel Architects, spoke about his firm’s work in evaluating the Belleview Men’s Shelter, which houses nearly 800 single men. From their studies, clients and program providers indicated that security, dignity, services, and community are  the top of values and issues related to shelters. Jennifer Travassos, head of prevention and commissioning for Westminster Council, referred to coming home and relaxing in your jammies as a practice not available to the homeless. I found that to be a great, humanizing reference that those with homes take for granted as a contributor to mental health and life in general.

We were especially interested in this discussion since our Landing Road (aka Reaching New Heights Residence) project for BRC enjoyed its ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month. In an innovative funding model, non-profit shelter provider BRC developed a 200-bed shelter on the lower levels of the building which funds 135 units of affordable housing on the upper levels. The project marks the first new construction of a NYC shelter in 25 years and serves as a model for financing much-needed permanent housing.

“Our HomeStretch Housing pilot—Landing Road—provides beautiful, high-quality affordable housing  to the low-income individuals BRC assists in our shelters,” said Muzzy Rosenblatt, president and CEO of BRC. “Through BRC’s The Way Home Fund, we plan to kickstart the development of a pipeline of projects that will replicate the success of Landing Road and ultimately create thousands of units of low-income housing, help the city decrease the size of the shelter system, and close down decaying and unsafe facilities.”

To connect back to what’s being done to improve NYC shelters, the Urban Design Forum sent their Forefront Fellows to Landing Road the morning following the ribbon-cutting as part of DHS’s Conscious Shelter Design initiative. The fellows were touring 15 different sites (including Project Renewal’s Ana’s Place) to develop guidelines for shelter providers that focus on maintenance, accessibility, landscape, and space utilization, among others. The architects, building owners, and program directors provided a tour and answered the fellows’ questions. It was interesting to speak of the design and programming of the Reaching New Heights Residence in the context of the previous morning’s seminar and comparisons to challenges and solutions in London. Issues related to entry, security, wayfinding, maintenance, and connection to nature all resonated. We were pleased to assist in the research and look forward to contributing further. The goal of DHS to become obsolete is a lofty one, and until it becomes a reality, we appreciate their efforts in making shelters places of welcoming and security.

Hour Apartment House

ESKW/A recently had the pleasure of documenting one of our newly completed projects, Hour Apartment House III, in Astoria, NY, with photographer David Sundberg of Esto Photography.

HAH III provides supportive housing exclusively for formerly incarcerated mothers and their children.  The property is one of 7 housing properties owned and operated by Hour Children Inc., an organization dedicated to providing comprehensive help for the women and their families to build new lives together post-incarceration.  We are pleased with the results of working with a strong team, and thank David for once again capturing such lovely photos.

Update on 535 E. 11th St.

The Mary Spink House on 535 East 11th Street is nearing completion. The project is sponsored by the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing and is roughly 80% complete. The finishes are going in and façade is almost completed; the street-level storefront is being installed which opens onto the building’s Community Room. There is a through-building passageway connecting East 11st St. and the Joseph Sauer Park which will be accessible to both the residents and the general public. Masonry openings on the gray brick façade continue the rhythm of the adjacent street facades and fire escapes. The gray and yellow color scheme is continued boldly at the rear of the building and throughout the interior. This building will provide 46 units of supportive and affordable housing to low-income, formerly homeless, and mentally disabled members of the East Village community. Stay tuned for more updates.

Settling in at 4380 Bronx Boulevard

We are very pleased that the staff and residents at 4380 Bronx Boulevard, a men’s homeless shelter in the Bronx, are enjoying their building. Project Renewal’s recent blog post gives a tour of their new facility and a sense of the variety of spaces that serve the different needs of the residents: the dorm rooms, the showers, the lobby, and support spaces. (And scroll to the comments!) This former manufacturing building has been transformed with dramatic skylight openings  – required to provide legal light and air but are sculpted in a modern way – that give the dorms a bright, airy feel. We feel that the simple, thoughtful details along with careful floor and finish selection sets the stage for what a shelter can be.

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Carol Lamberg’s Letter to the NYT

Carol Lamberg, the Executive Director for Settlement Housing Fund, a long-time client of ESKW/A’s, has championed affordable housing in NYC for decades. Her Letter to the Editor in response to a July 23, 2013 New York Times article conveys the import of keeping these public projects healthy and funded in our diverse city. Well said, Carol!

Read the article here, and Carol’s letter here.