A developer wants to build on this empty lot at the corner of Third Ave. and East 138th St., but Community Board 1 is unhappy the plan would include a large social service component.

Community board, builder clash over supportive housing

Community Board 1 told developers at a March meeting that they should go back to the drawing board if they want local approval for the project.

A developer wants to build on this empty lot at the corner of Third Ave. and East 138th St., but Community Board 1 is unhappy the plan would include a large social service component.
A developer wants to build on this empty lot at the corner of Third Ave. and East 138th St., but Community Board 1 is unhappy with the large social service component being proposed.

Board 1 tells developer Mott Haven is saturated with rehab clinics

A development group ran into resistance from Community Board 1 at a March meeting when it presented preliminary plans to construct housing at a busy intersection that would include a sizable socials services component.

A representative from Lettire Construction, Alex Alexandrov, told the board at a March 12 meeting that his company is hoping to construct an eight-story, 99-apartment building at the corner of East 138th St. and Third Ave., 30 percent of which would be for tenants with HIV and other social service needs.

But board members argued that Mott Haven is already saturated with supportive housing facilities and treatment centers. They urged the developer to find a different means of financing the project rather than depending on city subsidies.

“You’re talking about a major social service piece that you’re bringing in here,” said the board’s economic development committee chair, Arline Parks. “I don’t understand why you need to do this.”

Drug rehabilitation clinics, HIV treatment centers and other social service outlets already make up a disproportionate amount of activity along Bruckner Boulevard near E. 138th St., not far from the proposed project, she said.

“We have a lot of families that need housing,” said Parks.

But the sums developers receive from the city in return for providing social services are necessary for them to build middle- and low-income housing, Alexandrov said.

“The rents that are charged in the area cannot support” the project, he said.

Board member Walter Nash said the board’s wishes to limit new supportive housing have been ignored too often in the past. Construction is nearly complete on “another major project the community board’s shouting about,” a six-story facility on East 144th St. that will house tenants with psychiatric diagnoses. Many Mott Haven residents and board members vigorously opposed that project from the time it was proposed three years ago, to no avail.

Board members worried that children in the neighborhood are often intimidated or threatened when walking in areas near the treatment facilities.

“You can’t send your kids to school here. You’re scared for them to walk back home because you don’t know what they will encounter,” said Parks.

Others contended that children should be the focus of any new public money that flows into the neighborhood.

“I’m hearing a lot of building but I’m not hearing about any schools,” said Tracy Woodall. “Bringing families in with children, where are they going to go? I never hear about education when it comes to the buildings.”

Woodall added that existing area schools are falling apart.

The board’s district manager, Cedric Loftin, echoed board members, urging the developer to eliminate the social services element from the plan.

“There are projects that have worked without that component,” said Loftin, adding that since Lettire is “such a large firm” it could look to finance a new building without social services, “because we have a community that has been overwhelmed with this type of project.”

Another representative from Lettire, Manny Rivera, told board members their fears were unfounded. Residents of the facility would be carefully screened and many already attend other rehabilitation programs in the neighborhood, so they won’t be brought in from other parts of the city, he said.

However, Loftin countered, “It was not by the hand of anyone at this table that they’re here. You’re just adding a part of an issue that is detrimental to the community.”

Ted Weinstein, Bronx director of planning for the city’s Housing Preservation and Development agency, told the board “This is going to come up again and again. There is still a great need for supportive housing.”

“Every community board is saying the same thing and yet everyone in the city is aghast that there are 50,000 people in shelters every night,” he said. “Something has to be done,” to create permanent housing for the homeless.

But one board member and local homeowner pointed out that the recently proposed La Central complex near The Hub is slated to include 60 units of supportive housing.

“We’re telling you again for the 15th time that we are oversaturated,” said board member, Linda Ortiz.

In addition, Ortiz pointed out, the proposed building sits near three subway lines and is ripe for middle-income development without the need for supportive housing subsidies from the city.

“It’s an amazing location,” she said. “So forgive me if I can’t understand these numbers.”