Father Frank Skelly Photo: Avery Miles

Seniors call on mayor to fulfill promise for affordable housing 

Father Frank Skelly rallies for senior housing with protesters on E. 152nd Street in Melrose. Photo: Avery Miles

As affordable housing becomes increasingly scarce for low-income New Yorkers, activists are calling on the mayor to follow through on his promise to build affordable housing for vulnerable South Bronx seniors.

On Apr. 27, parishioners from local churches were joined by elected officials on a march from the Immaculate Conception Church on E. 150th Street to a NYCHA-owned vacant lot they would like to see converted into affordable housing. When they arrived at the corner of E. 152nd Street and Melrose and Courtlandt avenues, Immaculate Conception’s longtime pastor addressed the crowd, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fulfill a promise to spend $500 million to build senior housing citywide.

Speaking in English and Spanish, Father Frank Skelly questioned the mayor’s compassion and conscience, and questioned the whereabouts of the funds de Blasio committed to invest.

“There’s only been one shovel in the ground for one building,” Skelly said. “$500 million is not all just for one building.”

The one shovel Skelly referred to is a Request for Proposals (RFP) submitted by the New York City Housing Authority and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), for a 50-70 unit complex at 97 West 169th St in the Bronx’s Highbridge section. Just one of the other five sites being considered is in the Bronx—an 150 apartment complex on tyhe grounds of NYCHA’s Morris Houses in Claremont Village. The other four are in Queens and Brooklyn. So far, no contracts are in place for the sites.

But six senior housing sites citywide allowing for about 700 apartments are not nearly enough, say the advocates. They say that 40 such sites would be more like it.

Responding to criticism by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, HPD’s commissioner Eric Enderlin and NYCHA’s interim Chair and CEO Kathryn Garcia wrote in a joint letter that the agencies’ joint Seniors First strategy includes initiatives to “make more homes accessible to seniors and people with disabilities; developing new senior housing on NYCHA and other land; and preserving more of the senior housing originally developed through federal housing and other programs.” 

The city “will serve approximately 23,000 senior households over the next eight years,” including “plans for development of approximately 350 affordable homes for extremely-low and low-income seniors on two NYCHA sites,” the letter went on to say. One of the sites would be Soundview’s Sotomayor Houses, where “on-site social support, health services, and cultural programming for seniors and their communities,” would also be provided.

The officials added that the administration’s commitment for the six projects on public sites still was for 2020, giving them another year to fulfill the mayor’s promise.

NYCHA resident and South Bronx Churches organizer Carmen Santiago has been caring for her two sick parents since last year. She lives with both parents and her two teenage children in a two-bedroom apartment.

“My parents deserve a decent apartment of their own,” said Santiago. “My family shouldn’t have to live like this.”

Parishioners from Immaculate Conception have been advocating for senior housing for several years. Sorinil Barea, the parish secretary, worries that the problem is getting worse as Mott Haven and Melrose continue to gentrify. She questioned how the city can keep putting up new buildings without setting aside apartments for seniors.

City Councilman Ritchie Torres told the crowd gathered on E. 152nd Street that the mayor loses the public’s trust for himself and other elected officials by breaking promises to the city’s neediest. Torres, who recently announced that he will run for Rep. Jose E. Serrano’s seat in Congress in 2020, vowed to continue being a thorn in the mayor’s side “from here to New Hampshire,” alluding to de Blasio’s announcement he will run for president in 2020. Serrano’s 15th congressional district includes the entire South Bronx.

“The mayor broke his word to each and every one of you,” said Torres.

As the rally ended, supporters, including members of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, sang a song composed in Spanish by a nun from Immaculate Conception. They sang: “Quinientos milliones le pedimos ya. Para mi casita de la ancianidad. De Blasio, de Blasio ejemplo del pueblo. Promesa que haces debe de cumplir.” (We are asking you for $500,000 now for senior housing. You must keep your promise.”)

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