Last Wednesday, the leadership of WellLife Network, a nonprofit housing and treatment agency, presented its plan to build a three-story, 66-unit building at 80-97 Cypress Avenue, the site of an abandoned eyesore in the neighborhood.
At least 20 units will house homeless and mentally ill individuals or families, while 20 apartments will be reserved for seniors either with disabilities or at risk of homelessness. The other 26 units will be designated as affordable housing for low-income residents from the area.
The affordable housing apartments will be available for those who make 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), or roughly $56,340 for a family of three.
“We feel this will be a great mix of individuals to come into this facility,” said Sherry Tucker, CEO of WellLife Network. “We’ll create a nice synergy for these populations to come together and be able to do life together.”
More than 60 percent of the project will be funded through a city tax credit program. The total development cost is estimated to be $28 million.
Nine full-time case workers will be providing services to the building’s residents. According to Tucker, at least two workers will be on site every hour of the day.
There will also be around-the-clock security, including cameras monitoring in the hallways and common areas. Residents will need key cards to get in.
Ann Marie Barbarotta, senior vice president and chief operating officer of WellLife, said the special needs population that will live in the supportive housing units will have to meet certain criteria.
They will have to undergo an application process, an interview and explain why they want to be part of that particular community.
“We are stringent about making sure they are folks who will be part of a community,” she said. “We want to make sure this is a place they want to make home.”
Though there were concerns about the “seriously mentally ill” residents, Tucker assured that the facility is designed to house “the most independent of those who have special needs.”
Not only are they living independently, but many of them have full-time employment, she said.
Barbarotta added that the term “seriously mentally ill” is usually assigned to a patient who has landed in the hospital.
“Whether they’re functioning afterward or not, they still have that definition,” she said.
Despite some concerns, the project received some support from members and residents. Sarah Feldman, a member of CB5, said mental health stigma is real, and it can happen to anyone.
Loren McMahon, a social worker who lives in Ridgewood, also spoke in favor of the project. She alluded to the high cost of housing the homeless because of the city’s right to shelter law, which forces the city to “house people in budget hotels.”
She blamed hotel developers for perpetuating an industry in which they charge “outrageous, literally luxury room rates” to house the homeless in far-out facilities that don’t provide them the proper services.
“Communities have to be open to building shelters,” McMahon said. “Honestly, it is our moral obligation to support the people in places like Ridgewood who are getting priced out because of gentrification and can’t afford to stay in this neighborhood.
“Providing someone housing first allows them to be stable so they can address all the other areas in their life that are preventing them from reaching independence on their own,” she added. “It’s necessary.”
Councilman Antonio Reynoso doesn’t represent the district –– Councilman Robert Holden does –– but still said the project looked “really encouraging.” He said he will defer to Holden on the project, but still offered his two cents.
“When we talk about trying to take care of the city’s most vulnerable populations, everyone has to do their part,” Reynoso said. “Just Community Board 5 overall, it would really say something about who we are as a people if we look out for the people who are neediest.”
But one elected official who does represent the area, Assemblyman Michael Miller, opposes the development. In a November 13th letter to the Department of City Planning, Miller said the area is not a suitable location.
He encouraged Community Board 5’s Land Use Committee to vote against the proposal. The variance will next go to the borough president’s office, and then the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for a vote.
“I also disagree with this type of housing placed at this location because Glendale already has housing amenities for people with disabilities and an additional housing unit for individuals with special needs,” he said. “The Glendale community is at its capacity to serve this population.”