Our city remains in an affordable housing crisis. The mayor’s goals are ambitious in terms of raw numbers – targeting 300,000 units created or preserved by 2026 – but they’re only the beginning of what we need to do. We need enough of those “affordable” units to be affordable for people in the neighborhoods where they’re being built. We need affordable housing plans that create welcoming streetscapes and healthy local retail, with the stores and shops and bodegas that make a neighborhood a neighborhood, not just big boxes.
Most importantly, we need more affordable units in every neighborhood, not just a few low-density neighborhoods chosen for upzoning. We absolutely need units in East New York and East Harlem – but we also need units in the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, and downtown as well.
Accomplishing that isn’t always easy. But one well-respected affordable housing developer, the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH –for those unfamiliar with the organization, their name is pronounced “Wish-Fish” and they are beloved on the Upper West Side), is giving us a terrific model for creating new affordable housing, providing new resources for the underserved, and activating the streetscape, all while winning real public support.
The development, WSFSSH at West 108 in Manhattan Valley, is a 100 percent affordable project. Every one of its 198 residential apartments will be long-term affordable for a mix of low-income families and seniors. The project will also house a remodeled transitional shelter, Valley Lodge, serving 110 older adults, as well as healthcare services, community meeting spaces, a home for the Central Park Medical Unit and a set of public restrooms for the nearby Anibal Aviles playground. Phase 2 will add up to 81 additional units of senior housing.
Projects like WSFSSH at West 108 are more important than ever. A recent study by LiveOn NY found that wait times for senior housing are now upwards of 10 years. LiveOn also estimated that more than 19,700 seniors languish on affordable housing waitlists on the Upper West Side alone.
With meeting spaces for the community included in each of its affordable housing developments, WSFSSH makes it a priority to bring the public into its developments– helping to foster an active community with opportunities for information sharing and education.
The development is proposed for the site of three parking garages that are adjacent to a playground, across from a school and connected to residential blocks on either side. The new development will add to the neighborhood, making it greener and more pedestrian friendly.
Because activating the streetscape and helping to retain the character of the neighborhood are instrumental to WSFSSH’s plan, this well-respected community organization has been able to build broad support.
While other projects have stalled without the necessary local support, a powerful coalition has rallied together to address the affordability crisis in Manhattan Valley. In addition to Community Board 7, more than 30 religious leaders, community organizations, housing advocates, senior citizen groups and tenants’ associations offered their support of WSFSSH at West 108.
This is a great project, and all great projects come with tradeoffs. In this case, the neighborhood will lose parking spaces in the three lots that stand where this project is planned. But Manhattan Valley and the Upper West Side are fortunate to have easy access to multiple subway lines, and this project will help prevent senior homelessness and make a real dent in our neighborhood’s need for affordable housing and community services.
I am proud to support WSFSSH at West 108. The project is a culmination of WSFSSH’s four decades of work providing affordable housing and supportive programs in our community, and as we continue working to create and preserve more affordable housing for every neighborhood, this is the kind of project we should all hope to see more of.
Gale Brewer is the borough president of Manhattan.