Six Local Groups to Receive Rivington House Settlement Funds; CB3 Panel Has Concerns

Rivington House.

Rivington House.

The state attorney general has decided to award grants totaling $1.25 million to six Lower East Side non-profit organizations as part of a settlement with the Allure Group. Members of Community Board 3’s Health, Seniors and Human Services Committee last week expressed displeasure with the process used to pick the local recipients.

Last month, the attorney general’s office announced an agreement with Allure, in the aftermath of the Rivington House scandal. After the city administration inexplicably lifted deed restrictions on the former nursing home facility, Allure sold the property to luxury condo developers. The for-profit nursing home operator profited $72 million.

The money was earmarked for organizations that, “provide healthcare services to vulnerable members of the community.”  After a review by the Charities Bureau of the Attorney General’s office, grants were awarded to: Grand Street Settlement, Henry Street Settlement, University Settlement, Community Healthcare Network (Catherine Abate Health Center), Chinese American Planning Council and the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center.

At last week’s meeting, District Manager Susan Stetzer said she conveyed concerns to the AG’s office from CB3’s executive committee about the lack of a public procedure for selecting grant awardees. While the organizations selected are widely respected, Stetzer pointed out there was no opportunity for other worthy groups to compete for the funds. A resolution approved by the committee, highlighted the lack of transparency in the funding decisions and requested an in-person explanation from the AG’s office at an upcoming public meeting.

Amy Spitalnick, the attorney general’s press secretary told The Lo-Down, “We are pleased that after a careful and comprehensive process, we are able to award these recovered funds to several highly regarded local organizations committed to serving vulnerable New Yorkers on the Lower East Side.” She said the groups selected all have complementary missions to the former Rivington House nursing home. “By funding these high performing local organizations,” Spitalnick added, “we can ensure that every dollar will be used to serve the community’s critical health care needs.”

Melissa Aase led a community meeting regarding Rivington House last year.

Melissa Aase led a community meeting regarding Rivington House last year.

Melissa Aase, executive director of University Settlement, was present at last Thursday’s meeting. Her organization received an offer from the attorney general’s office for a $200,000 grant. Aase has been an outspoken advocate for returning the Rivington House building to the local community, so she was surprised to get the phone call. Several people mentioned during the committee meeting that the grants are relatively small compared with the loss of one of the Lower East Side’s last remaining nursing homes. Aase said she hopes to get together with the other grant recipients sometime soon to consider pooling their resources. The money, she suggested, might be used for “a robust community process” to develop a local health care needs plan.

Also on hand for the meeting was K Webster, a leader of Neighbors to Save Rivington House, a local advocacy group. After the meeting, the organization put out a statement in support of the attorney general’s office. It read, in part: “…The AG’s Office fought hard to bring as much benefit as legally possible to confront the mess that was left here by the dealings of the Allure Group and the lack of competent oversight. The settlement makes clear that the AG’s Office went to the mat on this – within what was legally permissible.”

There was also discussion about another aspect of the settlement agreement, which requires Allure to open a, “new skilled nursing facility or other healthcare facility primarily providing long-term care to the elderly or disabled.”

K Webster said she heard last week from the Allure Group’s Joel Landau, who is hoping to line up community support for the new nursing home. The statement from Neighbors to Save Rivington House highlighted just how difficult it’s going to be for Allure to rebuild any kind of trust on the Lower East Side:

This company betrayed the people they were entrusted to care for. Regardless of “letters of the law” they made promises to people. They chose to make enormous profit instead of fulfilling their moral and human obligation to those who were made vulnerable by illness, disability, poverty, racism and the stigma of AIDS/HIV. They have much to atone for if they are, as the settlement’s stipulations/oversight requirements posit, to return here to build and run a nursing home.

It’s a sentiment that was expressed by others at last week’s meeting. Susan Stetzer recalled her past dealings with Landau. When the Rivington House scandal broke in 2016, Stetzer said Landau deceived CB3, by telling her that he’d never heard of the developer (Slate Property Group) that ultimately plunked down $116 million for Rivington House. On Tuesday evening, Stetzer said, “The man outright lied… When he lied to me he was lying to the community board.”

A representative of the AG’s office is scheduled to take part in a meeting regarding the Rivington House settlement at the Manhattan Borough President’s office later this week.