Ricardo Morales, the former city official who lifted deed restrictions at Rivington House, is talking about his firing.
The deputy commissioner at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) was terminated in late February, on the same day Mayor de Blasio was being grilled by federal prosecutors about his campaign finance practices. Morales and his attorney are speaking out in the New York Post.
Morales is not going quietly:
He’s Mayor de Blasio’s fall guy. The only city official fired in the just-concluded federal and state probes into de Blasio says he was axed for one reason — to let other civil servants know that they had better keep their traps shut, or else. “It was a message to any other deputy commissioner or assistant commissioner that if you step out of line, there will be retribution . . . They made sure I got hit,” said Ricardo Morales, a former deputy commissioner with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
In November of 2015, Morales signed off on the deed changes, which set the stage for the luxury condo conversion of the former nursing home. Multiple investigations later found that other higher ranking officials in the de Blasio administration were well aware of the situation but failed to act in time to save the longtime community facility. Federal and state prosecutors said last week that their investigations of the mayor’s fundraising were being dropped.
More from the Post:
Staffers with the city Department of Investigation and city comptroller quizzed Morales last March and April about two real-estate transactions that allegedly benefited developers and lobbyists who gave donations to the mayor’s campaign and the mayor’s nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York. Morales also received a federal subpoena in May… “They asked me to answer questions honestly about transactions I had managed and I did,” Morales said. After Morales talked to government investigators, he and his lawyer, Guy Oksenhendler, met with the mayor’s lawyers at Carter Ledyard & Milburn. De Blasio’s lawyers knew Morales had been subpoenaed by the feds. They peppered him with questions to strengthen their defense of the mayor. “They asked the same questions any interested prosecutor would have wanted to know the answers to,” Oksenhendler said.
City officials have said Morales’ dismissal was unrelated to Rivington House. Lisette Camilo, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, told a City Council committee that she could not discuss the personnel matter because it is, “very sensitive.”
While de Blasio has said he was angered by the handling of Rivington House and convinced that the developers duped the city, no one in his administration (at least not officially) has been held accountable. The mayor has also said city lawyers do not believe they have grounds to sue the previous and current owners of the building.
If you ask the mayor, there’s little or no hope of returning Rivington House to the Lower East Side community. But at a forum held this past weekend, local activists from Neighbors to Save Rivington House made it clear they’re not giving up on a campaign to wrest control of the former nursing home from luxury condo developers.
More than a year ago, Slate Property Group, China Vanke and Adam America Real Estate acquired the building at 45 Rivington St. for $116 million after city officials inexplicably lifted deed restrictions on the property. While Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly expressed his anger about that decision by his own administration, he has said there’s no legal way to reverse it. A “stop work order” remains in place but the Department of Buildings could lift in any day.
The point of this past Sunday’s forum, held across the street from Rivington House at University Settlement, was to keep the issue in the public eye. It was also meant to set the stage for a community visioning process to reimagine Rivington House as a modern-day health care facility. Panels of experts and community members put forth ideas for creating a new model for senior care at Rivington.
Caroline Loevner with Beau at University Settlement.
The forum was largely focused on personal stories — firsthand accounts from people with longtime ties to the former AIDS nursing home during its 20 years of operation on the Lower East Side.
One impromptu speaker (she wasn’t on the official schedule) was Caroline Loevner, who along with her therapy dog, Beau, was a regular volunteer at Rivington House during a six-year period. Loevner called the center, “a place of hope,” and said she’d come to Sunday’s event to give everyone, “a sense of how important Rivington House was to the residents, of how important Rivington House was to us.”
Loevner recalled a farewell event before the center closed in which she told residents, “We celebrated birthdays and holidays. We shared memories. We were family. We were there in the last days of life. There is something incredibly special about Rivington House: a sense of home, a sense of community, a sense of love, a sense of hope. As I look back through the years, I can’t help but smile. I learned so much from every resident. They taught me what life is all about.”
Loevner said Beau still wears his Rivington House ID. She made a promise to residents, “that Beau and I would be there until the end and we (would) follow them to their next journey in life.” Loevner said they now make regular trips to the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in Harlem, where some of the residents were relocated.
Another speaker on Sunday was Rosemary Shields, a dietician who worked at Rivington House after first becoming familiar with the center in an earlier position at Gouverneur Health. “The kindness that I saw at Rivington House,” said Shields, “was pretty remarkable.” She added, “It made me very sad when this group of people (the residents) was kind of scattered to the winds… I would love to see Rivington House returned for mixed levels of care, for mixed population, for whatever the community needs.”
There was also a presentation from Andrew Knox, an architect who evaluated the property some years ago. He pointed out that the center courtyard of the former public school building was filled in to create the health care facility in 1991. When Rivington House was operational, the center portion was used by staff members, while rooms for the residents lined the perimeter of the building. The layout, he said, makes the building especially well-suited for some type of community facility, rather than for condominiums.
The forum was led off by Melissa Aase, University Settlement’s executive director and one of the leaders of the campaign to return Rivington House to the community. In spite of the long odds, she said, “We believe there could be a path to getting this building back.”
“You know what was done to, not with, us by a small number of people without transparency,” said Aase, “and for the wrong reasons, for profit. The story of greed and profit and lies and deals leaves us righteously furious. Even though the legal path to undo it has not yet been revealed, we continue to raise the importance and the meaning of this loss and the depth of the underhandedness, because there still could be a way to save it.”
City Council member Margaret Chin and State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou were in the audience on Sunday. In brief remarks, Chin said elected officials still have not received a response from the State Department of Health, months after asking why the local community wasn’t informed of Rivington House’s closure. “They still haven’t given us any kind of satisfactory answer,” said Chin.
She noted that the city administration has agreed to create senior housing, in part to replace Rivington House’s nursing home beds, on Pike Street. But Chin went on to say, “We need to continue to pressure the mayor, which I do constantly, every day. We’re not giving up on Rivington House. We want it back. I think there are ways to do it and we have to look at every way possible. We’ve got to keep the pressure on.”
Niou said she spoke with the mayor in the recent past about Rivington House. “We had an explicit conversation about what happened,” said Niou. “I think they (the city administration) know that our community is very angry.” She also discussed legislation being proposed along with State Sen. Daniel Squadron. “The Rivington Act” would require a public review process whenever a residential health facility is set for closure. There are now multiple Assembly sponsors and Niou is optimistic about the legislation’s prospects. Recently we were told that Squadron is using one of his three, “Motions for Committee Consideration, which will force the bill to be placed on the health panel’s agenda.
Some of those in attendance on Sunday wanted to know what they can do now to push for the return of Rivington House. People were encouraged to call the mayor and other elected officials to keep up the pressure. Organizers said they’re still considering their own legal case to force the developers to relinquish the building. Meanwhile, the Neighbors to Save Rivington House group is preparing a more deliberate visioning process to begin sometime over the summer. We’ll let you know when they have those details firmed up.
Here’s a reminder about an event coming up on Sunday. It’s a forum to discuss what’s next for Rivington House. Here’s a section of the press release from Neighbors to Save Rivington House, the organization sponsoring the forum:
Neighbors to Save Rivington House will hold a forum to which the public is cordially invited on Sunday afternoon, March 12th from 2 to 4 at Speyer Hall on the second floor of University Settlement, 184 Eldridge Street, New York City. This meeting will discuss the possible future of Rivington House, a former public school and health care facility currently threatened with conversion into market rate/luxury private housing. At the meeting the coalition will assume the return of Rivington House to the community as the protected care facility it was intended to be, and will look at the future of care in general, needed here and elsewhere.
A community group, Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden, has scheduled a rally at Rivington House facility this morning to, as their Facebook invite explains, “Wake up Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council member Margaret Chin” to the lost opportunity for affordable housing at the former nursing home.
This event is not sitting well with other local activists, who have been advocating for the return of Rivington House for many months. Here’s an open letter from Melissa Aase, executive director of University Settlement. She has taken a leading role in the organization, Neighbors to Save Rivington House.
Dear Elizabeth Street Garden Association leaders and members,
I am the Executive Director of University Settlement, your 131-year-old neighbor to the east.
University Settlement, America’s first social settlement house, opened its doors on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1886, and has since grown to serve 43,000 New Yorkers annually. Through direct services, innovative program models, and active advocacy, we are committed to developing progressive solutions to alleviate poverty and inequality, serving as an anchor in the low-income and immigrant communities where we work. Our holistic programs span across early childhood care and education, youth development, literacy, theater and visual arts, senior services, mental health, and housing services.
Our headquarters has been on Eldridge and Rivington since our beautiful building was built in 1898.
The original PS 20 building across the street from us was built in 1899, and so as you can imagine, it has been a “neighbor institution” for 118 years, including the long and important struggle to transform it into “Rivington House” over 25 years ago.
University Settlement has been deeply involved in looking for “a way out” during the huge controversy and disappointing revelations of the last few years as Rivington House scaled back, then sold, then closed, then was lost entirely (but we hope not irrevocably) to luxury housing developers.
The loss of this skilled nursing facility for 250 people (and the $70 million in public funds to create it) — especially considering its symbiosis with the surrounding neighbors, amenities, services and partners — cannot be understated. It is devastating, and all of us should certainly raise our voices in protest of this loss, and bring to bear our best thinking and resources to return this desperately needed facility for our community’s most vulnerable people. We all have elders and friends who do now, or will in the future, need “care.”
Those of us working to get Rivington House returned to the community, even at long odds, weren’t informed, asked or considered by the ESG Coalition in your plan to use Rivington House as a backdrop or prop for your efforts on your Elizabeth Street Garden advocacy agenda, the “Wake Up” rally scheduled for (this) morning, March 3rd.
Now that we know, we are asking that you reconsider and cancel this event. Here are a few reasons:
Not only does this come across as using the Rivington House situation for your situation, which seems disrespectful to our years of work, our pain, and the people we are or who we represent, but it is also is confusing to those we are hoping to galvanize to save Rivington House. The two agendas are different agendas, and Rivington House shouldn’t be used as a part of the separate discussion about the Elizabeth Street Garden (or even of senior housing, since the conversion of this particular building to housing would be astronomical in cost, and still doesn’t return what we need most, a skilled nursing facility).
As we are ramping up to host a public event about Rivington House and the issues of “care” on March 12th, we are now dealing with questions from the community about the rally, and it is diverting us from precious organizing time, and it diverts from our demand of returning Rivington House.
The proposed garden rally also appears in part to target Margaret Chin, who on the issue of Rivington House and many other issues of care, seniors, and our desperate affordable housing shortage, has been a good advocate for the most vulnerable members of the community we are concerned about. So we also wouldn’t be supportive of a rally targeting her that is staged outside of Rivington House, since again, it confuses the matter about her positions and actions.
We hope you will reconsider your plans and cancel or move the rally on March 3rd, and disconnect it entirely from Rivington House. It would be excellent if you could make this clear to your whole group. We ask that you do this out of respect for our organizing work and long-time ties to this block and building; out of respect for our strategies, history and knowledge of the issues surrounding Rivington House in particular; and out of respect for the highly vulnerable people and community needs we are representing. We ask out of common neighborliness.
We also hope you will join us in several community projects and activities that may be “intersectional” and of interest to the members of the garden coalition, since we are such close neighbors – such as saving Rivington House, reclaiming an under-utilized Parks Department building in SDR Park at Stanton Street, supporting the M’Finda Kalunga Garden and the SDR Park Coalition, saving and improving the public housing in our community, preventing evictions and harassment of low income tenants on Elizabeth Street and throughout the community, contributing to the NYC Cultural Plan through our Performance Project at University Settlement, increasing access to safety and services for immigrants who are now so much more at risk, or many, many additional and necessary fights that are happening right now.
UPDATE 11:59 a.m. Here’s a response from Menashe Shapiro, a consultant working with Allan Reiver, the Elizabeth Street Garden leaseholder:
While we support any and all efforts to save Rivington House, it currently stands as a symbol of non-transparent and backroom politics. Councilmember Chin employed the same non-transparent methodology to ram her proposal to destroy the Elizabeth Street Garden through the Seward Park Rezoning and to get HPD to solicit bids. Councilmember Chin’s hypocrisy on the matter of transparency is striking. The authors of this letter have received – for their organizations – over $50,000 in direct grants from Councilmember Chin since 2011 and over $1 million from the Council at large at the behest of Councilmember Chin during the same period of time. One can easily surmise that this letter is nothing more than an attempt to protect their financial patron, Margaret Chin, from the bad press and the embarrassment of another constituent protest. This letter was brought and paid for Margaret Chin, nothing more.
Do you have an opinion about this story? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.
Lower East Side activists have not given up on their campaign to win Rivington House back for the Lower East Side community.
A local group, Neighbors to Save Rivington House, announced today that its will be hosting two visioning events to discuss the future of the former nursing home for AIDS patients. They are undeterred by repeated statements from Mayor de Blasio that the the sale of the building to luxury condo developers can likely not be reversed. His administration’s decision to lift deed restrictions on the longtime community facility touched off one of the biggest scandals of the mayor’s administration.
Here’s what Neighbors to Save Rivington House is planning:
What’s Next for Rivington House: Creating New Ideas for Community Care
The goals of the visioning sessions are:
1) look at an array of possible futures by offering concrete information and innovative ideas for addressing the care needs (health, respite, supportive housing, disability, etc.) of our community.
2) ask local residents to join with us to consider how best to meet those needs.
How do we create facilities for care that people can call home (or find temporary help) while keeping them in the center of our community?
Our position is and has been that Rivington House must be returned to public use for the benefit of our Lower East Side community. We will begin with a two-hour panel discussion, hosted by University Settlement House, where several experts (architecture, public health, care giving, disability rights) will give us a vocabulary of ideas to think about in preparation for a charrette later in the spring.”
Sunday March 12th from 2-4 p.m. at University Settlement’s Speyer Hall, 184 Eldridge St. (between Rivington and Delancey Streets)
Speakers will include Debra Jeffreys-Glass and Rosemary Shields, telling “real stories” from the community; architect Andrew Knox, who will, “illuminate the interior” of the Rivington House building; and Ruth Finklestein, Ashley Stevens and Susan Scheer discussing the “continuum of community care.”
During a budget hearing in Albany yesterday, State Sen. Daniel Squadron questioned Mayor de Blasio about the Rivington House fiasco. Specifically, the senator wanted to know why no one on the mayor’s team had responded to a letter he sent in December calling on the city to sue Rivington House’s former owner.
The mayor has personally blamed the real estate developers at the center of the scandal — accusing them of hoodwinking the city administration into dropping deed restrictions on the former nursing home. Based on the mayor’s public statements, Squadron said the former owner, the Allure Group, should be sued under the False Claims Act.
Mayor de Blasio was asked about the senator’s letter during a news conference in late December. He shrugged off the request from the local lawmaker, saying, “It’s easy to put out a press release.” The jab did not sit well with Sen. Squadron.
“Unfortunately, since I’ve sent the letter on the False Claims Act,” said Squadron, “the only comment and response from the administration, and this is unfortunately sometimes a pattern, was at a press conference where you dismissed the entire thing out of hand as a simple press release.” He went on to ask why the city isn’t pursuing legal action.
Referring to his dismissive remarks on Dec. 29, de Blasio told the senator, “I may have been speaking out of frustration. I didn’t mean to make it too personal. I apologize for that.”
As for the mayor’s many public statements assigning blame to the developers, he said they were, “based on a very heartfelt anger at what the developer did and a sense that the people were cheated.”
“I would love nothing more than to find a way to recoup what has been done to the community,” added the mayor. “But respectfully, long before your letter, I had asked this question probably two dozen times of my corporation counsel (and they could not find a legal avenue to pursue). “We’re not going to bring an action that we believe is susceptible to immediate defeat. So if you know something we don’t know (and)… you’ve found a path we haven’t, I will thank you publicly and we will implement it.”
In response, Squadron said, “Frankly it leads to questions when (officials) at the highest levels of the administration (are) accusing (the developers) of misleading (the city). “To just be told, ‘we agree but we can’t,’ is not sufficient for a community that is still smarting from the loss of a healthcare facility.”
The mayor agreed to set up a meeting between the city’s top lawyers and Squadron. He also pointed to new city laws, sponsored by local City Council member Margaret Chin, meant to prevent future Rivington House-like fiascos. And he said, “We committed to a nursing facility as part of our Health & Hospitals system that will help low-income seniors in your community as one way to give back some of what was lost. That is a good faith effort.”
Squadron said of the new project, located at 30 Pike St., “We appreciate the moderate investment to replace what happened at Rivington House from the city, but it is moderate. It does not replace Rivington House.”
You can see the full exchange from yesterday’s hearing below. The section having to do with Rivington House starts after about one minute.
Sen. Squadron attended a media event outside Rivington House earlier this year.
We made mention this morning of a somewhat vague report in the Daily News noting that State Sen. Daniel Squadron is calling on the city to sue the Allure Group in connection with the Rivington House debacle. The senator is now out with a fuller explanation.
The Allure Group, of course, sold the former nursing home to luxury condo developers for $116 million after the city lifted deed restrictions on the property. Mayor de Blasio has said the city was misled by Allure Group executives about their intentions.
Squadron has made available a letter he wrote to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Zachary Carter, New York City’s corporation counsel. In the letter, dated yesterday, Squadron said, “I write to ask you to investigate the events surrounding the sale of Rivington House for possible violations of the False Claims Act, at the State and City levels.”
The False Claims Act gives city and state officials the ability to file civil enforcement actions against parties that have defrauded the government. The act provides for the rcovery of damages, penalties and attorneys’ fees from those found to have made false claims, including against any entity that, “knowingly conceals or knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the state or a local government, or conspires to do the same” or “knowingly makes, uses. or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement to conceal, avoid, or decrease, directly or indirectly, an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the city.”
Squadron wants city and state lawyers to look at whether false claims were, in fact, made by representatives of the Allure Group. He is also asking them to look into whether Allure Group concealed the May 2015 agreement to sell the property. Allure paid $16 million to lift the deed restrictions. If the sales price had been known, the firm would have been required to pay more to the city.
In a statement, Squadron said, “The closure of Rivington House… stunned the community and highlighted major flaws in the process that governs deed restrictions… The role of government is to protect the public interest and to be transparent; but that role is undermined if government is misled, as may have been the case at Rivington House. But, it is also vital that we hold those who violate the public trust accountable.”
Schneiderman has been investigating the Rivington House matter but hasn’t indicated whether criminal charges will be filed.
Photo courtesy: Council member Margaret Chin.
In other Rivington House-related news, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation today sponsored by City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer meant to reform the way the city deals with deed restrictions.
The legislation requires the city to establish an online database of properties with deed restrictions, to notify local elected officials and community boards of any request to remove deed restrictions and to set up more stringent procedures for evaluating those requests. The new law also requires the mayor to personally sign off on all deed removal requests.
In a statement, Chin said:
Our city is not a playground for powerful real estate interests. Every transaction that involves properties set aside for the good of the people of our City, such as Rivington House, needs to be subject to the greatest amount of public input, transparency, and accountability as possible. Our legislation… achieves that goal. Today we are united with a simple message: No more Rivington Houses, not on this Mayor’s, or any other Mayor’s watch. I am proud to join Borough President Brewer and Speaker Mark-Viverito in solidarity with the Lower East Side residents who woke up one morning to find a cherished, community asset taken from them.
The mayor’s office this past fall released new guidelines for dealing with deed changes and amended those guidelines following a City Council hearing on the Chin/Brewer bill.
Here was the scene in front of the former Rivington House nursing facility Sunday morning. In this photo from Jon W., you can tell that some people have now taken up residence in the vestibule of the infamous Lower East Side property.
Residents who live nearby tell us they’ve been there for some time and that the conditions on the sidewalk alongside the building, 45 Rivington St., have improved of late. At least one man sleeping on Rivington House’s doorstep has been sweeping the sidewalk on a regular basis. There’s a sign perched on the steps that reads, “We Shall Overcome.”
Jon told us, “The new owners neglect to clean the sidewalks and stairs, leaving a daily mess for the community.
I was glad to see a group of homeless people have taken shelter and cleaned it up.”
As it turns out, the guys are apparently not homeless, at least not in the traditional sense. Christopher Marte, a community activist, told us he spoke with them a few days ago. They are young European travelers on a tight budget and were simply looking for a place to sleep. They had no clue about the significance of the spot they’d chosen as a crash pad.
Last spring, Slate Property Group, Adam America Real Estate and China Vanke purchased the property for $116 million after deed restrictions were mysteriously lifted. Multiple investigations have been swirling ever since. In the Wall Street Journal today, a spokesperson for the developers expressed confidence that they will eventually be able to move forward with their luxury condo conversion.
Other people are expressing themselves, using Rivington Street as a canvas. Here are a couple of additional photos from the Facebook page of Neighbors to Save Rivington House:
Slate Property Group is trying to repair its image in the aftermath of the Rivington House fiasco. The real estate firm’s co-founder, David Schwartz, sat down for an interview with the Real Deal.
Slate, China Vanke and Adam America Real Estate signed an agreement to buy the building at 45 Rivington St. for $116 million after city officials lifted deed restrictions on the longtime community facility. The purchase from the Allure Group plunged the de Blasio administration into one of its biggest controversies. The mayor said he believes Slate acted improperly and the city dumped the firm from a large project in Crown Heights.
Over the summer, a damaging email from Slate principal Martin Nussbaum was made public. Written to employees of his firm, it read, “Do not discuss this deal… The seller (Allure) is very concerned that the city and (healthcare workers) union will find out that he is in contract to sell at the price we are buying it which will directly impact his ability to have the deed restriction removed… Once he has it removed, we can do whatever we want.”
Now real estate developer is doing damage control. It hired a high-powered publicist from Rubenstein Communications, Bud Perrone, and George Arzt, a well-connected political consultant.
They’re portraying the principals as people with local roots who care about the neighborhoods in which they’re investing. In the interview, Schwartz said he had no idea the city was in the dark about their plans to convert the building to luxury condos. More from the Real Deal story:
While the (Nussbaum) email makes it clear that Slate knew Allure wanted to keep the sales price under wraps, Schwartz claimed the firm “had no reason to believe that the city was not aware and supportive” of the actual condo conversion, considering it had agreed to lift the deed restriction. “At the time, everything just seemed so normal,” Schwartz said, arguing that it is common for parties to want to keep real estate deals confidential until closing. “Nothing seemed weird other than, yeah, Allure probably didn’t want the whole world to know about it.”
Many people, of course, will dispute the notion that Slate’s founders are community-minded. Nussbaum was previously a principal of Silverstone Property Group. As the story points out, affordable housing advocates have been critical of Silverstone for pushing rent stabilized tenants out of its buildings. Some of those properties are located on the Lower East Side.
The removal of the deed restrictions on Rivington House enabled a few to profit at the expense of the many, including those already disproportionately burdened: the poor, people of color, the disabled, people living with AIDS and the elderly – particularly older women. It was not “in the best interests of the city.” The City Council’s hearing to learn what happened with Rivington House is deeply appreciated. Without this painstaking review we would abandon people to the notion that government is rigged beyond repair. A thorough and open process is necessary to reveal the people, policy and practice relevant to the undoing of housing for 115 vulnerable residents, the threat of the loss of a skilled care nursing facility for 215 elders and/or disabled and the loss of almost 200 jobs. Though this process might be painful and embarrassing, it is far less painful and humiliating than that inflicted on those treated as disposable who relied on this facility, not only for their housing, but for their very lives. We thank those elected (officials) who continue to work until no one who is in our collective care will be treated as expendable. Council member Chin, Senator Squadron and Manhattan Borough President Brewer have stood against what can seem like the inevitable demise of Rivington House as a public good. We were heartened to hear NYC Law Department’s Zachary Carter’s commitment to use all means possible to return Rivington House. We are cognizant of his caveat “all practical means” and look forward to pushing on that front. We think if a city can use eminent domain to build two luxury stadiums in poor and a middle class communities respectively – something can be done here. We still have many unanswered questions.
30 Pike St.
The group also commented in on the mayor’s announcement that the city would build, “an affordable housing and health care facility designed to replace services lost (at Rivington House)” on a site at 30 Pike St.
We appreciate the offer… at 30 Pike. Senior affordable housing provides needed housing for those who can live independently. Nursing homes provide housing for those who cannot. These are two very different housing needs… 30 Pike would site housing for 100 seniors able to live independently (or in assisted living). It is under a bridge with constant thunderous traffic and trains. It would take many years… to create. The seniors with needs right now would not live long enough to see it. It is not lost on us that building senior affordable housing on Pike Street would provide the mayor with more units to enhance his own political credentials. This community has been an anchor for centuries of low-income housing and shelter. We welcome more housing that is truly affordable – NYC has 60,000 homeless people to house. Rivington House has 215 homes for those who need skilled nursing care. It overlooks a bucolic garden built by the neighborhood’s blood, sweat and tears and maintained for almost four decades solely by the community. It would be unconscionable to allow wealthy condo owners to swoop in to reap the rewards of a garden view in a park made beautiful and safe by the predominantly of color, poor and working and middle class community who created the garden at great personal risk. The 215 homes inside Rivington House must be returned.
Finally, Neighbors to Save Rivington House argued that the investigations must continue until the public receives a full accounting of what went wrong:
The appearance, if not the reality, of conflicts of interests necessitate full transparency. The public needs to have learned the full extent of involvement of those who appear throughout this debacle… Any entity or person who profited from deception at the expense of the taxpayer, city, local community, and residents harmed should be discouraged from attempting to profit from any other opportunities here… All have a right and an obligation to tell their side of the story to the public… Rivington House needs to be returned to its revered and historic stand as a health care facility in perpetuity as a home for people of all incomes and skilled nursing care needs.
Sen. Daniel Squadron at Rivington House with other community leaders in April 2016.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron is proposing legislation to create a “community process” for future nursing home closures.
Squadron was one of many local leaders who testified yesterday before a City Council oversight committee looking into the Rivington House fiasco. The city lifted deed restrictions on the former nursing home, which was sold to luxury condo developers for $116 million.
Squadron announced the proposed “Rivington Act” in a press release put out earlier today. According to the senator, the legislation, “would strengthen oversight by creating a transparent process when nursing homes are threatened, and (require) the State Department of Health to ensure local community needs can adequately be met before approving any closure.” Specifically, the bill would require the state to produce a public closure report, to reject any closure plan if community health needs cannot be met and to consider recommendations from local stakeholders.
The legislation is being sponsored with Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. Yuh-Line Niou, Democratic nominee in the 65th Assembly District, is also backing the bill.
“When community health needs are replaced with profiteering, the system has clearly flatlined,” said Squadron. “The process at Rivington House left communities without a voice, without notice, and without a nursing home. The Rivington Act is a critical component of ensuring our state protects the public interest at nursing homes.”
A public oversight hearing is still going on at City Hall regarding the Rivington House fiasco. During his testimony this morning, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris announced that the administration plans to create affordable senior housing on the Lower East Side to make up for the loss of the Rivington House nursing facility. Now the mayor’s office is out with a press release formally announcing the new project.
Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced a plan to build an affordable housing and health care facility designed to replace services lost in the wake of a Lower East Side nursing home closure last year. The City will issue a Request for Proposals in 2017, paving the way for the return of health care lost as a result of a mishandled deed modification at Rivington House. With a development that will house more than 100 seniors in a mixed-use affordable housing and health care setting, investment in the facility is expected to exceed the $16 million the City received in exchange for lifting deed restrictions and inadvertently allowing for the conversion of the building to luxury housing… The City has identified 30 Pike St. on the Lower East Side as the site for the future development. The property is owned by the Department of Environmental Protection and will be reconfigured to accommodate the new project as well as DEP’s operations. It sits less than a mile from Rivington House.
The DEP facility is located on Pike Street, between Madison and Henry streets. There were more than 200 beds at Rivington House. The news release included a statement from City Council member Margaret Chin:
More than just a win for the Lower East Side community I represent, the decision to pursue a comprehensive senior health facility at this site will allow for a continuum of care that I hope will become a model for communities across our City… I look forward to working with the Administration to ensure that this facility will be accessible to the growing number of low income seniors who need more affordable housing and healthcare options in the neighborhood. I thank Mayor de Blasio for pursuing the revitalization of this underutilized property, and for his commitment to the health and well-being of elderly New Yorkers.
During the hearing, Chin told Shorris she would still like to see the administration pursue all possible avenues to return the Rivington House property to the community. Shorris suggested that pending state and federal investigations could potentially lead to a return of the building. We’ll have more details from the hearing later.
A long-awaited hearing on the Rivington House fiasco will take place at City Hall today.
It’s a joint meeting of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations and the Committee on Governmental Operations. Key administration officials, including First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, are expected to testify. The city lifted deed restrictions on the former nursing home facility, allowing the property at 45 Rivington St. to be sold to luxury condo developers for $116 million.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the hearing is, “expected to be contentious, exposing simmering tensions between lawmakers and the mayor’s office.” It could be the de Blasio administration’s most detailed explanation of how the foul-up happened. But, on the other hand, the mayor’s team could very well proceed as they have in the past — declining to answer questions due to pending state and federal investigations.
Others expected to testify include: Zachary Carter, the city’s lead attorney, and Lisette Camilo, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. That agency was responsible for changing the deed. City Council member Margaret Chin and Susan Stetzer, Community Board 3’s district manager will issue statements, as well.
In interviews with the City Comptroller, Mr. Shorris claimed he could not remember many details of the Rivington House matter. He insisted that no one informed him about the sale of Rivington House until February of this year, after the deal had been completed. The mayor’s office reportedly tried to keep Shorris from testifying. According to the Journal, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s staff have, “privately complained about the difficulties scheduling the hearing, which had already been postponed once.”
The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. in City Hall Chambers. At 9 a.m., several community organizations are holding a press event on the steps of City Hall. The groups include: New York Communities for Change, VOCAL- NY, Met Council, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, Crown Heights Tenant Union and Neighbors to Save Rivington House. “In lieu of the Rivington scandal,” the press advisory reads, “outraged New York City tenants and housing activists, will demand the city stop giving away our city to luxury for-profit developers. Tenants will demand no public land or removal of deed restrictions should go to ‘for profit’ developers.”
News reporters across the city have spent the past several months digging into the details of the Rivington House scandal. But one angle that’s been missing in all of the coverage is the human perspective on the closure of the Lower East Side nursing home.
Today, WNYC profiles a former resident of the facility, who was discharged from Rivington House as the former property owner, the Allure Group, prepared to sell the building for a huge profit to luxury condo developers.
WNYC’s Cindy Rodriguez has been taking a look at what transpired at the LES home, as well as CABS Nursing Home in Bed Stuy, another facility controlled by the Allure Group. Here’s the gist of her story:
Nursing home operators are supposed to give the state Department of Health 90 days notice and submit a detailed plan on how patients will be transferred. The plan includes a roster of patients, a process for relocating them and notification to families of possible alternatives. The agency has to approve the plan before anyone gets moved out. But, according to a three-month investigation by WNYC, that didn’t happen at CABS — or a second location owned by the Allure Group in Manhattan that was the subject of multiple investigations after the owner sold it to luxury housing developers.
WNYC founded a man named Sal Siggia who stayed at Rivington House last fall. He’s had AIDS for 25 years and was receiving radiation treatments for throat cancer. Siggia was at the facility to recover from a bout of pneumonia, but eventually felt stronger and wanted to go home to his 5th floor East Village walk-up. Once back home, he struggled to climb the stairs, almost crawling to his apartment at times. But Siggia felt he had little choice. Rodriguez reported:
Two former employees who spoke to WNYC on the condition that they remain anonymous said Siggia was discharged prematurely and could’ve been given more time to get stronger. Ultimately, Siggia said Visiting Nurse Services deemed his apartment unsafe because of the stairs, and also because his bathtub was in the kitchen and his bed was elevated off the floor. Today, he lives in an elevator building and has nurses and therapists to care for him at home. It took him nine months to put everything in place. Since leaving Rivington House, Siggia has suffered five more bouts of pneumonia, been hospitalized and lost 10 pounds.
Rivington House was sold after the city agreed to lift deed restrictions requiring the property to be operated as a not-for-profit health care facility. The mayor contends his administration was deceived by the Allure Group about its real intentions, an allegation the firm’s partners deny.
You can listen to the full WNYC report below or read a text version of the story here.
One of the firms entangled in the Rivingon House mess is walking away from another real estate deal in Brooklyn.
The Daily News and the Post are reporting today that Slate Property Group has sold its share of the Bedford-Union Armory project in Crown Heights. BFC Partners will now handle the large residential and recreational site on its own. The price was not disclosed.
Sources told the News that “the de Blasio administration moved to push Slate out… because officials believe the developer misled them about its plans for former nursing home Rivington House.” Slate, China Vanke and Adam America Real Estate purchased the Lower East Side building for $116 million and plan luxury condos in the converted school building. The sale took place after the city lifted deed restrictions on the property. Two investigations found that Slate and the Allure Group, Rivington House’s previous owner, worked to keep their plans for the property a secret.
More from the Daily News:
In a letter to the city, Slate’s David Schwartz confirmed his company had “sold its interest in the above-referenced Project … on mutually agreeable financial terms.” … “We’re focused on doing projects that are going to get done, and focused on doing affordable housing,” Schwartz told the News. “It seemed to us that it was going to be a difficult ride, even though we didn’t agree with any of the protests, and there was no merit to it.” The project has to be approved by the City Council and other officials under the city’s land use process. Getting it approved may have been difficult or impossible with controversy swirling around the developer, especially after the unexpected defeat of a different affordable housing project in Inwood. “We didn’t want to give any more fuel to the fire. It’s really important for Crown Heights to get this affordable housing,” Schwartz said. “The community really needs it.”
Schwartz denied that Slate misled the city on Rivington House. Local activists on the Lower East Side want the administration to find a way to get the nursing home back from the luxury developers. The mayor has said the city will invest $16 million on the LES to make up for the loss of Rivington House. But the activists said that’s not good enough.