We have known the day was coming, but it won’t soften the blow for many Lower East Side residents still seething over the Rivington House fiasco.
This afternoon, Slate Property Group filed work permits with the Department of Buildings for its luxury condo conversion of the former nursing home.
A stop work order has been in place at 45 Rivington St. since April of 2016, although the city allowed the developers to perform “exploratory” work on sections of the historic former school building. The renovation project was on hold while various agencies investigated the controversial $116 million sale of the onetime community facility. That sale was, of course, made possible by the de Blasio administration’s decision to lift deed restrictions on the building for $16 million.
Last month, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reached a settlement with the Allure Group, Rivington House’s former owner. So now, it appears, the luxury conversion is back on track. A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings tells The Lo-Down that the applications submitted today will go through the agency’s plan exam process, where they will be reviewed for compliance with the city’s construction codes and zoning regulations. A partial stop work order remains in place, but DOB can rescind it as needed to accommodate approved work.
There’s not much detail available just yet in the online file. The application simply notes that the owners “are filing for renovation of the existing building and conversion to residential use.” The total square footage of the project is about 122,000 square feet. A lounge and wine cellar are planned in the basement. The owner rep listed on the permit is Martin Nussbaum of the Slate Property Group.
It first became publicly known in February of 2016 that Slate, China Vanke and Adam America Real Estate had acquired the building. At the time, they said about 100 luxury apartments would be created in the former AIDS nursing home. While the mayor said his administration should never have lifted deed restrictions, there was no legal recourse to reverse the sale. Over the summer, he promised City Councilmember Margaret Chin that he would try to set up a meeting with the new owners, in the hopes that they might consider a community use for the building. That never happened.
The agreement with the attorney general requires Allure to hand over $1.25 million to local non-profits and to open a new health care facility on the Lower East Side. The city recently announced it would replace 60 of the 219 nursing home beds at Rivington House (those beds will be located at Gouverneur Health). The mayor’s office reneged on a promise to create a senior housing and health care facility on Pike Street.
UPDATE 5:29 p.m A spokesperson for Councilmember Chin, Marian Guerra, said tonight, “Our office is actively looking for ways to fight the conversion. Rivington House has been a community facility for decades, and we are not giving up on efforts to create a 21st century nursing facility in the building.”
UPDATE 2/10 Here’s a statement from Neighbors to Save Rivington House:
Once again, the Rivington House community has been forsaken. Our Mayor promised the Council Member he would call a meeting with the buyers to encourage them to consider returning the building to those in greater need of it. We can no longer wait for him. Nor can those who need those 219 beds, who were already struggling in defiance of crushing circumstances. We are now asking other electeds to step in: to invite Slate Property, Adam America and China Vanke to address the hole created when people here were denied this housing. Whether the building was taken by incompetence, corruption, opportunism, or in pursuit of profits is irrelevant to those in desperate straits. The buyers are not in financial need – one is the richest real estate company in the world. They intend their clients to live in this neighborhood. But there can never be a welcome here until work is done to resolve what happened to Rivington House. Nor can anyone afford to give into defeatism in a time when the worst of human damage seems ascendant. Our community has done important things because we refuse to quit on fighting for our most marginalized members. And we are not done.
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, 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.
Earlier this month, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman cut a deal with the former owner of Rivington House, requiring the Allure Group to pay $2 million in fines and other penalties. Now the for-profit nursing home’s owners — Joel Landau, Marvin Rubin and Solomon Rubin — are chiming in with their spin on the settlement agreement.
Allure’s decision to sell the former Lower East Side nursing home for $116 million to luxury condo developers and the city’s move to lift deed restrictions triggered several investigations. The state AG determined that there was no legal way to void the deal, but that Allure had violated the state’s not-for-profit corporation law. In addition to paying fines, the agreement requires Allure to open a new nursing home on the Lower East Side, and one in Brooklyn.
In a piece posted overnight, Crain’s reports that, “Allure is finally poised to pursue its stalled growth plans” after the state investigation came to an end. Even before the Rivington House controversy erupted, Allure’s executives said they were planning to open a new nursing home somewhere in the neighborhood. Now they’re free to move forward with that plan.
Marvin Rubin told Crain’s, “It was a big struggle for us the last two years while this was going on, and it affected our focus… Now we can continue to do what we do best, which is constantly improving long-term care.”
While community groups have lobbied for new nursing home beds on the Lower East Side, there’s definitely uneasiness about Allure’s new venture. K Webster of Neighbors to Save Rivington House, a local advocacy organization, said of Allure, “They have to be watched.” In a statement provided to The Lo-Down after the agreement was announced, the group said, “it is problematic to invite Allure to run another facility – anywhere.”
Allure has not announced where the new facility, and another nursing home it’s opening in Brooklyn, will be located. The AG is requiring the company to keep the facilities open for at least eight years.
The city recently announced that 60 new nursing home beds would be created at Gouverneur Health. Rivington House was a 219-bed facility.
The de Blasio administration is backing away from a commitment made more than a year ago to replace Rivington House with a new senior housing and health care complex at 30 Pike St.
The promise came during a City Council oversight hearing in September of 2016. As top officials were being grilled about their inexplicable decision to lift deed restrictions at the former nursing home, they announced plans for the new facility. The administration said the new project would pave “the way for the return of health care lost as a result of a mishandled deed modification at Rivington House.” The mayor committed to build at least 100 apartments at 30 Pike, a site controlled by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. A Request for Proposals (RFP) was supposed to go out last year, but it never materialized.
Today, the administration is backtracking, contending that the 30 Pike St. location isn’t feasible for the proposed development. This morning, Politico alluded to the city’s decision in its morning email (the full story is available only to Politico Pro subscribers):
The de Blasio administration has picked a new location to fund the senior citizen housing it promised in exchange for botching the transfer of a nursing home on the Lower East Side… The administration now plans to subsidize apartments for (100) tenants near the site of the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue, a landmarked property on Norfolk Street that was demolished after being destroyed in a fire last year, sources said.
Workers continue to dismantle unstable portions of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on Norfolk Street.
As we have previously reported, a development plan is in the works on a parcel behind Beth Hamedrash Hagadol at 50 Norfolk St. It’s owned by the Chinese American Planning Council. The new residential tower is being developed by the Gotham Organization, utilizing air rights from the synagogue. Workers have partially demolished Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, which was ravaged by fire in May of last year.
It should be noted that the project at 50 Norfolk St. was always envisioned as a senior housing complex (with some market rate housing, as well). The city’s efforts to portray the Norfolk Street proposal as a replacement for more than 200 nursing home beds at Rivington House will not be warmly received by the local community.
On Friday, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement agreement with the Allure Group, Rivington House’s former owner. Among other points, it requires the for-profit nursing home operator to open a new nursing facility on the Lower East Side. It hasn’t been announced where that new project will be located.
We’ll have more details as they become available today. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development hasn’t responded to our requests for comment about this issue in the past several days, but indicated this morning that a press release would be forthcoming today.
UPDATE 11:13 p.m. We now have the press release from the mayor’s office. The new Norfolk Street project will include 88 units of senior affordable housing. In addition, the project from the Gotham Organization will create 400 units of mixed-income housing on the parcel behind Beth Hamedrash Hagadol. The complex will include a new headquarters for the Chinese American Planning Council, neighborhood retail and space for the synagogue.
The city is also announcing today that it will create 60 new skilled nursing facility beds at Gouverneur Health on Madison Street. Gouverneur is hiring 75 new staff members for the expanded facility, which is expected to be up-and-running by April.
In a statement, the mayor said, “This plan is a reflection of our unwavering commitment to the Lower East Side, the seniors who built this amazing and diverse community, and the immediacy of their needs. This neighborhood must be made whole for a broken City process that resulted in the sale of a critical health care facility.”
As we pointed out this morning, the new units on Norfolk Street were already in the works. The commitment for new nursing home beds at Gouverneur is new, but the administration is not delivering on the 100 units of senior housing promised on Pike Street.
Today’s press release included the following statement from City Council member Margaret Chin:
After years of shrinking affordable housing and healthcare options for our seniors, we are finally beginning to turn the tide. This plan is an important part of our efforts to allow elderly New Yorkers the ability to grow old in a caring, safe place in the neighborhoods they call home. I thank Mayor de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Shorris and HPD for following through on their commitment to increase the availability of healthcare and affordable housing for seniors in desperate need.
Tomorrow evening, the developers will outline their plans for the Norfolk Street site at a meeting of Community Board 3 (6:30 p.m./184 Eldridge St.) There will be a 10 story building perched above what’s left of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol and a 30-story tower on the parcel behind the synagogue. A total of 488 units will be included in the two buildings. In addition to the 88 senior units, there will be 100 permanently affordable apartments.
The project will go through ULURP, the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which includes advisory roles for the community board and borough president. The ULURP must be approved by the City Council.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this afternoon announced a settlement with the Allure Group after a lengthy investigation of the Rivington House debacle on the Lower East Side. It requires the for-profit nursing home company to open a new facility on the LES and to pay $1.25 million to Lower East Side non-profit groups.
Allure sold the former nursing home for AIDS patients in February of 2016 for $116 million after the city inexplicably lifted deed restrictions on the building at 45 Rivington St. The new owners are planning to convert the property into luxury condos.
The AG’s investigation covered the closures of Rivington House, as well as the CABS Nursing Home in Brooklyn. In a statement, Schneiderman said:
The processes that led to the closure of Rivington House and CABS never should have happened – this settlement ensures they won’t happen again, while addressing critical healthcare gaps in the impacted communities. We’re requiring Allure to open new healthcare facilities in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, and make major improvements to its Harlem facility, while also providing $1.25 million to non-profits serving vulnerable New Yorkers.
In a press release, this is how the attorney general described Allure’s new commitments on the Lower East Side:
The Allure Group will create a Lower East Side healthcare facility at a new location to fill healthcare gaps caused by the closure of Rivington House. Allure is required to fully fund a new skilled nursing facility or other healthcare facility primarily providing long-term care to the elderly or disabled; there will be a restriction on the future sale or closure of that facility for at least eight years from commencement of services. Pursuant to the agreement, Allure will also pay $1.25 million to Lower East Side non-profit organizations that provide healthcare services to vulnerable members of the community.
There were no details offered regarding the number of beds that must be included in a new facility, where it will be located or which local non-profits will be receiving funding. The settlement also requires Allure to pay $400,000 in penalties under the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law and $350,000 to cover investigative costs.
In a related settlement, three members of the Rivington House board of directors (Heshey Licht, Ben-zion Scharf and Aaron Porges) will be barred from serving on other boards for at least five years.
The attorney general is requiring the appointment of a new independent compliance consultant who will report to the New York State Department of Health. According to the AG, “Allure will be required to inform the Department of Health about circumstances that might lead to the closure of any Allure Group facility.”
UPDATE 5:21 p.m. Allure’s attorney, Andrew Lavander, provided the following statement to The Real Deal:
(Allure Group is) pleased that, following a careful review, both the New York Attorney General and the Department of Health have not only approved The Allure Group’s acquisition of the Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, but are encouraging and supporting Allure’s future investments in healthcare facilities in the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn.
Lavander noted that, in the settlement agreement, Allure did not admit or deny any of the allegations made by the attorney general.
UPDATE 6:16 p.m. Here’s a statement from Neighbors to Save Rivington House, an organization advocating for the return of the building to the local community:
We are grateful for the rigorous work that the AG’s Office undertook. Countless hours and much know-how was put to this effort to get long-range justice for some of New York State’s most vulnerable people. We are also grateful for the level of compensation that all of these affected low-income and/or of color communities will garner. And that the Allure Group will be under scrutiny due to past practices. And, importantly, it is problematic to invite Allure to run another facility – anywhere. But this is a systemic New York State-wide issue that allows a business like Allure to be endorsed as an organization with “character and competence” by the Public Health and Health Planning Council. That is the larger fight to end the preying upon vulnerable NYers for profit. We will continue to advocate for the meeting with the buyers Adam America, Slate Property Group, and China Vanke promised by the Mayor to our local Council Member. Because Allure was just one group of men who profited off of people who had little ability to fight back. Why? A longtime neighbor and community activist, who lives around the corner from Rivington House will likely be forced to move far from his network of friends this month. He’ll end his days with few visits. It keeps the reality of the damage caused here fresh.
The settlement agreement summarizes the AG’s investigation and spells out Allure’s commitments.
It refers to the city’s decision to lift deed restrictions at 45 Rivington St. after Allure agreed to pay a $16 million fee:
As detailed in a report by the New York City Department of Investigation, City officials, including high-level officials at City Hall and DCAS, were aware of the deed restriction removal months in advance, yet raised no objection or took any step to ensure that the property would continue to serve the community or a public purpose.
Many people in the local community have hoped that the AG would be able to find a legal means of forcing Slate Property Group, the new majority owner of 45 Rivington St., to return the building. But the document from Schneiderman’s office states that Slate’s, “title to the property as a bona fide purchaser is not subject to effective legal challenge.” It then goes on to essentially make a case for the settlement agreement: “The proceeds of the sale of the Rivington Street property are sufficient to fund projects in the public interest.”
As part of the agreement, Allure has agreed to dissolve the non-profit board that was set up to acquire the former community facility. It will then transfer $1,250,000, “to one or more charitable organizations, approved by the Attorney General, that provide healthcare services to low income residents of the Lower East Side.”
Here’s what the agreement says regarding the establishment of a new health care facility:
The Allure Group shall use commercially reasonable efforts to establish (including by purchase of an existing facility from a third party) and operate a skilled nursing facility or other healthcare facility primarily providing long-term care to the elderly or disabled, or such other facility as licensed in the discretion of the Commissioner of Health, at a location south of East 7th Street and east of Broadway to Houston Street and south of Houston Street and east of West Broadway in the Borough of Manhattan.
On Friday, World AIDS Day, local activists held an early evening vigil at Rivington House to recall the loss of the former nursing home for AIDS patients. The longtime community facility was shuttered two years ago this month when the city lifted deed restrictions and the property was sold to luxury condo developers.
A stop work order remains in place at 45 Rivington St., although Mayor de Blasio said he sees no way to reclaim the building for the community. A local group, Neighbors to Save Rivington House, is undeterred, vowing to do everything humanly possible to prevent the condo conversion.
On Friday night, people gathered on the sidewalk, holding candles and telling stories about the former residents of Rivington House. “As a community,” said University Settlement Executive Director Melissa Aase, “we welcomed Rivington House at the height of the AIDS crisis when other communities would not. As a community, we built ties with the staff and residents and built a stronger community as a result. As more of our neighbors age in place where we desperately want them to be with us, we will need more care, not less care.”
City Council member Margaret Chin attended the vigil, telling those assembled, “I will continue to fight. I am not giving up. It’s not a done deal, and we still have hope.” During a town hall meeting over the summer, the mayor promised Chin he would try to set up a meeting with the property owners (China Vanke, Slate Property Group and Adam America Real Estate). She hopes to persuade the developers to create a new community health care facility in the building. “As long as I’m still here as the Council member,” said Chin, “we are going to fight to make sure we get this building back… (The mayor) promised to set up the meeting with the developers and I’m still holding him to that promise.”
The mayor’s World AIDS Day schedule took him to Kings Theater in Brooklyn for a commemoration and to the West Village, where a new memorial was dedicated in the shadow of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital. The city has vowed to eradicate AIDS by 2020.
Rivington House’s former operator, VillageCare, lobbied to drop the deed restrictions and sold the Lower East Side building, saying there was no need for the treatment facility. VillageCare participated in Friday’s ceremony at Kings Theater.
Last week, the mayor’s first deputy mayor, Anthony Shorris, announced he would not be staying on for de Blasio’s second term. Shorris, who was at the center of the Rivington House scandal that dogged the city administration during he past couple of years, said, “I made dozens of decisions a day for four years. (The lifting of deed restrictions at Rivington House) was a mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. We found it and we fixed it and moved on.”
Mayor de Blasio delivers remarks at Kings Theater. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.
A vigil will take place on Friday evening from 6-7:30 p.m. in front of the Rivington House building. Here’s part of the message that will be delivered during the vigil:
We gather by candlelight to remember the former residents of Rivington House who lost their homes and their community when the facility was closed. We miss our beloved neighbors and the community we built together. We gather to honor them, and all our many neighbors—far too many—who faced and lost their lives to HIV/AIDS in the past forty years. And we remain committed to returning Rivington House to the people who need supportive housing and nursing care, whether due to illness, old age, or injury that prevents them from being able to live alone.
Mayor de Blasio has said repeatedly that he sees no legal way to take the building back. A “stop work order” remains in place while investigations into the deed reversals drag on.
Recently, a Department of Buildings liaison informed local elected officials that the developers were expected to resume “structural survey work.” At a town hall meeting over the summer, Buildings Department Commissioner Rick Chandler said that even the exploratory work had been put on hold.
During the town hall, the mayor reluctantly agreed to set up a meeting with the new property owners. City Council member Margaret Chin said she hoped a meeting would help persuade them to “do the right thing.” There’s been no word from the mayor’s office about scheduling that meeting.
Margaret Chin attended a rally at Rivington House in April of 2016.
The other day we mentioned a “fact check” in City Limits which examined several claims from a campaign flyer distributed by a group called “Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte.” Today we’re taking a closer look at one of those claims.
The organization falsely states in the flyer that, City Council member Margaret Chin, “refused to halt the sale of Rivington House, displacing AIDS patients in favor of luxury condos.”
As City Limits points out:
It was the De Blasio administration that permitted the sale of Rivington House to a condo developer, not Chin.
The story then cites our coverage of Rivington House:
The Lo-Down reports that during (2015)—when (the) Allure Group was duping the public—Chin played a large role “in efforts to keep the facility open under the ownership of a new nursing home operator.” Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte argues Chin should have used her influence to prevent the nonprofit from selling to Allure to begin with—but no one knew, at the time, that Allure would completely betray its word, and it was a private transaction, so she would have had limited control to begin with.
Let’s review a bit more closely what’s actually in the public record.
July 2014: Rivington House owner VillageCare announced plans to close Rivington House.
August 2014: Council member Chin said she had begun conversations with VillageCare about the future of the building. Chin said she was opposed to any luxury redevelopment plan.
October 2014: Council member Chin said she was working to make sure Rivington House remained a skilled nursing facility. She had been made aware that deed changes would be necessary in order to permit the Allure Group to operate the facility as a for-profit nursing home.
February 2015: The Allure Group took over the facility.
June 2015: A public hearing was held to lift all deed restrictions, freeing the Allure Group of any obligation to operate the building as a community healthcare facility. Neither the City Council nor Community Board 3 was advised of the public hearing. Five months later, Allure paid the city $16 million and the deed restrictions were lifted.
December 2015: The Lo-Down reported exclusively that the deed restrictions were no longer in place and that neighbors had heard from Slate Property Group, which was planning a luxury conversion of the nursing home. Margaret Chin later said that this was the first time she heard about the deed change.
February 2016: News broke that Rivington House had been sold for $116 million. It later became known that the contract between Allure and Slate had been signed in May of 2015.
March 2016: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer launched an investigation of the Rivington House matter, igniting one of the biggest scandals of the de Blasio administration.
So what’s the bottom line? It’s clear that elected officials on the Lower East Side, Margaret Chin among them, were in the dark about the deed changes until it was too late. She was well aware, however, that deed changes would eventually be required to allow Allure, a for-profit company to operate Rivington House in the long term. Lots of people, including the Council member, likely wish they’d asked more questions starting in mid-2015 about how those deed changes would be handled. But there’s a big difference between saying that, perhaps, more questions should have been asked of city agencies and blaming the local Council member for something that was purposely concealed from her.
Christopher Marte announced his candidacy April 29 in front of Rivington House.
The local organization fighting for the return of Rivington House, issued a statement the other day. The missive from Neighbors to Save Rivington House, read, in part, “It has been both egregious and infuriating that both of the men running against Margaret Chin (Marte and Aaron Foldenauer) have used the eviction of people living with AIDS and the taking of Rivington House from the neighborhood to opportunistically and falsely target the Councilwoman as the cause of its demise.”
[It should be noted that one of the primary leaders of Neighbors to Save Rivington House, K Webster, is a strong Margaret Chin supporter.]
At a June town hall meeting on the Lower East Side, Council member Chin asked Mayor de Blasio to set up a meeting with China Vanke, one of the owners of the Rivington House building. “Maybe you can invite the people who purchased that building,” she suggested, “(to) come in and talk with us and see if we can build a model, 21st Century nursing facility for our seniors, with special needs.”
There has been no word from the administration about that meeting. Neighbors to Save Rivington House has started a postcard campaign, urging the mayor to “call the meeting.”
Meanwhile, Christopher Marte has questioned Council member Chin’s decision to endorse the mayor in December of 2016, when so many questions remained about his bungling of the Rivington House matter. He has, however, disavowed the flyer from Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte, saying it “doesn’t accurately represent his views.”
Mayor de Blasio bristled at a Lower East Side town hall meeting last night when the inevitable question came about his administration’s handling of Rivington House. The city’s decision to lift deed restrictions on the former nursing home cleared the way for the building’s luxury condo conversion. It also set off one of the biggest controversies of his first term in office. At the public forum, the mayor continued to insist that nothing can be done to wrest the building away from the developers, who paid $116 million for the historic former schoolhouse. City Council member Margaret Chin urged de Blasio to use his influence to persuade the property owners to do right by the community.
Andrew Knox, a local resident active with the group, Neighbors to Save Rivington House, asked whether the building at 45 Rivington St. could be taken back through eminent domain or through some other method. He said the neighborhood can ill-afford to lose another healthcare facility, does not need another luxury condo building and he argued, “The administration should rectify its mistake.”
The mayor began to answer the question, saying, “As you know, that project right now is on hold because of the ongoing investigations.” He was heckled from the audience while trying to explain that the developers had been granted a work permit recently to perform “exploratory work” in the building. Speaking over the hecklers, he interjected, “Excuse me! I’m telling you the facts from the Buildings Commissioner… Guys, you can scream all you want but we’re here to tell you what we know.”
The prickly mayor, apparently weary of multiple investigations and inquiries from reporters, added, “This one we’ve been over so many times but I’ll go over it again.”
“This was a mistake,” he explained. “It was ridiculous. I’ve said it a thousand times.” The mayor highlighted the changes his administration made in the aftermath of the Rivington House fiasco, which include new rules to ensure future deed changes are properly handled. De Blasio said city lawyers have not been able to find any legal loophole to reverse the sale.
“What the City of New York has said,” de Blasio added, is that, “we will put in facilities for senior affordable housing, additional, into the community and for additional nursing home capacity of 200 beds or more… to compensate for what happened here, because it wasn’t right.”
At a City Council oversight hearing held this past September, administration officials announced that more than 100 affordable apartments for seniors and a health care facility would be built at 30 Pike St. A Request for Proposals (RFP) is supposed to go out this year, but neither local elected officials nor the community board have received any updated information about the timetable for the RFP. They were also surprised to hear from the mayor last night that the number of beds could exceed 200 and that “additional nursing home capacity” is envisioned. We have contacted the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for clarification, but have not received a response just yet.
During the town hall, the administration addressed concerns that the developers are going beyond what’s allowed in their permit for exploratory work. Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said, “We did lift the stop work order to allow minor demolition to do exploratory work on the structure, within the property, because we have no legal grounds to deny them that request.”
“Say where we are now,” de Blasio impatiently urged his commissioner. Chandler responded, “Where we are now is that we put the property back on hold. We will not allow anything to happen until there’s a thorough investigation as to what they’re planning to do as we move forward.” The mayor once again chimed in, seemingly contradicting his department head, “There are several agencies still investigating and that hold will continue while those investigations continue.” Council member Chin then added, “Commissioner, we heard from a neighbor this morning that they were in there drilling, so I urge your agency to keep an eye on them, because they’re not following the rules.”
Chin also addressed the bigger picture. “Mr. Mayor,” she said, “you heard from the community. We’re not giving up on Rivington House. We have to find a way.” De Blasio once again insisted that the city is out of legal options. He also mentioned that his administration is distancing itself from the embattled owners of Rivington House. “The companies involved,” he said, “we have found other ways to separate from dealing with because we believe what happened was not right. It’s been well reported that we canceled some other arrangements with them.” One of the developers, Slate Property Group, was forced to drop out of a project at the Bedford-Union Armory last summer.
As the back-and-forth continued, Council member Chin floated another idea. “Maybe you can invite the people who purchased that building,” she suggested, “(to) come in and talk with us and see if we can build a model, 21st Century nursing facility for our seniors, with special needs.” Chin suggested that another Rivington House owner, China Vanke, could be a potential partner. “That company from China,” said Chin, “I think they want to do the right thing. If the mayor reaches out to them, they might want to come in and talk to you.”
De Blasio responded, “I want to honestly not get people’s hopes up. I do not think these are compassionate folks seeking to change the world, make it a better place. But I have no problem offering to them that they could have a much better relationship with the community and the administration if they came in and considered a different outcome.”
“We could create a wonderful project,” said Chin. “You’ll follow up, Mayor?”
The mayor, not so enthusiastically, replied, “Yes, of course.”
As The Lo-Down first reported May 30, the Department of Buildings has allowed the owners of the Rivington House building to perform “exploratory work” for future renovations. A stop work order had been in place since April of 2016 at the former nursing home, where one of the biggest scandals of the de Blasio administration has played out. Now — on the same day Mayor de Blasio heads to the Lower East Side for a town hall meeting — work crews are on site to begin their explorations.
Activists with Neighbors to Save Rivington House have been on high alert since the Buildings Department approved the work permit. This morning, we received the photos you see here from Tessa Huxley, who lives next door to Rivington House. A truck from “Aquifer Drilling & Testing” arrived a short time ago. She reported hearing the sounds of jackhammers inside and witnessed workers taking soil samples.
The permit allows for the, “miscellaneous removal of areas of flooring, walls and ceiling finishes throughout the existing building in order to expose the existing structure and masonry elements… for future renovations.” In a June 6 letter to the mayor, local residents wrote, “We believe that this (work) could well do permanent damage to the property as well as foreclose options that may yet result from outstanding investigations.”
The city lifted deed restrictions on the Rivington House facility, clearing the way for Slate Property Group, Adam America Real Estate and China Vanke to purchase the building for $116 million. A luxury condo conversion is planned. The mayor has blasted the developers but insisted the city has no legal means of getting the building back for the community. The state attorney general has been investigating the matter for many months.
Mayor de Blasio has said repeatedly he does not believe the city has a legal case to wrest control of Rivington House from luxury condo developers. While a “stop work order” has been in place on the former nursing home building since April of 2016, the Department of Buildings recently gave the owners, led by Slate Property Group, permission to perform some exploratory work inside the converted schoolhouse.
City officials lifted deed restrictions at 45 Rivington St., just before the Allure Group sold the property to Slate, Adam America Real Estate and China Vanke for $116 million. Rivington House became one of the biggest scandals confronted by the de Blasio administration, resulting in many investigations but few tangible results for the local community.
Earlier this month, on May 16, the Buildings Department (DOB) approved an application, allowing for the, “miscellaneous removal of areas of flooring, walls and ceiling finishes throughout the existing building in order to expose the existing structure and masonry elements… for future renovations.” The owner representative listed on the application is Martin Nussbaum of Slate Property Group. The applicant or record was John Cetra of CetraRuddy Architecture.
The other day, we asked a DOB press representative if the permit allows the owners to begin their luxury condo conversion. A spokesperson, Joe Soldevere, said the approved application does not allow any renovation work to take place. It only permits them to “examine and assess structural elements of the building,” he said.
Separately, the office of State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou contacted the mayor’s office about Rivington House. A representative for Niou was told that last year’s stop work order remains in effect and that anyone who sees construction work taking place within the building should alert authorities.
A not-for-profit group, MFY Legal Services, has filed a lawsuit to obtain information from the State Health Department about the closure of Rivington House and of another nursing home in Brooklyn.
State regulations require nursing home operators to notify the health department and to file a closure report 90 days in advance of shutting the doors of any facility. That didn’t happen after the Allure Group sold the former Lower East Side nursing home to luxury condo developers.
The legal aid organization filed a Freedom of Information Law Request (FOIL) with the state more than a year ago for the closure report and related documents. The request and an appeal were denied. MFY says in a press release out today that the health department stalled for seven months.
“The review process for nursing home closures is supposed to protect vulnerable residents, but the Allure Group emptied its facilities quietly before flipping the properties to luxury developers,” said Daniel A. Ross, a staff attorney at MFY. “We want to find out why the DOH provided so little oversight.”
“We requested these documents to hold the DOH accountable for enforcing its own regulations and protecting the rights of nursing home residents,” said Kevin M. Cremin, Director of Litigation for Disability and Aging Rights at MFY. “What does the DOH have to hide?”
“Closing Rivington House had a disastrous impact on vulnerable, disabled, poor and long-time residents of color, their families, and loved ones,” said K Webster of the local advocacy group, Neighbors to Save Rivington House.“When the community first learned the site’s stewards wanted to sell it for profit, the community fought back to ensure it was kept for the people who needed it most. We are still waiting for answers as to how our state and city governments allowed this to happen on their watch.”
Mayor de Blasio has said nothing can be done to reverse a decision made by his administration to lift deed restrictions at Rivington House, which cleared the way for the luxury condo conversion. The health department has said it was not notified before the Lower East Side center closed. A closure report was approved after the fact, in February of last year.
UPDATE 5/10/2017 Here’s a statement from the Department of Health:
One of our most important priorities is ensuring that vulnerable New Yorkers have access to the vital services they need. As with all facilities we license, the department works to ensure strict oversight and quality of care at these facilities. The Department of Health plays no role in approving the transfer of real estate and does not comment on pending litigation.
Sen. Squadron at Rivington House in the spring of 2016.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron did not get very far yesterday with his proposal to prevent Rivington House-like disasters from striking other communities. The Republican head of the Senate Health committee rejected, at least for now, his legislation to make nursing home closures more transparent.
Squadron first announced his “Rivington Act” last September. At the time, he said the legislation would require the State Department of Health to “ensure local community needs can adequately be met before approving any closure.” 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. Rivington House was, of course, sold to luxury condo developers after the de Blasio administration lifted deed restrictions.
In a very brief hearing yesterday, Sen. Kemp Hannon, chair of the health committee, said of the bill, “I don’t think it’s anywhere near shape to possibly become law… I would recommend a ‘no vote,’ but if Senator Squadron is going to pursue (the legislation), and he’s not a shy one about pursuing, you may see this bill again.” Hannon did not spell out any of his specific concerns. The committee voted down the measure 11-5.
In a statement after the hearing, Squadron said:
The Rivington Act helps ensure community voice and community health, but today the Health Committee chose to disregard both… (The legislation) is based on a simple concept — communities should have a voice in healthcare in the community. That didn’t happen at Rivington House, and unfortunately, was blocked by the Senate Majority today. The Chair committed to taking up this issue this session — I stand ready to work with him on his concerns and ensure Senate action this year.
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who has partnered with Squadron to push the bill, said,
It is appalling that Republicans in the Senate Health Committee put partisan politics ahead of transparency and the need for local community involvement when considering the closure of nursing homes… As the main Assembly sponsor for the Rivington Act, I vow to continue pushing to shed light around nursing home closures and work to ensure that community input is incorporated into this important decision making process. Communities across New York State were short-changed by the Senate committee’s decision today to postpone a decision on this bill, particularly the Lower East Side in my district, but I encourage everyone to stay involved and continue pushing for the Rivington Act.
Meliisa Aase, executive director of University Settlement, added:
It is important for New Yorkers to learn every possible lesson from the devastating loss of Rivington House… In our community there is now only one skilled, residential nursing facilities left, with a five year waiting list. Had the impending deed restriction removals, evacuation of patients, and sale of Rivington House for luxury housing development been transparent to our community, we would have clearly raised our voices in opposition and demonstrated the dire need for the full and affordable continuum of care for the elderly, ill, or disabled members of our community. We won’t stop fighting for the return of Rivington House, and in the meantime we are grateful to Senator Squadron and Assembly Member Niou for their tireless pursuit of remedies and protections for the future.
Aase is one of the leaders of a local coalition, Neighbors to Save Rivington House, which has been pushing for the return of the health care facility to the Lower East Side community. Mayor de Blasio has said there is no legal means of making that happen. Sen. Squadron has challenged the mayor to explain more fully why the city could not pursue legal action against the former or current owners of the building.
Sen. Squadron attended a media event outside Rivington House in the spring of 2016.
There will be a vote in Albany tomorrow on State Sen. Daniel Squadron’s legislation aimed at preventing Rivington House-like debacles in other communities.
The Senate Health Committee will take up the “Rivington Act,” which would require the state to produce a public closure report when any nursing home is threatened, to reject any closure plan if community health needs cannot be met and to consider recommendations from local stakeholders.
Rivington House was, of course, stripped of its restrictive deed, closed and then sold for $116 million to luxury condo developers. City and state officials failed to provide the public with information about the closure.
The legislation is co-sponsored by local Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou. Senator Squadron used a procedural maneuver to force a vote. You can watch the hearing live tomorrow at noon by following this link. The full text of the legislation is available here.
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.