After months of pleas from their attorneys and from Community Board 3, the city has finally agreed to give six families living in a doomed building at 400 Grand St. priority status for new affordable apartments in the Essex Crossing project. The decision from the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) was announced last night at a meeting of CB3’s land use committee.
The building sits on site #5 of the large redevelopment project, which is expected to break ground in one year. Several weeks ago, the residents were given a tentative move-out date of June 30, although officials said there is no firm deadline. The developers, Delancey Street Associates, have begun the process with the Department of Buildings to demolish 400 Grand St. and 402 Grand St., a three story building whose only tenant is a shoe repair store.
Previously the city offered relocation assistance, including 42 months of rent subsidies to make up the difference between what they are paying now and what they’ll be required to pay in new apartments. But until last night, HPD had resisted offering the current residents the same “right to return” granted to former site tenants of the Seward Park urban renewal area (SPURA). Now, they’ll be on equal footing with people who lived on the SPURA parcels when they were condemned 47 years ago. The focus has now shifted to finding the tenants temporary homes while Essex Crossing is under construction.
Sam Lui, an attorney for Manhattan Legal Services, spoke for the residents last night. He said the options floated by the city so far (apartments in public housing and units operated by the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association) have been inadequate. Only two families qualify for Cooper square co-op apartments. One family isn’t eligible for a NYCHA apartment.
Damaris Reyes, a public member of the CB3 panel and the executive director of GOLES (a tenant advocacy group) was even more emphatic. She noted that the city had, at one time, led the residents to believe they could become owners of their apartments on Grand Street. She also pointed out they’d already been relocated several years ago from a building on East Houston Street that was being primed for an upscale makeover. “I want to make sure that HPD doesn’t do the bear minimum,” Reyes said, adding, “so far the options are very disappointing.” She vowed that GOLES would come to HPD “demanding answers” if the tenants are not offered suitable housing alternatives. Linda Jones, chairperson of the land use committee promised the tenants, “we will stay with you until you find housing” and she said the issue will continue to appear on the community board agenda every month until that time.
Isaac Henderson with L+M Development (one of the Essex Crossing partners) was on hand to explain the steps required before demolition can take place. Yesterday afternoon, we reported on a Department of Buildings application that popped up online, carrying the description, “full demolition” of 400 and 402 Grand St. Henderson said the initial application is for a “means and methods plan,” the first sstage in a long process that must be completed. He indicated it would take 6-12 months or longer before the city officially signs off on demolition. The city is retaining ownership of the parcel until next year, when a full construction plan is in place.
The residents of 400 Grand St. have been battling the city for the past four years.
The fate of one other tenant in the building, the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, remains uncertain. Discussions are ongoing with the developers about possibly carving out space for the organization’s visitor center somewhere within the new project.