Almost five years after Hurricane Sandy swamped Knickerbocker Village, city officials announced on Friday the allocation of $33.5 million for storm-related upgrades at the historic Lower East Side affordable housing complex.
Maria Torres-Springer, commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, announced the grant in a news conference in the courtyard at 150 Cherry St. She was joined by elected officials, residents and Daniel Robinson, executive director of the Cherry Green Property Corp. (Knickerbocker Village’s owner). The grant was made through the city’s Build it Back Multifamily Storm Recovery and Resiliency Program.
Following Hurricane Sandy, Knickerbocker Village’s 1,590 apartments lost heat and electricity for 17 days. Flood waters rushed through the boiler room and destroyed the electrical systems within the 12 residential buildings, which opened in 1934. The funding will allow the property owner to install four emergency generators, to add new electrical systems, to build new water-resistant doors and walls and to install new gas meters (a Con Ed requirement). Cherry Green Corp. will also be reimbursed for work already completed.
This is the second grant from the city for Sandy-related repairs at Knickerbocker Village. About $1.5 million was awarded in 2013 for elevator repairs.
On Friday, several speakers referenced the disastrous situation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s response to the storm. “Our government must fulfill its most fundamental responsibility to take care of our people,” said Velazquez. “When you get elected to office,” she added, “you have to show up and do the work. Don’t spend your time with nonsensical stuff. Forget about athletes (a reference to Donald Trump’s preoccupation with NFL players’ protests). We lost seven days that were crucial.” In spite of the current struggles in Washington, said Velaquez, “this brings so much joy to my heart to be able to come with you and celebrate this event where we can assure you that… you will be able to withstand any other natural disasters.”
Velazquez was joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council member Margaret Chin, State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and (belatedly) State Assembly member Brian Kavanagh. Chin, in particular, emphasized the importance of preserving Knickerbocker as a source of affordable housing for years to come.
While residents looked on during the news conference, no leaders from the tenant association were present on Friday. So on Sunday, we returned to Knickerbocker Village to speak with tenant association co-chairs Shi Xing Yang and Christina Zhang. They were invited to the big announcement, but were unable to attend the midday event.
Yang said residents are grateful that the grant finally went through and that repairs are beginning. “It’s been a long process since Hurricane Sandy,” said Yang. “We want to thank everybody who worked on this grant. We are glad that the grant was received, but hope that affordability is paramount in the vision of the owners for Knickerbocker Village.” In referencing the “affordability” of the complex, Yang was hinting at the next major battle ahead at the state-supervised rental complex. Ownership has been meeting with tenants to build support for a long-simmering cooperative conversion scheme. The tenant association has been calling for greater transparency from the owners about their intentions. [We’ll have more about this issue in an upcoming story.]
In a brief interview following Friday’s news conference, Daniel Robinson of Cherry Green Property Corp. touched on Knickerbocker Village’s future. Asked whether he was confident it would continue to a bastion for low-income families, Robinson said, “Ownership and management are completely committed to assuring the long-term affordability of this community for its residents.” He did not volunteer any details about the potential co-op conversion.
On a separate matter, Robinson had nothing but praise for city officials who helped secure the resiliency grant, even though it took four years to lock down the funding. The Build it Back Program, which is federally funded, has been widely criticized as a bureaucratic failure. A spokesperson at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said it took time to complete the grant application because there was an extensive design process and Buildings’ Department approvals were needed. Torres-Springer noted that about 20,000 apartments have been renovated as part of the Build it Back program.
Vincent Callagy, Knickerbocker Village’s general manager, said construction began last week. Crews got started on building the four new electrical service areas. The first part of the project will take 2-3 months, he estimated. All of the upgrades are expected to be completed in two years.