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NYC Archdiocese unveils new housing plan, but overlooks shuttered East Village churches

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The Archdiocese of NYC aims to redevelop six of its properties into 2,000 below-market-rate apartments

The Church of the Nativity closed its doors in August 2015 and faces an uncertain fate.
Caroline Spivack/Curbed NY

With mounting pressure from housing activists calling for two East Village churches to be converted into low-income housing, the Archdiocese of New York City has vowed to redevelop six of its properties to create up to 2,000 below-market-rate apartments over the next decade.

At the moment, 1,457 units of housing are slated for six Catholic Church-owned properties concentrated in the Bronx, except for one site in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The commitment comes as the archdiocese launched the first phase of its plan with the unveiling of St. Augustine Terrace’s transformation at 1180 Fulton Avenue into 112 low-income apartments in Morrisania.

“The Catholic Church of New York City is taking the lead in ensuring that low-income New Yorkers have access to well built, well maintained housing, along with the services to help those with the greatest needs,” said Monsignor Sullivan, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, at a Monday celebration of St. Augustine’s redevelopment. The Catholic Church currently oversees 2,336 low-income apartments in three boroughs and Yonkers at 15 sites, with Monday’s housing pledge the Church aims to push that number to more than 4,000 by 2029, Sullivan notes.

The new building that rose in place of St. Augustine’s—rented out through the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) lottery system—includes a studio available for $718 per month for those earning between $27,085 and $38,200 annually up to a $1,004 per month three-bedroom unit for families making between $37,749 and $42,950 a year. Thirty-five of the buildings new units are earmarked as supportive housing for adults with mental illness. Beacon of Hope, a division of Catholic Charities Community Services, will offer social services to residents with mental illness, according to the group.

St. Augustine Terrace redevelopment at 1180 Fulton Avenue in Morrisania.
Courtesy of Catholic Charities

“This land was sacred before and is so once again,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said at the opening ceremony, where he rang a replica of a bell in the church that once occupied the land. “The church is strongly committed to social justice and ensuring that having a home is a sacred human right. We are delighted that we could transform this church property into homes for New Yorkers with the greatest needs.”

The LEED Gold Certified building was developed in partnership with Magnusson Architecture and Planning and constructed by MEGA Contracting Group as part of HPD’s Extremely Low and Low-income Affordability (ELLA) program geared toward creating housing that serves the city’s lowest income brackets.

Low-income apartments at the five other sites will include 319 units at the Second Farms development at 1932 Bryant Avenue in West Farms; 177 apartments at the former St. Philip Neri at 3504, 3069 Villa Avenue in Bedford Park; 160 homes at Christopher Court at 2890 Park Avenue in Melrose; 89 units at St. Vincent de Paul Senior Residences at 909 Beck Street in Longwood; and a whopping 600 units at the Grand Street Guild site at 157, 179 Broome Street in the Lower East Side, according to the archdiocese.

But those who have long-urged the Catholic Church to convert two shuttered houses of worship in the East Village into below-maket-rate housing were disappointed to learn that the Church of St. Emeric and the Church of the Nativity are not included in the latest plans to create affordable housing on church-owned property.

The Cooper Square Community Land Trust, which Curbed first reported put forward a proposal to transform the 300,000-square-foot parcel into 400 units of below-market-rate housing, has sought to partner with the archdiocese to convert unused church space into affordable homes in the East Village—where nearly half of residents are rent burdened. While the church is in ongoing talks with the group, officials have been resistant to the land trust’s proposed plans.

Cooper Square also offered to buy Church of the Nativity for $18.5 million, with $5 million in closing costs, over a 30-year period, but the Archdiocese has instead expressed interest in seeking market value for the land and using the funds to address needs at the Most Holy Redeemer and parishes across the city, according to documents obtained by Curbed.

“We were not in anyway attacking the [St. Augustine’s] project, you know, we just felt it was sad they would concentrate properties in the South Bronx for such use, but try to maximize the value of their properties elsewhere,” said Valerio Orselli, project director with the Cooper Square Community Land Trust. “The point is the church in addition to doing good—which we are the first ones to say, yes, they’ve done a lot of good—they have a moral obligation to do no harm and selling property [that become] luxury condos is very harmful to us.”

At Monday’s unveiling of St. Augustine Terrace, Orselli and a half dozen residents from the Lower East Side sought access to the event to invite Cardinal Dolan and other members of the church to a May town hall on the fate of the Church of Nativity, the St. Emeric’s site, and to discuss how decommissioned churches can be best used by the archdiocese and the communities they once served. Orselli says he and his group were turned away by security because their “names were not on their list.” The Archdiocese of New York City was unable to immediately comment on Orselli’s claim.

Cooper Square Community Land Trust will host a town hall at Cooper Union on May 6 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss ways to partner with the Catholic Church and other religious groups to transform former religious spaces into housing.