Thursday, June 11, 2009

State Chooses Catholic Charities to Develop Fineson Site

By Patricia Adams

Last Friday New York State announced that Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation has been chosen to buy and develop the Bernard Fineson Developmental Disabilities site in Howard Beach into low- and moderate-income senior housing.

The Fineson site was originally constructed as a private hospital in the 1960's. Following the hospital’s closure, it became a residential unit in 1975 in which Fineson provided residential and program services for individuals, including those diagnosed with autism. The certified capacity at that time was 160 but, over time, the number of residents was reduced to less than 50.

The State’s Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) is now carefully transitioning some of the residents into community placement opportunities with remaining residents being transferred to the main Fineson campus, Hillside, in Queens Village.

In January a request for proposals was issued by the state to develop the Fineson site into an unassisted housing unit for seniors. A small part of the facility was also designated for developmentally disabled residents.

Catholic Charities was one of a number of entities who submitted proposals to State officials for consideration.

“Catholic Charities was chosen because of the high quality of their proposal to redevelop this site and their excellent track record in providing affordable housing and services to seniors throughout Brooklyn and Queens,” Governor Paterson said. “This is an exciting day as we move one step closer to converting underused state property into much-needed affordable housing for the elderly.”

Fineson will be converted by Catholic Charities into a 100-unit apartment development. Eighty of the units will be reserved for seniors over the age of 60. The remaining 20 units will be set aside for individuals supported by the OMRDD. In material distributed to area civic leaders at an April meeting facilitated by Community Board 10, Catholic Charities described the proposed Howard Beach Apartments facility as consisting of “32 studio, 52 one-bedroom, and 9 two-bedroom apartments with laundry facilities, a community room, resident lounges, and offices.”

Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, one of the largest providers of affordable housing in New York City, also provides social services for seniors in both boroughs, including the Howard Beach community. The development team for this endeavor includes Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation, the housing arm of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens; CPC Resources, a subsidiary of the Community Preservation Corporation; Shuman Lichtenstein Claman Efron Architects; and Monadnock Construction as the general contractor.

Deborah VanAmerongen, Commissioner of the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), said, “I have had the pleasure of working with Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development and have seen firsthand just how effective they are in delivering much-needed housing for seniors and people with developmental disabilities. This important project will take an underutilized state property and turn it into affordable and supportive housing for people who need it most.

The Fineson site is currently owned by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. Its Executive Director, Paul T. Williams, Jr., said, "This project is a success story that demonstrates how government agencies working with committed not-for-profit entities can produce a meaningful new life and community purpose for an under-used state facility. We at the Dormitory Authority are proud to play a role in helping to create much-needed affordable housing for senior citizens in addition to supportive housing to serve some of our most vulnerable residents."

The process to determine a use for the Fineson site included discussions with local elected officials and community leaders prior to the State putting its Request for Proposals out. One result of those discussions was the inclusion of a preferential set-aside of 50% of the senior apartments for current residents of Community Board 10 in the RFP.

State Senator Joe Addabbo has been involved in the process since its inception. “Knowing and working with Catholic Charities in the past, I think they are a credible choice. I believe they realize what is at stake here,” Addabbo said referring to the hopes that residents already living in the community would be at ease with their new neighbors.

Addabbo made it clear that the proposal was well-suited for the community. “Because of the dire need to sell off the land it’s easy to see how another kind of project that might not be good for the community could have wound up here. We hope the community will enjoy a relationship as good or better than the long standing one it shared with the Fineson Center.” Addabbo went on to say that the need for senior housing is great in the city and especially in Queens and that the new facility was one to be welcomed

“Catholic Charities discussed its proposal with me prior to submitting it to the State and incorporated the Board’s input in that submission and provided detailed information to us both before and after submitting it,” said Community Board 10 Chairperson, Betty Braton. “I’m pleased with their selection and the Board looks forward to working with Catholic Charities as they develop quality housing and enhanced services for our senior population.”

Monsignor Alfred LoPinto, Pastor of Saint Helen’s Church in Howard Beach, who also serves as the Vicar for Human Services of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, said, “Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation is delighted to have been chosen to develop this site into low and moderate-income housing for seniors and persons with developmental disabilities. Catholic Charities knows that this conversion will help afford many people an opportunity to live with dignity and within an integrated community that is supportive, cheerful and filled with opportunities to enjoy their golden years. We look forward to working with representatives of the State, along with members of the local community, to bring this project to a successful conclusion.”

Monsignor LoPinto added that the estimated time before negotiations and the closing of the states deal with Catholic Charities, including financing for the project, should be completed by the spring of 2010. “Obviously, we are prepared to move ahead as quickly as possible with the closing so that construction can begin,” added Msgr. LoPinto. Following those negotiations, construction should take approximately 18-24 months.

Selection of the residents who will be living in the apartments will follow a standard lottery procedure, according to Msgr. LoPinto, a pre-determined 50% of the application pool coming from the population living within Community Board 10. “The application process generally sees about 800 applications for each unit available,” said Msgr. LoPinto. Traditionally, Catholic Charities, who owns and operates more than 2,500 senior residence apartments throughout Brooklyn and Queens, will see about 800 applications for every unit available. “The rents are set to be affordable so there is tremendous application pool,” concluded Msgr. LoPinto.

“Catholic Charities is well known for helping to revitalize communities through the development of affordable housing as well as providing quality human services that help support and empower the people we are privileged to serve,” said Robert Siebel, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens. “Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens is proud of what we have accomplished and looks forward this new opportunity to respond to the needs of our neighbors.”

The selection process resulting in the selection of Catholic Charities to develop Fineson was overseen by the State’s Housing Finance Agency and the Division of Housing & Community Renewal with assistance from the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Officially, the Catholic Charities team has received a preliminary designation to develop the site.

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