Thursday, January 15, 2009

Howard Beach Site Eyed for Senior Housing

By Conor Greene

Affordable housing for senior citizens could be built on the Howard Beach site which now houses the Bernard Fineson Developmental Center as part of Governor David Paterson’s effort to convert under-utilized state-owned properties to residential uses.

The state Housing Finance Agency (HFA) recently issued a request for proposals regarding the 3.4-acre site at 155-55 Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach. The site, which has two buildings totaling 111,000 square feet, is currently operated by the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) but is scheduled to close on June 30.

On Monday, the HFA issued a request for proposals to developers interested in purchasing the property, which originally opened as a private hospital in the 1960s. It was converted into a residential facility by OMRDD in 1975 with a certified capacity of 160. Today, the facility provides residential and program services for 46individuals, including those diagnosed with autism.

Under the proposal, the chosen developer would convert the facility into 100 housing units. At least 80 of the units would be studio or one-bedroom apartments for low-to-moderate seniors 60-years-old and older. The remaining 20 units would be reserved for individuals supported by OMRDD. In addition, the developer is asked to set aside space for senior services for residents of the 80 units, such as a community center.

When the OMRDD ceases operations at the facility in June, some of the residents currently living there will be “transferred into the community and into a home of their choice,” according to agency Commissioner Diana Jones Ritter. Other residents living there would be transferred to the main Hillside Campus in Queens Village.

“My administration is dedicated to converting nonessential state property to private use and it makes tremendous sense to turn Howard Park into affordable senior housing,” said Gov. Paterson. “In these difficult fiscal times, we need to be as creative as possible in generating additional resources and providing affordable housing for our neediest citizens.”

The proposal has the support of local officials including Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, State Senator Joseph Addabbo and Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10.

Pheffer said it is especially important “during these fiscally troubling times” to watch out for “especially vulnerable” citizens such as seniors. “The creation of quality, affordable senior citizen apartments will provide a currently unmet need in our community,” she said.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo vowed to “promote community involvement and input on all aspects of planning and discussions of the proposed use” of the property.

Braton said the project is welcomed due to the “sizable segment” of the CB 10 population that is over the age of 65. “There is a real need for enhanced services,” she said. “We look forward to working with state officials to ensure active community involvement as development proceeds.”

The request for proposal is due to HFA by February 27.

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