Developer confirms revamp of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ DUMBO hotel at 90 Sands St. as housing for formerly homeless

June 21, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The tower at right is 90 Sands St., a residential hotel that belonged to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
Share this:

It’s official.

The vacant DUMBO residential hotel the Jehovah’s Witnesses sold to Manhattan-based mega-landlord RFR will be turned into permanent housing for formerly homeless people plus affordable apartments for low- and moderate-income tenants.

The property is 90 Sands St., a 30-story tower that stands beside the Manhattan Bridge on the corner of Sands, Jay and High streets.

The nonprofit developer that’s acquiring it from RFR is Breaking Ground, which has 28 years of experience in building and operating affordable and supportive housing. It has more than 1,000 units of housing under development and operates more than 3,500 units of housing in New York City, upstate New York and Connecticut.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

On Wednesday night, Breaking Ground President and CEO Brenda Rosen spoke publicly about the planned makeover of the Watchtower property.

“Our goal, our mission, is to help people come inside, to rebuild and restore their lives in supportive housing,” she said at a Community Board 2 Land Use Committee meeting, which was held at MetroTech in Downtown Brooklyn.

Earlier this week, the Brooklyn Eagle was the first publication to report on the 90 Sands redevelopment project.

Breaking Ground doesn’t need to seek zoning changes for the as-of-right project, so there will not be a public review process for it. Rosen gave her presentation at the Community Board 2 meeting as a first step in letting area residents know about what’s next for 90 Sands St.

Breaking Ground will set up a Community Advisory Board for the property, as it always does for its facilities, in an effort to get input from its neighbors.

The 90 Sands St. tower is in a manufacturing zone. Breaking Ground hopes the city Buildings Department will grandfather in its residential use, said David Beer, the nonprofit’s vice president of real estate development, who joined Rosen in giving the Community Board 2 presentation.

The tower served as housing for members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from the time of its 1992 construction until they moved out in mid-2017.


Affordable-Housing Lottery for 202 Apartments

Breaking Ground plans to leave the layouts of the residential floors the way the Watchtower had set them up. So there will be 508 apartments, 82 percent of them studios and 18 percent of them one-bedroom units, Rosen said.

More than 300 of the studios will serve as apartments for formerly homeless individuals.

And 202 studios and one-bedroom apartments will be rented through an affordable-housing lottery to low-income and moderate-income tenants.

The studios will be rented to individuals and the one-bedroom apartments will be for households with one or two people.

The rents for these permanently affordable apartments will range from $492 per month for a studio for a tenant earning a maximum income of $21,930 per year to $1,955 per month for a two-person household with a maximum annual income of $83,500.

About 1,000 square feet on 90 Sands St.’s ground floor will either be a community facility or commercial space. Breaking Ground is looking for community and arts organizations to use space on one of the building’s cellar levels.

A nonprofit called the Center for Urban Community Services will provide onsite supportive services for tenants seven days a week. These will include case management, primary medical care, mental health services, employment readiness guidance and benefits counseling.  

There will be a big emphasis on employment, said Center for Urban Community Services President and CEO Tony Hannigan, who also spoke during the 90 Sands St. presentation.

After the presentation, Committee Board 2’s Land Use Committee voted to write a letter of recommendation for the 90 Sands St. project.


Concord Village Residents’ Concerns

Numerous residents of Concord Village, a co-op complex located near 90 Sands St., attended the meeting to voice their concerns about the plans.

Afterwards, about 20 of them gathered in a hallway outside the meeting room for an impromptu question-and-answer session with Rosen. Will the children of Concord Village be safe with so many formerly homeless people living nearby? Will the formerly homeless people hang around the area with nothing to do all day? were some of their questions.

The answers:

* It’s wrong to assume that supportive permanent housing facilities for formerly homeless people are unsafe.

* Many residents of 90 Sands St. will get jobs and be busy working during the day.

“I understand people’s trepidation,” said City Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-DUMBO), who spoke to the group in the hallway.

But, he said, “supportive housing is not the same as a shelter. It does not have the same impact on the community.”

Levin said 90 Sands St. is an appropriate site for supportive housing.

Breaking Ground operates a 217-unit Boerum Hill supportive housing facility for low-income tenants and formerly homeless people called the Schermerhorn, which is within Levin’s City Council district.

He can’t recall getting a single complaint about the Schermerhorn in his 8½ years as a City Councilmember, he said.  

He chairs the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare, which has jurisdiction over the city Department of Homeless Services.

Breaking Ground President and CEO Brenda Rosen addresses a Community Board 2 meeting. 

RFR Had Paid $135 Million for the Tower

Breaking Ground has not yet closed on the purchase of 90 Sands St. After the Community Board 2 meeting, Rosen declined to answer a question from the Eagle about how much the building is going to cost.

The seller, RFR, had initially planned to turn 90 Sands St. into a 600-room hotel with former Studio 54 co-owner Ian Schrager, who rebuilt his lodging-industry career after going to prison for tax evasion. Schrager was later pardoned by President Barack Obama.

RFR bought 90 Sands St. from the Watchtower for $135 million last year, city Finance Department records show. Kushner Cos. had planned to be a co-purchaser but ultimately chose not to be part of the transaction. The real estate firm was headed by Jared Kushner until he stepped aside to serve as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

The sale of 90 Sands St. was part of a years-long campaign by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to liquidate their once-massive real estate holdings in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights because they moved their world headquarters out of the area to upstate Warwick, N.Y.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment