Bedford-Stuyvesant

Have you seen the Jehovah’s Witnesses hotel that will house formerly homeless New Yorkers?

There are are Bed-Stuy and Weeksville properties you should know about too.

February 20, 2020 Lore Croghan
Borough President Eric Adams has approved three Brooklyn affordable-housing projects. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Three thumbs up from Eric Adams.

Brooklyn’s Borough President has approved plans for three affordable housing developments for which zoning changes are being sought. Two of the projects focus on seniors and formerly homeless people.

The site of one of the projects, which is in DUMBO, was formerly a hotel the Jehovah’s Witnesses used as a residence for their members. The Watchtower sold this property at 90 Sands St. when it moved its world headquarters from Brooklyn Heights upstate to Warwick, New York.

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The other project sites are in Crown Heights’s Weeksville section and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Borough presidents are called upon to approve, disapprove and suggest modifications for development projects when rezoning is involved. Their recommendations are part of a legally mandated process called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

Adams is concerned about the lack of affordable housing for seniors in Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn has in many ways become the victim of its own success. Our growing popularity as a place to live, work and raise a family has put upward pressure on housing prices throughout the borough, forcing out many long time residents and leaving many more households severely rent burdened,” he said in a statement.

“These changes have fallen particularly hard on our seniors, who are often living on fixed incomes,” he added.


According to a report last year by Adams and the New York Academy of Medicine, about 46 percent of nearly 2,000 Brooklyn seniors who were surveyed said affordable housing wasn’t available to them in the borough.

A Center for an Urban Future study says Brooklyn’s older adult population increased by 18 percent between 2007 and 2017, to 357,855 from 304,166.

All along the Watchtower

The development plan Adams approved for 90 Sands St. entails the conversion of the former Watchtower hotel into 305 apartments for formerly homeless people, plus 202 affordable apartments for extremely-low-income to moderate-income tenants.

Breaking Ground plans to convert 90 Sands St., which is the tower at right, into housing for formerly homeless people and extremely-low-income to moderate-income tenants. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Breaking Ground plans to convert 90 Sands St., which is the tower at right, into housing for formerly homeless people and extremely-low-income to moderate-income tenants. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

The developer is supportive-housing provider Breaking Ground. An organization called the Center for Urban Community Services will provide tenants onsite services such as mental health care and employment readiness guidance.

The property is a 29-story tower located near the Manhattan Bridge’s pedestrian entrance. The tower is a neighbor to a multi-building, techie-friendly office development called DUMBO Heights.

Breaking Ground told the borough president it will “make a concerted effort to target seniors,” especially lower income ones, when seeking applicants for 90 Sands St.’s affordable housing lottery, Adams wrote in his recommendation about the project. Adams had asked Breaking Ground to do outreach to seniors, including formerly homeless ones.

Community Board 2 approved the project in December.

Breaking Ground is grateful for Adams’ support, President and CEO Brenda Rosen told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“Brooklyn is in desperate need of more housing for the homeless, seniors and low income families, and we’re one step closer to delivering 508 affordable units to DUMBO that will cater to vulnerable New Yorkers,” Rosen said on Wednesday.

“Just today, the City Planning Commission approved our 90 Sands plan, and it will move to the final step of the ULURP process with the City Council. If fully approved this spring, we will be able to bring these units online starting in 2021,” she added.

Remember Studio 54?

The Sands Street property is currently zoned for manufacturing, and residential use isn’t allowed.

Here’s another look at 90 Sands St., which will be turned into housing for formerly homeless people and extremely-low-income to moderate-income tenants. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
Here’s another look at 90 Sands St., which will be turned into housing for formerly homeless people and extremely-low-income to moderate-income tenants. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

The Jehovah’s Witnesses had been permitted to house their members in the tower, and Breaking Ground executives had hoped that use would be grandfathered in for their project.

Breaking Ground bought 90 Sands St. for $170 million from developer RFR, which had purchased it from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for $135 million, city Finance Department records indicate.

Before selling the property, RFR planned to turn it into a hotel in partnership with Ian Schrager, the former co-owner of Studio 54, the disco where celebrities hung out. Schrager, who went to prison for tax evasion, rebuilt his career in the hotel industry and later received a pardon from President Barack Obama.

Seniors’ rents from $377 per month

Adams also approved development plans for 1559-1563 Prospect Place in Weeksville. The site is vacant land that belongs to the City of New York. ULURP scrutiny is required when the city disposes of property.

The Settlement Housing Fund and Beechwood Organization plan to construct affordable housing on Prospect Place in Weeksville. Rendering by Edelman Sultan Knox Wood
The Settlement Housing Fund and Beechwood Organization plan to construct affordable housing on Prospect Place in Weeksville. Rendering by Edelman Sultan Knox Wood

The Settlement Housing Fund, a social services provider, is the lead co-developer. The Beechwood Organization is the general contractor and co-developer. All the units in the eight-story, 45-unit apartment building will be affordable.

Twenty-six of the apartments will be set aside for low income seniors and eight units will be for formerly homeless people.

The Settlement Housing Fund’s involvement in the development will help ensure the apartments will remain permanently affordable, Adams noted in his written recommendation.

The seniors’ units will be rented for $377 to $683 per month to people with annual earnings between $19,000 and $32,000, Adams’s recommendation said.

Helping seniors find affordable housing and remain in their communities is one of his “top policy objectives,” he wrote in this recommendation.

Weeksville Heritage Center is a neighbor

The development will be called Weeksville Place, Settlement Housing Fund executives said at a Community Board 8 meeting last June.

These drawings show some of the details of the Weeksville affordable-housing development’s design. Rendering by Edelman Sultan Knox Wood via the Department of City Planning
These drawings show some of the details of the Weeksville affordable housing development’s design. Rendering by Edelman Sultan Knox Wood via the Department of City Planning

The community board approved the project in December.

Between 1979 and 1985, the City of New York foreclosed on the three lots that make up the development site because their owners didn’t pay property taxes, Finance Department records indicate.

The site is a block away from Weeksville Heritage Center, a museum with 19th century houses from a community that free black people created before the Civil War. Existing buildings would prevent shadows cast by the development from reaching Weeksville Heritage Center’s grounds and garden, the project’s Environmental Assessment Statement says.

The Settlement Housing Fund and the Beechwood Organization didn’t respond to requests for comment about the project.

Seven separate sites

The Department of City Planning calls the third development Adams approved the Rochester Suydam project. It will be built on seven vacant, city owned sites that are grouped in three clusters.

Here’s the massing for part of the Rochester Suydam development. Drawing via the Department of City Planning
Here’s the massing for part of the Rochester Suydam development. Drawing via the Department of City Planning

Cluster 1 includes 440-444 Herkimer St. and 421-423 Herkimer St.

Cluster 2 includes 35-37 Rochester Ave., 18-22 Suydam Place and 816 Herkimer St.

Cluster 3 includes 335 Ralph Ave. and 329-331 Ralph Ave.

The Briarwood Organization is the developer in partnership with Fulcrum Properties and Jobe Development. The trio plans to construct seven small buildings with a total of 78 affordable co-op apartments that would be sold to buyers earning 80 percent to 110 percent of area median income, with the majority of the units for buyers at 100 percent AMI, Adams wrote in his recommendation.

Income for a family of four at 80 percent AMI is $85,360 per year. Annual earnings for a family of four at 100 percent AMI are $106,700.

Adams approved the project with the conditions that there must be a mechanism to keep the apartments permanently affordable, even if they are re-sold, and that the number of apartments for moderate-income families earning 80 percent to 90 percent of area median income should be increased.

Community Board 3 approved the project in December.

The Briarwood Organization didn’t respond to a request for comment about the Rochester Suydam project.

If you liked this story, read about development plans for a Fulton Ferry Historic District site.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.


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2 Comments

  1. Reporter1

    Adams support of the Dumbo project is short-sighted and ill-advised. Projects designed to help the homeless secure housing should use public funds in a fiscally responsible manner. The purchase of a facility in a zip code that is reputed to have the highest housing costs in the state does not meet this criterion. The developer who sold this property made a sizable profit on the sale of building, all of which will be made at taxpayer’s expense through government financed bonds and other arcane tax breaks. The Breaking Ground program — which is funded mostly by taxpayers — will be paying luxury prices to meet the basic housing needs of the people it serves. Furthermore, because Breaking Ground is a nonprofit corporation, it will not pay property taxes, another ongoing cost to the city. As taxpayers, we must ask, “Is this the most prudent expenditure of current and future tax dollars?” I think not.

    At the present time, the city has a balanced budget, as required by law, but its fiscal outlook is not that certain. We will need to spend billions – under court order – to repair public housing and a similar, but unknown amount to close Rikers Island and build community-based jails. All of this is occurring at a time of rising interest rates which means higher long-term costs to the City. The Health and Hospitals Corporation – the primary source of medical care for the poor in New York City – is running an enormous deficit. I could provide many more examples, such as the rapid rise in the city’s workforce and its impact on future costs, but it is suffice to say that our City’s budget is destined to spiral upwards.

    As our city’s costs increase, we must also consider the potential impact of a downturn in the economy, something that is destined to happen. The social service agencies involved in this project depend heavily on taxpayer subsidies. In 2017, Breaking Ground received $31 million in government support and the Center for Urban Community Services received $36 million. Both organizations are highly dependent on their government funding sources. If and when the city’s tax base decreases, they will have to tighten their fiscal belts and cut services. I doubt that they will able keep any verbal promises made at public meetings when this happens.

    While Breaking Ground has many years of successful management, the same can be said of Federated Employment Guidance Services (FEGS) which, at one time, was the largest nonprofit (excluding medical centers) in New York City and was highly regarded throughout the nation. It closed several years ago, largely because of bad real estate decisions that drained its resources. As investment advisors are required to say, “Past performance does not guarantee future results.”

    Adams wants to take credit for promoting affordable housing in Brooklyn in support of his bid to become mayor. But if he wants to become mayor, he needs to take a course in economics and learn to become more fiscally responsible.