Cycle Of Building Life

An empty, once blighted lot will be turned into affordable senior housing in New Cassel. (Contributed rendering)

Senior housing planned at old elementary school site

Sean Rainey gently laughed when asked how quickly the proposed 76-unit affordable senior housing complex in New Cassel would get filled.

“In no time. In no time at all,” replied the executive director of the North Hempstead Housing Authority (NHHA).

He had just revealed the below-market rental rates at the planned facility and observed, “Where else can you get an apartment for that kind of money [on Long Island]?”

Rainey added that when the $25 million project begins accepting applications, the authority will hire an outside firm to hold a lottery to assign the coveted apartments. And lottery it is; Rainey noted that the waiting list for senior housing in his town tops 5,000 names.
On July 17, the Town of North Hempstead Town Board voted 7-0 to approve the NHHA’s site plan review for the 2.2-acre property at the corner of Grand Street and Broadway, adjacent to the authority’s Magnolia Gardens senior public housing building. For decades, the plot housed the Grand Street Elementary School, followed by several non-profits before falling into disuse. It was demolished by the town in 2014.

The review was the latest step in what Rainey said was a long process of bringing the project to fruition.

“Whenever I am out in the community speaking to our residents, I always hear about the need for affordable senior housing,” said Supervisor Judi Bosworth in a statement. “The Grand Street development will provide some of this much-needed senior housing in a convenient location within walking distance of local shopping and our “Yes We Can” Community Center. I am so pleased that, together with the town’s Housing Authority and support from the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal, we will be able to provide this for our aging residents.”

Rainey and Jessica Leis, a lawyer for the project, gave a presentation during the July 17 public hearing.

The 60 one-bedroom and 16 two-bedroom apartments in six separate two-story buildings will be limited to seniors 62 and older. An additional unit is reserved for the superintendent and will be part of a separate community building.

“They’re beautiful new apartments that have more of a residential feel than typical apartment buildings,” praised Leis. “They also complement the neighborhood.”

She added, “There’s a great need for affordable housing in the town and many people want to live in the community. As they grow older the traditional single-family home becomes too expensive to maintain.”

All apartments will be handicapped accessible or adaptable. The second-floor units will have stairlifts installed and the staircases will be wider than code to accommodate the lifts. All will have washers and dryers.

Rainey told Anton Media Group that the apartments will be restricted to those earning between 30 and 60 percent of the federally-calculated metropolitan area median income (AMI). One-bedroom rentals would range from $657 to $1,314. Two-bedrooms will start at $788 and top off at $1,516.

The project lies in Councilwoman Viviana Russell’s district, and she stated, “This is a great use of the property, and we have a great need for senior housing. We’re very pleased with the design and the parking and the density.”

Another benefit, she said, is that it will make a modest contribution to the tax base. It is currently a tax-exempt property.

Michael O’Donald of New Hyde Park asked about the property taxes. Rainey said that a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Nassau County will start at $35,000 per year with annual increases of 2 percent over 32 years, including the two-year construction period. Most will go to the Westbury School District, as determined by the county’s Department of Assessment.

In response to a query by O’Donald, Rainey said that public housing is no longer being built. He called Grand Street a “tax-credit development” and went on to note that governments, mainly through funding provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have a variety of programs to subsidize affordable housing.
“Without that kind of subsidy, without that kind of benefit, there is no way to [maintain the stock of affordable housing],” Rainey observed.

Planning Commissioner Michael Levine said his department has been working closely with the NHHA over the past three years to help guide the project through the many town and county reviews.

The town board agreed to a land swap with the NHHA, granting the Grand Avenue property in return for a similar-sized parcel in Port Washington which it turned into the Alvan O. Petrus Park. It also gained a strip of land from the NHHA spanning its two properties along Broadway in New Cassel. It will use these parcels for parking for the “Yes We Can” Community Center.

The town aided the future project by changing the zoning from Residence C to Senior Residence in February 2016. That same year, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted all necessary variances.

Georgica Green Ventures LLC of Jericho won the bid to develop the property and assume all the development costs and secure state and private funding. It has worked with the NHHA before to transform Spinney Hill Homes in Great Neck, and has been what is labeled a joint venture turnkey developer with other authorities. After completing the project, it will turn it over to the NHHA for management.

As part of the agreement, the town will get $800,000 to cover the costs of demolition and associated remedial activity at the old school, which had been a brownfield site subject to environmental clean-up.

Georgica bills itself as committed to creating affordable housing.

“As you can imagine, there aren’t that many developers for these type of [affordable] units,” Rainey told Anton Media Group. “They all want to do [market-rate] apartments.”

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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