Karen Haycox, CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City

This piece appeared in The Villager, September 6th, 2018

We are thrilled to be co-developers on this innovative and impactful project that will result in 123 units of deeply affordable, L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly, senior housing and more than 8,000 square feet of public and open space in Little Italy — a neighborhood that may soon be completely void of 100 percent affordable projects due to lack of land and otherworldly property values.

Habitat NYC will also be the building’s anchor tenant.

Some attendees of that C.B. 2 meeting and a small number of respondents to our extensive community outreach efforts have expressed curiosity or even mistrust of Habitat NYC’s involvement in the project — some going as far as to believe that we have somehow been duped by our development partners or that we are part of the project in order to create a “halo effect.”

The truth of the matter and the strategy behind Habitat NYC’s decision to pursue this project is and will always be our desire to serve the most vulnerable of our neighbors. This is at the very core of our mission. Haven Green represents an opportunity for Habitat NYC to serve a sector of the community in genuine need, at an income level that we have been historically unable to reach.

Additionally, relocating our operations to this location at a favorable lease rate provides our organization with a stable foundation where we will be uniquely positioned to provide enhanced direct-service opportunities for our expanded preservation and revitalization work aimed at stabilizing critical affordable housing stock at the heart of Lower Manhattan’s diverse community fabric — limited-equity Housing Development Fund Corporation (H.D.F.C.) cooperatives.

There are about 155 H.D.F.C. co-op buildings with more than 2,800 units in Manhattan’s C.B. 2 and C.B. 3. Many of these buildings are at risk of becoming unsafe, unhealthy and unaffordable for the thousands of low-income individuals and families that call them home.

Habitat NYC’s space within Haven Green will also be a home for the community itself. The current design envisions a portion of the first floor functioning as flexible conference room space accessible to local nonprofit and community-based groups. This space will of course also be accessible to the garden groups to meet, plan and steward the garden, their blocks and their missions.

Habitat’s presence on site does not take away any community garden space, nor does it impact the number of residential units built. In other words, if Habitat NYC was not located in the project’s community-facility space, neither more garden space nor more rental units would be included.

A design rendering of part of the Haven Green project that the city hopes to build on the Elizabeth St. Garden. The image shows people in a tunnel-like outdoor walkway through the building that would connect Elizabeth St. to the remnant of the garden that would be preserved on Mott St. Under the city’s plan, Habitat NYC would also get more than 11,000 square feet of space in the new building for use for its own offices. Image courtesy NYC H.P.D.

Our presence positions Habitat for Humanity New York City as a mission-driven tenant, with a stable and convenient location for a dedicated team of experienced professionals to partner in engaging activities and programming in the community and open space. The project, of course, could go forward with another main-floor tenant within the same footprint, but the development team believes that Habitat NYC’s presence provides the neighborhood with an accessible, collaborative partner located within the building and invested in long-term stewardship of both the building and community space.

This move is also, in part, a homecoming. Habitat NYC got its start in New York City in the East Village through the renovation of Mascot Flats, an abandoned 19-unit tenement turned limited-equity cooperative. This E. Sixth St. building, whose residents are poised to pay off their mortgage later this summer, was followed directly by a second building on the same block.

Habitat NYC has historically brought people of all walks of life together to bridge our differences in pursuit of the common good. We have reached out with an open hand, and continue to do so, to the community to seek partnership and collaboration on this compromise project on Elizabeth St. that provides both housing and open green space. We invite all interested individuals and community groups to participate in the design and stewardship of the project’s open and public space by submitting input through our open survey on www.havengreencommunity.org and joining us in our series of participatory design charrettes, the next one on Sat., Sept. 15, at 1:30 p.m. at University Settlement in the neighborhood.

Habitat NYC is coming home and we plan to stay home for a long time. We are committed to working with the community to ensure our home continues to reflect the values of all our neighbors.