Lottery Launched for Affordable Housing in Old Witness Dormitory with DoBro Support Units

Starting this summer, a renovated Dumbo Hotel will house hundreds of individuals and families as 90 Sands Street reopens with 490 affordable and supportive housing units – and the lottery for nearly 200 affordable housing units is now open.

Until June 2, New Yorkers earning between $18,000 and $128,000 a year can apply for one of 185 studios and one-bedroom apartments in the 29-story building, which once housed long-term volunteers with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Breaking Ground, a non-profit organization that operates thousands of units affordable supportive housing and a number of shelters across the city, purchased the building in 2018 with plans to turn the skyscraper into one of their signature developments.

Due to open to tenants this summer, 90 Sands will house both the 185 affordable apartments and the 305 support units for formerly homeless people. Unlike a shelter, supportive housing is permanent, affordable housing, with social services to help keep each individual or family in their home.

The view from 90 Sands Street. Photo via Breaking Ground

“Our first four buildings we opened were all conversion projects,” said Amie Pospisil, Breaking Ground’s chief operating officer. “All in Manhattan, which has over 1,200 units, so we’re certainly familiar.”

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, alongside the New York City Council, funded a significant portion of the $170 million building’s purchase, while the renovations were funded by through the HPD Supportive Housing Loan Project and the New York City Housing Development Corporation.

In general, Pospisil said, 60% of units in the Breaking Ground housing estate are support units for formerly homeless people, and 40% are designated “affordable,” meaning they are income-limited. In this building, affordable units are available for households earning between 30 and 120 percent of Area median income. The cheapest studio rents for $537 per month.

“It really feels like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be able to open a building of this size and in this location,” Pospisil said. “It’s not something that comes up often. So to be able to bring the volume of units into this space is really quite remarkable.

According to census data compiled by the city, the median household income in Community Board 2, which includes Downtown Brooklyn, was $100,000 from 2015 to 2019, with 24,000 households earning more than 165% of the AMI, or more than $137,000 per year for an individual.

But the region’s wealth disparity is large, with 10,000 households considered “extremely low-income” by federal standards, and 39% of all households paying more than 30% of their annual income in rent. According to New York University’s Furman Center, the average rent in CB2 was $2,260 in 2019.

At 90 Sands, the cheapest units will be rented to sole tenants earning between $18,412 and $25,080 per year and the most expensive to those earning between $73,098 and $100,320.

“For people in the shelter system, moving into this affordable housing provides a real answer for both people who are in the shelter and working, working, but need this affordable, subsidized housing,” said Possil. “It’s also, frankly, in many ways prevention. Having affordable housing provides people with the opportunity to have housing and stability in their lives that will prevent them from moving into the shelter system and help break these cycles of homelessness.

According to data from the city’s Department of Homeless Services, more than 400 people living in the city ​​shelter system had last lived in CB2 in 2020. When a person enters the shelter system, they cannot choose which shelter they will enter, often being sent to different neighborhoods or boroughs – wherever a bed is available.

workers throwing a mattress

Hundreds of homeless encampments have been “swept away” by the city in recent weeks, but very few people have chosen to head for shelter. Permanent supportive housing is a much better way to get people off the streets permanently, Pospisil said. Photo of Dean Moses

This number does not include the number of homeless people living on the streets, in subway stations or in vehicles. The city’s most recent survey counted just 117 “homeless” homeless people living in all of Brooklyn in January 2021, but defenders say these numbers are usually artificially low.

In March, Mayor Eric Adams announced that a special event task force would clean up 150 homeless encampments across the city by the end of the month. These cleanups would include outreach workers offering people places to stay in the city’s shelters.

By early April, the NYPD had swept through more than 300 encampments – but only five people had decided to go to shelters in the city by March 30. Gothamist reported. Dangerous conditions, strict rules and instability make the shelter system a dangerous and usually temporary solution.

But 98% of people who move into Breaking Ground’s permanent affordable housing stay long-term, Pospisil said.

“It is housing that is best in class and best practice for ending chronic homelessness,” she said. “It’s really the solution to help people on the street access housing.”

On-site services are intended to help people stay in place for the long term, even if their circumstances change.

“People, sometimes, when they move into supportive housing when they first move in, look very different from what they might need five years later,” Pospisil said. “So the services are really meant to be scaled and titled to meet people wherever they are in this permanent housing cycle.”

It may look like helping to mend relationships with estranged family members or preparing to re-enter the workforce.

As affordable units are filled in the lottery, people will apply for formerly homeless units across the city, Pospisil said. Some will be referred to the program through street outreach programs in Brooklyn and throughout the city, and others will come from the shelter system.

Despite the success of the supportive housing system, the supply is extremely limited.

“For four or five applicants for affordable housing, there is only one housing available,” she said. “That doesn’t even take into account people who haven’t applied yet. There are many different ways of thinking or talking about prioritizing people for available units, but if we had enough units we wouldn’t have to.

Breaking Ground is still looking for eligible buildings, Pospisil said, and the prospect of a conversion underutilized hotels support is something even Adams has come up with, but the process to get such a venture approved is onerous. This is something she would like to see the city and state government take the initiative, she said. But so far, the opening of 90 Sands is a great achievement.

“The volume, and being able to do it right now in this place is really special and important and we’re really excited to be able to do that,” she said.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story originally appeared in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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