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Jamaica residents support rezoning proposal to build affordable housing for low-income seniors

A rendering of the proposed senior housing development and health center at 97-04 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica. (Photo courtesy of Bernheimer Architecture PLLC)

A proposal to build a senior housing facility and healthcare center in downtown Jamaica that would provide much-needed opportunities for the community was introduced during the Queens borough president’s Public Land Use Hearing held on Nov. 4. 

Breaking Ground, a nonprofit developer of senior housing and affordable housing for families, is seeking to construct a 15-story building at 97-04 Sutphin Blvd. that would include an on-site clinic operated by the Community Healthcare Network. 

If approved, construction will begin in July of 2022 and is slated for completion and start of occupancy in 2024. 

The proposed rezoning includes an extension of the C6-3 zoning district that is currently adjacent across 97th Avenue. Rezoning would increase the number of units for low-income seniors from from 96 to 173. 

The residential component of the project includes 173 units of senior housing with 60 bedrooms, 112 studios and one unit for the super. All 172 rental units will be for low-income seniors, and 52 units will be supportive housing for formerly homeless seniors aged 55 and up. 

The remaining 120 units will be for seniors aged 62 and up with an income up to 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

“Community Board 12 applicants will receive a preference of 60 units. All units will be subsidized by Section 8, enabling the project to serve extremely low-income seniors,” David Beer of Breaking Ground said.

Additionally, social services will be provided on site and seniors will be able to access geriatric care, mental health and behavioral services, adult medicine, pediatric and adolescent medicine, HIV education and dental care, among other services. 

The Community Healthcare Network, a nonprofit of 14 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in the four boroughs, will operate its new expanded clinic in the building to provide those services to residents and the surrounding community. 

For the proposed zoning, on-site parking will not be available, due to the healthcare clinic’s space needs on the ground floor, according to Beer. 

“Almost 30% of our units are occupied by seniors and very few own vehicles because almost all of the seniors have incomes below 30% AMI,” Beer said. “Breaking Ground will provide 12 subsidized parking spaces in a local lot or garage, where residents can pay out-of-pocket no more than $100 a month.”

The Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica (NHSJ), a 47-year-old organization committed to preserving, protecting and revitalizing neighborhoods, will perform outreach and marketing for the project and offer financial literacy training to building residents. 

According to Lori Miller, of NHSJ, of 88% of seniors who live in CB 12 and have requested assistance from them, 59% of those seniors are at or below the 30% median income level — which is $25,080. 

“In a community where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is going for $1,700, you’re talking about someone who has $5,000 left over at the end of that,” Miller said.

Several residents, who are members of Queens Power and the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, testified in support of the development. 

Reverend Patrick O’Connor said that it is critical to provide more access for seniors, as Jamaica has expanded creating more opportunities for some parts of the community, but not all. 

“All of us who lead institutions in Jamaica and southeast Queens realize there is a desperate need for quality housing for seniors,” O’Connor said. “If you provided 1,000 units tomorrow, they would be accessed by local residents.” 

According to Mercedes Clark-Gray, there are over 67,000 seniors in Queens living in poverty, and many are in desperate need of housing. 

“It’s hard to find housing and then the rent goes up, and what happens? You have to keep moving and that brings stress and anxiety in their lives,” Clark-Gray said. 

As a senior, Ollie Samuels says she understands the need for affordable housing in the area. 

“Whenever we see buildings starting to go up, we ask, ‘Is it for seniors? Is it affordable? Will I be able to get an apartment there?’” Samuels said. “I know what it’s like to be out there, knowing you won’t get an increase in salary, but an increase in rent.” 

Bishop Calvin Rice, a senior pastor of the New Jerusalem Worship Center, said the proposed project is helping those who are least able to help themselves. 

“I am helping four members of the congregation get senior housing, and one of them is an amputee. All five of them are non-drivers,” Rice said. “This would be the perfect place for them to get the services and healthcare they need.”

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, who represents the district, said the needed housing for the homeless, supported housing for seniors and healthcare for those in need are major, longstanding and citywide concerns. 

“As we move towards a more sustainable city, living at the nexus of the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road Terminal, JFK AirTrain, Archer Avenue Bus Terminal and Jamaica Avenue Busway, offers a multitude of transportation alternatives,” Adams said. “As for the height of the building, the current skyline of Jamaica points towards the direction of the neighborhood — up.”

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