As Amy Lu, Project Manager for Win, the largest provider of shelter and supportive housing for New York City’s homeless families, succinctly states, “New York City has a constant need of housing for people experiencing homelessness.” Three prospective new projects funded by BlueHub in New York’s Bronx illustrate powerful and creative ways to answer this pressing need while pairing housing with critical services.
Comunilife is a 33-year-old nonprofit with a longstanding relationship with St. Barnabas Hospital. The hospital had some underutilized land, which they were interested in developing primarily as housing for low-income seniors and people experiencing homelessness. They approached Comunilife, and, with a $400,000 predevelopment loan from BlueHub, the project began to take shape.
As Michael O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Comunilife explains, “For a long time we have tried to mix affordable and supportive housing in most of our developments. This new project will have 68 units for frail elderly and another 14 units in which seniors can age in place. We will have onsite providers for some services; we will invite providers in to supply some services; and we will connect residents with outside providers for some services.” Many of those outside services will come from St. Barnabas. Illyse Kaplan, Comunilife Vice President for Development and Communications, elaborates. “St. Barnabas has been expanding their scope with a holistic approach to healthcare. They provide community members with everything they need to be healthy — not just medicine, but exercise opportunities, nutritional education and other support. The residents of our building will have access to that.”
Nearby, a proposed new development will transform Starhill, a 1920s hospital that has recently been functioning as a residential treatment facility. With a $1 million predevelopment loan from BlueHub, BronxPro and Services for the Underserved (SUS) are teaming up to build a new 320-unit facility; 200 units will be for homeless individuals with substance use disorders, the balance will be housing for people with low incomes. A second phase of development will add an additional 255 units of housing. Arlo Chase, SUS Senior Vice President of Real Estate and Property Development, shares the thinking behind the project. “The preferred treatment for addiction recovery is a 30-day inpatient stay, with a transition to permanent housing. But people struggle to find permanent affordable housing.” Now, Starhill will supply that longer-term need, and supply additional much-needed housing. “We are providing beautiful new homes for almost 600 households, 275 directly from the New York City shelter system.”
Development partner Samantha Magistro, Chief Executive Officer of BronxPro, adds, “Housing is a critical agent of change. We need to have clear intention in community development; we need to create more opportunities using fewer resources. Through this partnership with SUS we are able to support very vulnerable New Yorkers.”
Win also received an early-stage, predevelopment loan for two buildings in the Bronx — a 95-unit transitional housing facility for families, and a 223-unit permanent housing building with 133 units reserved for permanent supportive housing and 90 units of affordable housing. Lu describes the project as an opportunity for Win to scale the work they have long been doing, providing wrap-around services for their residents. “This encompasses all of what we provide at Win,” she says. She also speaks of the value of co-locating the two housing types. “Being in community, having the chance to move from one housing type to the other in the same location is far less trauma-inducing. Residents see the same faces, they know the neighborhood, they retain a level of comfort.” She is also grateful for BlueHub’s $500,000 loan. “Without having lending partners like BlueHub, a nonprofit like ours would have significant challenges self-developing a project of this size.”
O’Donnell echoes that sentiment. “It really is essential for nonprofits to have access to working capital for these sorts of projects. A well-established developer might have money in the bank from a previous project; nonprofits tend not to have a lot of extra resources. A predevelopment loan is a critical piece of the puzzle that can typically take several years to gather. Having that access to capital can make all the difference in whether someone like us can undertake a project or not.”