March 1, 2018 By Tara Law
An affordable senior housing complex is likely to go up on a 31st Street municipal parking lot.
Councilmember Costa Constantinides announced plans at a press conference today to build a 100-to 150-unit affordable housing complex for seniors on a city-owned parking lot, located at 32-11 31st St— steps from the Broadway (N/W) subway station.
The proposal is part of Constantinides’ overarching plan, announced at his State of the District speech in January, to address a shortage of senior housing by installing 500 senior affordable units in the neighborhood by the end of his term in 2021.
Constantinides described the property’s location as ideal, and said that he is going to work hard to secure it for the building.
“If I were to draw on a drawing board a location that was centrally located, that would have access to trains, access to the bus, access to churches, access to shopping, hospitals, I couldn’t draw up a better location,” the councilmember said.
Constantinides admitted that the proposal is “Not a done deal,” but said that he was in talks with the Department of City Planning and other city agencies to make it happen.
Constantinides has yet to put forward a timeline. The plans for the structure— including its size— have not been drawn up at this time. He noted that it would be a “long process.”
Before the building is constructed, the proposal would need to overcome several hurdles.
If handed over by the city, the 20,000 square foot property would need to go through the ULURP process for a zoning change, which would require the proposal to go before Community Board 1, the City Council and other governing bodies.
Constantinides acknowledged that the structure would eliminate parking, which is also a scarce resource in Astoria. However, he said that he believes that the seniors’ need for housing outweighs the need for the lot.
“I hear the drivers’ point of view,” the councilmember said. “We want to make sure that we hear that and respect that and look for solutions, but we want to make sure the seniors who are looking for an affordable place to live— that they have an opportunity to grow older in their communities.”
Constantinides said that his office is continuing to look for property to build affordable senior housing.
The proposal has come at a time of crisis for affordable senior housing in the city.
Over 200,000 seniors across the city are on waiting lists for affordable housing, according to a 2016 study by LiveON NY, a senior advocacy group. The study found that the seniors were on wait lists for an average of seven years, although some were on the waiting lists for as long as 10 years.
John Kaiteris, executive director for senior affordable housing provider HANAC, said at the press conference that factors such as gentrification and a growing population of seniors have compounded the need for additional senior housing.
HANAC operates three affordable housing projects in Astoria— the 100 unit Archbishop Iakovos Senior Residence at 32-06 21st Street; 66 units at HANAC PCA Senior Residence at 31-34 33rd Street; and the 184 unit George T. Douris Tower at 27-40 Hoyt Avenue South.
Kaiteris said that the need for affordable housing in Astoria has become “dire.” There are currently 28,000 seniors on the organization’s waiting list, but there are only 350 units in the group’s buildings.
Representatives from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn, which maintains 500 units of affordable senior housing in the district and a total of 4,000 units in Brooklyn and Queens, also attended the press conference.
Patrick Keating, the organization’s deputy CEO, said that these high numbers can be misleading because only two or three units become available each year.
“It’s almost impossible for people to move in, because people are living in the buildings,” said Keating.
Constantinides said that the most common concerns he hears from his constituents deal with housing. In addition to costs, accessibility is often a major concern for seniors.
Units in the new building would likely be available to seniors with an annual income of less than 50 percent AMI, or about $33,400 for an individual.
For 81-year-old Angelica Thomches, the new housing cannot come soon enough.
Thomches has been on a senior housing waiting list for five years. She reluctantly moved to Throgg’s Neck in the Bronx in 2013 after living on 33rd Street in Astoria for 46 years.
The hardest part about having to leave Astoria, Thomches said, is being cut off from friends. She said she must transfer twice to ride the subway into the neighborhood and scale numerous flights of stairs.
“I pray to God whenever I get on the train,” said Thomches.
Thomches also said that she misses attending St. Demetrios Cathedral, where she has been a parishioner since 1968.
“I go to church up there [in the Bronx]. It’s not the same,” said Thomches. “You miss the priest that you know.”
Despite the length of the wait list, Thomches is hopeful that she will find affordable housing in Astoria.
“I want to be with my friends,” said Thomches. “I want to spend my last years here.”