This restoration of a large derelict hotel building in New York has provided affordable accommodation for 416 low-income key workers and homeless persons in the city. As well as being recognised as the most affordable way to provide supportive housing, the integral social support system also improves the economic and social self-sufficiency of the residents, enabling them to move on to non-supportive housing. Neighbourhood community regeneration is a key element of the project, which has been widely recognised as a model for the provision of socially, economically and environmentally sustainable supportive housing and has been replicated both nationally and internationally.
Aims and Objectives
- To restore an abandoned hotel into permanent supportive housing for 416 low-income and formerly homeless individuals.
Homelessness and housing affordability for low-income key workers are major housing problems in New York, as in many other large cities around the world. In New York this is particularly the case, where the poor quality of housing stock and high eviction rates exacerbates the problems caused by a shortage of stock. This has resulted in a rapidly rising number of people living on the streets, many of whom are ill, older persons or drug users.
Common Ground Community (CGC) is a non-profit housing and community development organization whose mission is to solve homelessness. The organisation works to create safe and supportive communities by providing affordable housing for vulnerable individuals who are homeless and in need of support. Since 1991, Common Ground has provided permanent housing to 3,187 individuals.
The Prince George is one of the CGC’s projects that successfully demonstrates how redundant hotel buildings can be restored to provide affordable and supportive accommodation for low-income workers and homeless persons. The Prince George building was built in 1904 as a 14 storey residential and tourist hotel. It boasted the country’s largest lobby and a spectacular example of Beaux Arts/Georgian Revival Design. After decades of gradual decline however, it had become by the 1980s one of the most notorious NYC hostels for homeless families with 1,700 adults and children living there and rampant crime. It was closed in 1990 and remained vacant until 1996.
In 1997 the Common Ground Community purchased the hotel, using funds from a range of sources raised within the city. Extensive renovations were carried out and it now provides 416 high quality individual studio apartments for a mix of formerly homeless and low-income individuals. Each apartment has its own bathroom and kitchenette. Welcoming communal spaces and facilities have also been provided within the hotel, including areas for relaxation in the beautifully restored Beaux Arts lobby and in two outdoor patio-gardens, one with fine views over the city. A fitness centre, computer laboratory, laundry room and a quiet reading room are also available for 24 hour use by residents.
The current fifty per cent of tenants are single adults who have low paid jobs in New York and who could not afford to live near their work. The other fifty per cent are formerly homeless people who lived on the streets, many of them with special needs. The majority of residents (53%) are aged 30-49, with only 15 per cent being aged 20-29. Over half of the homeless tenants have special needs, such as mental illness, HIV/AIDS or a history of drug abuse. Support to tenants is offered via on-site social services and mental health support, including case management, psychiatric services, information and referrals to community services. In 2005, the average income of CGC’s supportive housing tenants increased by $2,874 to $15,332.
Local community involvement is felt to be vital and neighbourhoods in the locality were encouraged to get involved in the project. Existing tenants are involved in the planning and development of new projects, identifying improvements and special needs that could be better met. Regular meetings are held with tenants in the Prince George to identify areas for improvement in the management and provision of other facilities.
The total capital cost of the project was $48 m ($115,000 per bed-space). Half of the total capital funding came from low-interest 30 year loans funded by the state and the city. The other half came from the sale of both low-income housing and historic preservation tax credits. $8.3 m of bridge financing was provided by a range of banking corporations. All residents pay 30 per cent of their income for their rent and can stay as long as they like, even if their income increases.
Common Ground Community continues to innovate and extend its work. In 2004 Common Ground and partner Good Shepherd Services launched the ‘Foyer’; a housing-based career development program. The program provides upto two years of supportive housing and help in securing a steady job, pursuing trianing and education, establishing a savings account, and ultimately finding an affordable apartment.
Believing prevention to be the best cure, CGC also focus their efforts on those most at risk of losing their homes. The HomeLink programme has worked with nearly 300 families and individuals who were either on the verge of becoming homeless, or in need of help to stabilize their housing.
Further innovative approaches are being developed as CGC work towards meeting its goal of helping to break the cycle of homelessness and dependency.
Why is it innovative?
- Solving problems of homelessness and dereliction of historical buildings in one project.
- Mixed tenancy of low-income and homeless people has formed a productive community.
- New standards for historic preservation have been set.
- Bringing together a diverse range of funding sources, not all of them traditionally associated with housing of homeless people.
- Developing a more cost-effective form of supportive housing than any that currently exist in New York.
- Using accommodation for former homeless people as a focus for community activity and neighbourhood regeneration.
What is the environmental impact?
The restoration of The Prince George building was carried out in an environmentally sensitive manner, with re-use of materials wherever possible and with the building design and appliances seeking to reduce the water and energy consumption of the building. Similar projects completed since the Prince George have further increased the environmental specifications of the restoration.
Is it financially sustainable?
One of the innovative elements of this project is the way in which CGC has been able to bring together both capital and revenue financing from a range of sources. By using the cheapest capital available and accessing a range of tax credits and low-cost bridging loans the costs of debt servicing are kept to a minimum. Property tax exemptions and grants from Foundations further assist the project’s financial position and all social service support costs are met by its partner organisation, the Centre for Urban Community Services, thus releasing the rental income to meet property management costs.
In 2005, Common Ground opened the Prince George Ballroom and adjoining World Monuments Fund Gallery as an event rental space. The year long restoration of the 4,800 square-foot Ballroom and adjacent gallery space provided an opportunity for a unique collaboration between Common Ground and other not-for-profit organizations. This not only provided employment opportunities, but has generated income for CGC’s programs.
What is the social impact?
The security of being able to live in a clean, secure, affordable and community oriented environment has vastly improved the quality of life for many Prince George residents. A range of social support services are provided by the municipal authorities at the Prince George to help those residents who needs of additional support. Mixed tenant placement in the building means that low-income and former homeless people live next to each other and this fosters tolerance and modelling of individual behaviours. A range of workshops (cooking, yoga, tax preparation, Spanish conversation, art) are available for tenants to take part in.
CGC has experienced a steadily increasing unsolicited demand for development and management assistance from housing groups and government agencies throughout the country. It has set up a Replication Unit to work with groups outside of NYC. This group is currently engaged in four projects regionally, in Rochester and Newburgh, New York and Hartford and Willimantic in Connecticut. The Replication Unit works with groups based further a field, including New Orleans, Louisiana and Adelaide, South Australia. A London based volunteer organisation called City Well is currently being helped to establish a similar project in London, England.
CG continues to seek new sites in NYC to continue replicating its work, with preparation underway for residences in downtown Brooklyn (the 217-unit Schermerhorn House), Brownsville, Brooklyn (for elderly homeless), the Lower East Side of Manhattan (264-units) and the South-Bronx (196-units).
Projects have also been developed based on the European ‘Foyer’ model (a two year housing-based career development program for young adults), and to work with military veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (HOPE for New Veterans).
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