By Sam Bojarski

In an attempt to address the lack of affordable housing across New York City, another development project led by a local church will provide housing opportunities for local seniors. 

“We need more housing, whether it’s senior, or whether it’s affordable housing,” said Rev. Samuel Nicolas, pastor at Evangelical Crusade of Fishers of Men, a Haitian-led congregation which initiated its own effort to build an 89-unit housing development in East Flatbush for low-income seniors. 

“Our people are being pushed out, rents are skyrocketing, and if the city can build more affordable housing, it is an excellent thing to do,” Nicolas also said. 

Until mid-August, Housing Connect will be accepting applications for an affordable housing development at 1921 Cortelyou Road, in Flatbush. The project, part of a partnership between Baptist Church of the Redeemer and the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), includes 76 total units, 29 of which are reserved for seniors and their families. 

The new development at 1921 Cortelyou Road, pictured here, will contain 76 housing units. Photo by Sam Bojarski

The units consist of two studios, 16 one bedroom and 11 two-bedroom apartments. Monthly rent ranges from $411 to $1,148, depending on an applicant’s income, according to information published by Housing Connect. Residents in the Community Board 14 area, which encompasses Flatbush, Midwood and parts of Kensington, will receive preference for 15 of the 29 units.

These 15 units “are leased first to residents of Community Board 14, and then it opens up to the whole city,” said Ismene Speliotis, executive director of MHANY, the nonprofit developer of the project. 

She also said that MHANY has a staff member fluent in Haitian Creole, who can provide assistance with the Housing Connect application. 

Many Haitian seniors in central Brooklyn are unable to receive housing assistance through programs like SCRIE, because their names are not the lease in the apartment where they reside, according to Yves Vilus, executive director of Erasmus Neighborhood Federation, which provides advocacy, counseling and education to tenants. The Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program prevents rent increases for senior tenants.

“This is a big problem, and that’s why some seniors are living in a room with other people, because they cannot afford an expensive apartment,” he said. 

“The line will be so long to get those apartments, because it’s not easy, we don’t have too many senior apartments around here,” Vilus said of the new development on Cortelyou Road. 

The multi-generational community of 76 units in total will also include supportive housing for formerly homeless men and women between the ages of 18 and 25. Residents of the other 29 units must have one household member who is 62 or older, in order to apply through the lottery. 

While she acknowledged that the overall need for senior housing in the community is great, Speliotis said that every little bit helps. 

“So we want people, especially neighborhood people, to make sure they’re applying,” she added. 

According to the apartment listing service RentCafe, which offers rent comparisons by neighborhood, the average rent in Flatbush is just over $2,000. 

“Seniors are living on a fixed income, and rents are rising,” said Nicolas. 

“The average senior doesn’t make that kind of money,” he said, about the average rent in the community.

The vision for the development at 1921 Cortelyou Road started about 12 years ago, when Baptist Church of the Redeemer was using a cathedral at the address for services. The congregation had shrunk in size over the years, and the building became less necessary. About 60 people now comprise the congregation, according to the church’s pastor, Rev. Sharon Williams. 

“This will kind of stabilize the neighborhood in a way, so that people who can afford a $2 million house can live in the same neighborhood as those who can afford $700 a month, and we’re looking forward to that,” she said. 

When Evangelical Crusade sold the site of its former church at 1488 New York Avenue, it invested nearly $2 million back into its own plans for a housing development at the location. Nicolas said the application process for the 89 senior housing units that will be available at the site is currently scheduled to open in February. 

He commended Baptist Church of the Redeemer for pioneering its own separate effort. 

“I applaud them for their foresight in doing this, and I continue to encourage other churches to do (likewise), that have properties that way,” he said.

MHANY came into the picture more than four years ago, after Church of the Redeemer unsuccessfully tried to work with other developers. Speliotis said the new development will consist of a church and apartments. The buildings will be connected but maintain separate identities. 

The residential building also includes three community rooms, available for events, group meetings, counseling and other activities. In addition, the social services nonprofit Brooklyn Community Services will have personnel on site to serve both adolescents and seniors. The $38 million project was funded by New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) department, tax credits and funds allocated by Haitian-American Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, who represents District 40. Bank of America also provided financing for the project, according to Speliotis 

Councilmember Eugene’s office has not responded to a message requesting comment.

“We’re really excited, because it’s really creating an intergenerational community between the young people between 18 and 25, families, and then the seniors, so it’s a real mixed community that we’ve been able to pull together,” Speliotis said. 

According to NYC Housing Connect, 15 of the 29 units that will house seniors are reserved for applicants making 40 percent area median income (AMI) or less. Fourteen units will be available for those making up to 60 percent AMI ‒ or $47,760 for a one-person household. The lottery will remain open through Aug. 18. 

Rev. Williams said she anticipates construction on the building to conclude in September. 

“We’re really looking forward to celebrating with our neighborhood that this building is going up, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s going to impact people’s lives in a very positive way, and that’s a good feeling,” she added. 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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