The community of nuns who own the sprawling Angel Guardian Home in Dyker Heights should turn it into affordable housing for the area’s senior citizens, said many seniors and locals at an Oct. 21 public forum on the future of the building led by a citizen committee formed to protect the space from developers.
The neighborhood is in dire need of more senior housing, said one of the leaders of the committee at the group’s first public event, which drew at least 100 concerned locals to Basilica of Regina Pacis on 65th Street.
“We support senior housing because there is such a need,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, a member of the Guardians of the Guardian committee, which formed last year after this paper broke the news that the Sisters of Mercy would sell the space. “There are thousands and thousands and thousands of people in our community that need senior housing, and it’s not available.”
The Sisters of Mercy constructed the building in 1899 and operated it as an orphanage until the 1970s. The grounds fill an entire block — roughly the size of three football fields — bounded by 12th and 13th avenues and 63rd and 64th streets, and now house the offices of the foster care program of sister organization Mercy First, as well as the Narrows Senior Center, run by Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens. The lot is zoned for rowhouses, and a developer could build up to three stories on the land, city records show.
Vella-Marrone said that 20 percent of Dyker Heights residents are more than 60 years old — far more than can be accommodated by the area’s only affordable senior housing development, Shore Hill in Bay Ridge. Shore Hill has 558 apartments for seniors — 325 studios and 233 one-bedrooms — with 450 local seniors on a waiting list just for the studios, she said.
The Guardians of the Guardian did not submit a bid for the property by the Sisters’ Oct. 25 deadline, but circulated petitions and organized a letter-writing campaign that led nearly 1,000 Brooklynites to appeal to the Sisters to select a developer who will create affordable senior housing, along with support services.
“We don’t just want a big building — we want green space, amenities, and support services,” Vella-Marrone said.
The only organization known to have made an official bid aimed at creating affordable senior housing is the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, before the deal fell through after the diocese claimed that a financial analysis showed that the project wasn’t viable.
A representative from the diocese at the Saturday meeting presented the proposal, which calls for more than 90 mixed-income apartments for seniors who make 30–130 percent of the area median income of $90,000, medical and support services, and a space that could possibly be used as a public primary school, to be determined in later negotiations. The representative added that the building’s proposed senior center, dining room, and recreation facilities in the sought-after space would all be open to the public.
“It is our belief that in the right environment, seniors can enjoy a very rich, a very rewarding, and a very healthy lifestyle,” said Monsignor Alfred LoPinto.
Catholic Charities’ bid is one of five or six the Sisters of Mercy has received. The Sisters told this paper earlier this year that they aimed to sell the building to an affordable-housing developer, an idea supported by local seniors at the Saturday forum.
“There’s no place for the seniors to go. It’s terrible around here,” said Pauline Castagna, who lives across from the Angel Guardian site.
Local pols and officials have supported including a new school in any development, since the local school district is the most overcrowded in the city, with all schools at least 130 percent over-capacity, according to the district manager of Community Board 10. But many seniors at the meeting weren’t convinced.
“We have enough schools,” Castagna said.
Vella-Marrone added that the Guardians of the Guardian are not looking for a school to fill the space and don’t support that component of the Catholic Charities’ bid.
“The only thing he has in there that we object to is the school,” she said. “Everything else is beautiful. We want the green space, we want to keep the old structure if we could.”
The Sisters of Mercy did not return a request for comment by press time.
©2017 Community News Group
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