Seniors at the Williams on the Upper West Side can stay in the Salvation Army-owned building until the end of 2017, at which point they can either move to a similar facility in East Harlem or take a $500 payment and find housing elsewhere, according to a deal reached between the organization and residents.
A similar deal — in outcome if not particulars — was blocked by the State Attorney General’s office in 2014 and opposed by local elected officials. Since that time, those same officials say, negotiations have occurred behind the scenes to gain concessions from the Salvation Army, which seemed bent on selling the property despite community opposition.
“We really made the Salvation Army come to the table and we held their feet to the fire,” said Upper West Side Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who has helped organize tenants in the building since the Salvation Army’s intentions became known two years ago.
The Williams, at 95th Street and West End Avenue, is a 352-unit affordable housing residence owned by the Salvation Army that offers low-income seniors certain services like meals and physical therapy. The Salvation Army declined to comment for this story except to say that the deal affects 162 current residents in the building. In 2014 there were 192 residents. The organization has been keeping vacated units empty in anticipation of selling the building.
Under the current deal, which was inked in state Supreme Court last summer, residents agree to vacate the Williams by Dec. 31, 2017, or when a new facility in East Harlem is ready, whichever is later. The Salvation Army will also hire professional movers to pack and unpack residents moving to the East Harlem facility at 125th Street and Third Avenue, which is under construction, and will also hire professional movers to pack those who decide to live elsewhere but will not provide unpacking services for those individuals.
Other concessions include a three-year rent freeze at the East Harlem facility. Those residents who signed the agreement forfeit their right to sue the Salvation Army, and those who do not sign the agreement are subject to eviction, according to the court agreement.
The rent freeze and $500 for moving expenses for those who elect to part ways with the Salvation Army was not part of the 2014 deal.
Major James Betts of the Salvation Army told the Spirit in 2014 that the Williams is in need of over $20 million in renovations, money the Salvation Army doesn’t have. He characterized the deal as necessary to keep the organization operating in Manhattan and in keeping with the Salvation Army’s mission. The sale price of the Williams in 2014 was $109 million. It is not known if terms have changed in the intervening months.
As a nonprofit charity, the Salvation Army must receive approval for any sale of a major asset from the state, and is subject to oversight from the Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, which in 2014 filed a motion in state Supreme Court to block the transaction, questioning its legality and fairness. Local elected officials, including Rosenthal and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, also opposed the deal.
Schneiderman’s office said they played a role in brokering the agreement, and raised many objections to the 2014 deal, and feel the current agreement is much more fair to residents.
Tenants contacted by the Spirit declined to comment for this story. They previously expressed dismay over having to move to a different neighborhood at this stage in their lives, and some said they were guaranteed by the Salvation Army that they could live out their days in the building.
“I think they’re resigned to the fact that the Salvation Army has legal authority to do what it’s doing, and it’s definitely ended up in a better place than when it started,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said she’d like to see the residents to be able to stay, and that part of the Salvation Army’s mission is to take care of these seniors.
“It’s very difficult to accept the fact that they walked away from that commitment,” she said.
Brewer was similarly disappointed.
“I find the Salvation Army to be very disingenuous. I mean this is a nonprofit, they should have kept their building on the Upper West Side, not fold it,” she said.
Brewer questioned why the Salvation Army declined overtures from the city, including the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and elected officials to work on a deal that would preserve the affordable housing at the Williams.
“They’re hard to work with, it’s a crying shame these residents can no longer stay on the Upper West Side, that we lost this affordable housing,” said Brewer. “It makes me very angry.”
Brewer also noted many of the seniors that live at the Williams have entrenched themselves in the local community – with its nearby subway and bus stations as well as a Gristedes grocery store – and will now have to acclimate to a different part of the city at a later stage in life.
Brewer said a host of elected officials and agencies, including the Attorney General’s office, Rosenthal, Community Board 7, tenants and Brewer’s own office, all tried to stop the deal.
“I wish we could’ve stopped it, it wasn’t from lack of trying,” she said. “Everybody tried together we tried everything and we were not able to stop it.”