Low-income seniors have lost critical social services at their Section 8 building on the Upper West Side after the building owner, Atlantic Development Group, parted ways with the MET Council on Jewish Poverty, which was managing the building and providing free kosher lunches, crisis intervention, home care and other services.
The building, at 315 West 61st St., was built in 2007 with public financing and provides housing for qualifying low-income seniors. Residents had to be 62 years of age or older to live in the building when it was completed, according to Daniel Kassell, treasurer of the tenants association. Only about 10 percent of about 120 residents used the services provided by the MET Council, Kassell said, adding that the number of residents needing those services will increase as they age.
“The services were offered when we all signed our lease in 2007,” he said. “We chose to live here because MET Council offered social services.”
“Eventually everyone will have a health issue, be on a walker, and need social services,” he added.
Kassell said he is seeking pro-bono legal representation in an attempt to determine if residents are entitled to those services, but it’s unclear if they have a case. A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which maintains a regulatory agreement with Atlantic Development, said the agreement requires the building be affordable to seniors but does not require supportive services to be provided.
“We have encouraged the owner and the new property manager to continue meeting with tenants in order to be appropriately responsive to the needs of the elder population that lives there,” the spokesperson said.
According to the agency, there are three entities involved with the building: the owner, the property manager and the administering agent. The administering agent is required be a nonprofit entity that mostly insures incoming tenants are income-qualified. The MET Council functioned as the administering agent and the property manager, and offered the social services through a grant from the Nash Foundation.
Atlantic Development, however, recently dismissed the MET Council as property manager and hired Wavecrest Management, which does not offer social services. Wavecrest did not respond to a request for comment. A representative of HPD said it’s the agency’s understanding that Atlantic Development is currently looking for a nonprofit administering agent.
A spokesperson for Atlantic Development said the company is looking for an administering agent, and is not ruling out continuing their relationship with the MET Council.
“While the Met Council no longer manages the building, we have had conversations with them about providing the services residences have received in the past,” the spokesperson, Michael McKeon, said. “More recently, we have had talks with a number of other agencies about providing those services as well. We know residences are accustomed to these services so we hope to settle on a service provider in the near future.”
McKeon did not comment on why the company ended its relationship with the MET Council.
A MET Council spokeswoman said that while the organization “no longer has any authority to provide any social services in the building,” it did provide information to residents about available services from the Council and other providers.
“In addition, Met Council has submitted a proposal to provide social services at 315 w 61st St to Wavecrest Management,” the spokeswoman, Rena Resnick, said in an email.
But Helen Strong, president of the tenants association at 315 West 61st St., said she was unsatisfied with the level of service offered by the MET Council and is not holding Atlantic Development responsible for offering social services.
“They told us they’re a for-profit corporation and they do not provide social services,” Strong said of Atlantic Development. “I looked in our lease and there’s nothing in there about the landlord having to provide social services.”
Strong did agree with Kassell, however, that services will be needed in the future.
“They certainly need someone to come in one, two days a week to evaluate people,” she said. “You know it’s going to get worse down the line. In our age group when you start going down the line it’s going to get worse, not better. People are going to need help.”
Strong said she’s going to push for services offered by the city. “There’s help available,” she said.
Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said she’s working with residents and city agencies to see what services can be made available.
“From my perspective I’m getting the [NYC Department for the Aging] to send in a case work manager who is going to go door to door to see what these seniors need to connect them to services so we can at least get an understanding of what’s happening in the building and what the seniors need,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal also has a meeting this week with Strong, Wavecrest Management and Atlantic Development, “to discuss what should be done going forward.” Those options include reaching out to the Nash Foundation to see if funding will continue to be offered to residents of 315 West 61st St.
“We’ll see what type of services are really needed on site and if the Nash Foundation doesn’t come through we’ll see,” she said. “Unfortunately the original regulatory agreement does not requires social services to be provided on site.”
State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal is also seeing what can be done to replace the services for residents.
“I think it’s just dreadful for them,” the assemblywoman said. “Part of the deal for them when they moved in is that they would get those services.”
She said Atlantic Development should have had a replacement lined up for the MET Council before they parted ways. Last year the MET Council was rocked with scandal after it was revealed that its CEO, William Rapfogel, had stolen millions from the organization in an insurance fraud scheme. He was later sentenced to a prison term of 40 months to 10 years.
It’s unclear if the scandal is related to the MET Council being relieved of its management duties at 315 West 61st St. Regardless, said Assemblywoman Rosenthal, the residents that were using the services and those who will need them in the future are currently exposed.
“Before [Atlantic Development] fired MET Council they should’ve had a plan in place,” she said. “In the meantime, the tenants are left without anything, and that’s unacceptable.”