Renovations are underway on more than 1,700 units of public housing in Upper Manhattan. The New York Housing Authority put together a collaborative team to repair and renovate the units spanning across 16 developments in Manhattan under the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together Program.
The units are located primarily in upper Manhattan, though improvements are also being made to units in Murray Hill and the Upper West Side.
In all, 3,000 residents will benefit from the renovations. Renovations started back in January 2021 and are projected to be complete by 2023.
“It is unfortunate that the conditions that these individuals and families have been living under, have been horrible, and they’ve endured it for such a long period of time,” said Yvonne Stennett, executive director at Community League of the Heights (CLOTH). “And it is really inhumane. So I think that correcting the ill that they have had to face, because of the lack of focus on their lives, it’s huge.”
Olga Lauriano lives at 99 Fort Washington, one of the senior developments that is currently under renovation, and serves as its tenant president. Her unit was renovated last month. Lauriano is handicapped, and, before the renovations, she did not have a handicapped sink or stove and her outlets were not low enough for her to reach. The tile was old and cracked and the base around the floor had holes where mice would scurry into the dimly lit unit.
Now, she is able to easily access everything in her apartment, the tile has been replaced and a new baseboard was installed. The mice are gone and Lauriano could not be happier, she said. LED lights have brightened up the room along with a fresh coat of paint on all the walls.
“And it looks so beautiful,” Lauriano said. “I’m looking at it, I don’t want to leave my home. … I’m happy here. I feel like a bride. You know how when you first get married and everything is new? That’s the way it is.”
PACT Renaissance Collaborative (PRC), a team of not-for-profit and for-profit partners that specialize in developing, maintaining and revitalizing affordable housing, is the development team in charge of financing, rehabilitating and managing the 16 properties. They were selected by the New York Housing Authority through a competitive process to undertake the initiative.
The New York City Housing Authority provides public housing in New York City, and is the largest public housing authority in North America.
Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) is serving as the social service provider for the PACT Renaissance Collaborative. CLOTH has provided over 3,000 units of affordable housing for the communities it serves since its founding in 1952.
“Everyone should be living as decently as anyone else,” said Stennett, who started as a youth counselor with CLOTH in 1979 and became the executive director in 1994.
Renovations for individual apartments include security upgrades and new kitchens, bathrooms, windows, doors and flooring.
Lauriano’s bathroom was also completely renovated to include extra handicap bars and a higher toilet. The closet was also renovated to be more accessible.
“I feel like I’m in Park Avenue,” Lauriano said. Adding, “I have a beautiful place. I’m so proud of it. You know, it’s so much easier for me to get around. And it’s easier for me to keep it clean.”
In-unit renovations are currently underway at Wise Towers, Washington Heights Rehab, Public School 139 and 99 Fort Washington.
Building-wide renovations can include roof repairs, facade work, elevator upgrades and replacements, mechanical systems upgrades, additional security systems and new heating systems, according to PACT Renaissance Collaborative. Design upgrades will include bold graphics and signage to provide visual interest and enhanced wayfinding that may be beneficial for senior residents.
Common areas, community centers, landscaping and playgrounds will also be enhanced if needed.
“I think at the end of the day, we will be able to make some really great strides in enhancing the lives of the over 1700 families that live in those developments,” Stennett said.
During the renovation process, current tenants have been able to and will continue to be able to remain in their apartments.
Throughout the renovations, CLOTH has provided programming for the residents including computer classes, film, yoga and Tai Chi classes. Through their Tech Talk program, CLOTH has helped their senior residents navigate technology use through the pandemic. CLOTH also focuses on the social, emotional and health needs of the residents.
“The amazing thing is to see my seniors happy,” Lauriano said.
CLOTH has made nearly 12,000 wellness calls to residents across the developments to ensure a smooth transition during the process.
“They’re here almost every day. And whatever problems they have, they talk to the seniors about it, and they become friends of the seniors.”
At the height of the pandemic, CLOTH delivered food to many of the residents through their food pantry and continues to provide food to residents when needed.
Lauriano was one of the people who received food from CLOTH during the pandemic.
“We really believe in making sure that we’re making someone’s life better than we found it,” Stennett said.
CLOTH has been working to address the root causes of poverty in northern Manhattan neighborhoods for nearly 70 years. Since its founding in 1952, CLOTH has helped support the Washington Heights, Inwood and Hamilton Heights communities through preserving affordable homes for families, providing free meals through their food pantry operation, education and implementing health and wellness programming.
In 2005 CLOTH established Community Health Academy of the Heights, a successful 6th to 12th Grade Public School that educates nearly 700 students annually with a 90% graduation rate. CLOTH also provides after school programs and summer camps.
“It’s really turned into a hub for the community. So I’m very proud of that,” Stennett said.
Through their technology center, CLOTH works with over 200 adults annually on literacy, computer skills, English as a second language and job training programs including home health aide training and certification .
CLOTH is located at 500 West 159 Street. Anyone is able to walk in and get help.
“I see that there’s so many injustices in the world, and I think if any of us can play a small part in eradicating some of those injustices by treating other people humanely; by just trying to be good people and do good work for one another, I think that’s what it is. That’s my calling,” Stennett said.