Part of a long-delayed housing development on the Lower East Side has finally opened and was named on Tuesday after an activist who helped make the homecoming a reality.
Longtime activist Frances Goldin, 93, pumped her fist, kissed her plaque and blew kisses to the crowd at an emotional ribbon-cutting ceremony for the affordable senior housing apartment building that bears her name. The Frances Goldin Senior Apartments is the first of several buildings to open in the sprawling Essex Crossing development, a site near Delancey and Essex streets that has sat vacant since the 1960s, when tenants were forced out during what they described as “racist” and “anti-poor” slum clearings orchestrated by then-master planner, Robert Moses.
The apartment building includes 99 affordable homes for seniors with annual incomes of up to $65,000. Monthly rents range from $396 to $1,254. The Frances Goldin Senior Apartments’ debut has allowed six tenants who were pushed out of their apartments in the 1960s to return home — six mayoral administrations later.
“As a senior citizen myself, I know so many others who are prisoners in their own homes,” Goldin said at the ceremony. “In tenements among the Lower East Side, seniors are unable to go up and down the stairs or use high bathtubs. This building will provide quality accessible housing to 100 of my deserving neighbors.”
The mixed-use building will also feature a NYU Langone medical center, a senior center, a job training site for young adults and a coffee shop, all of which will be operated by the Grand Street Settlement nonprofit.
Seniors moving into the building recalled the difficulties caused by the establishment of the so-called Seward Park Urban Renewal area in what was then a Puerto Rican community.
“Fifty years ago a hurricane caused a disaster on the Lower East Side. This hurricane destroyed homes, destroyed families and made poor people even poorer. This hurricane was called the urban renewal,” said Edward “Tito” Delgado, 66, one of the tenants returning to the area. “This urban renewal had a policy of just removing poor people and the way they got away with it was that most of our parents were immigrants. We didn’t know. The city told us, ‘Move. Don’t worry, come back. We’ll have housing.’”
Instead, the site lay dormant for decades as some tenants fought for new homes, moved nearby or out of the city completely. There were few signs of progress until 2012, when the City Council approved the development of the site. A year later, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled plans.
The Frances Goldin Senior Apartments received financing from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan in 2015. His Deputy Mayor Alicia Glenn and the area’s local City Councilwoman Margaret Chin praised the advocates and community groups that pressured the project into existence.
“It was a journey that I thought would never come to light,” said David Santiago, Sr., 57, another tenant who is moving into the building. “I’ve become a dad, a grandad, a trained chef. It’s been so many years, but I give credit to being raised on the Lower East Side. It gave me the attitude to succeed.”
Others have not been as fortunate, according to Delgado, who said he knows residents who were pushed out by the urban renewal and remain homeless today.
Some of the displaced residents are expected to move into other residential buildings underway as part of the larger Essex Crossing project, which is slated to be completed in 2024.
The city tapped Delancy Street Associates — a partnership that includes BFC Partners, L+M Development Partners and Taconic Investment Partners, with Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group acting as an investment partner — to develop the 1.65-million-square-foot initiative. The Essex Crossing will ultimately include 1,000 housing units, half of which will be permanently affordable, a public park, a Trader Joe’s, a Target and a movie theater.
Despite the momentum on the Seward Park Urban Renewal site, Goldin said fellow activists have no time to rest amid the city’s affordable housing crisis.
“It’s wonderful to celebrate after struggling for so long,” said Goldin. “But it only means that we have to fight for more victories. I’m looking for unity and struggle … if we don’t struggle, there’s going to be no progress.”