Architecture Review: 90 Sands Street and El Borinquen – Curbed

ninety Sands Road. Photo: Wes Tarca

Homelessness in New York may be an intractable problem. Ending the homelessness of any one person — or a dozen, or 100 —is straightforward: Give them a decent place and surround them with competent people who are eager to help. That form of human decency goes by the name supportive housing, and it dates to the particular early 1980 s, which has given it ample time to prove that it works. Those who move out associated with shelters, prison, foster homes, or off the street and into buildings equipped with in-house counseling tend in order to stay in their homes, within treatment, plus out of trouble. It’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than the alternatives .

Supportive housing serves a complicated set of constituencies: those who have been homeless, suffer from substance abuse and mental illness, live with HIV/AIDS, recently aged from foster care, or are coping with decades of neglect. They have a dizzying variety of needs, and meeting all of them depends on the professionalism of those who do the caring — the army associated with case managers, clinicians, social workers, nurses, doctors, counselors, therapists, plus fundraisers that spend their own days keeping chaos at bay.

Architecture is the other half of encouraging housing’s strength. “The built environment is the hardware, and the particular social environment is the software, ” says Kimberly Rollings, an University of Michigan researcher who else focuses on the interaction between architecture and health care. Pervasive but nonintrusive security, warm lighting, conscientious maintenance, uncluttered hallways — these essentials make measurable impacts upon residents’ abilities to steer clear of crisis. Communal spaces should be genuinely cheery , and not just in the grudging manner of a vinyl-floor rec room with a couple of primary-color cushions and the hyperactive TV set.

A pair of new projects, 90 Sands in Dumbo and Este Borinquen within the Bronx, makes it clear how crucial it is, when you get your first latchkey in many years (or ever), that it open a door onto a space that’s private, sunlit, safe, plus serene. Those are qualities you can’t take for granted in this city of $4, 000 “cozy” studios along with brick-wall views and entomological roommates. A high rent sometimes buys you a slightly nicer form associated with squalor; truly low-rent living can be hazardous to your health, as NYCHA buildings molder, gas lines blow, and façades shear off tenements that are practically held together with duct tape. Moving the least fortunate, most fragile New Yorkers from one grim setting to another just winds up compounding their problems and everyone else’s.

At 90 Sands, the nonprofit developer Breaking Ground bought a 30-story dormitory from the particular Jehovah’s Witnesses and renovated it in to nearly 500 apartments, the combination of supportive housing and ordinary rent-regulated casing. Sandwiched among the Brooklyn Bridge plus Manhattan Bridge ramps in one of the city’s most expensive wedges associated with real estate, 90 Sands is a big, ungainly slab built in 1992 to house 1, 000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose meals issued forth through an enormous basement kitchen. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society grasped the inspirational power of a good view, though, and the compact studios (plus a good observation level) have generous windows that will look over the particular vastness associated with lower Manhattan, the harbor, and the hinterlands of Brooklyn. Beyer Blinder Belle, a firm with a long history in both social housing and renovation, understood exactly how to leave the best features alone and make the majority of spacious common areas, large arched windows, and high ceilings. W Structures and Planning fronted this with the landscaped plaza that acts as a communal stoop and an invitation to passersby: pause, sit, check your phone, or chat.

The bulky tower might be intimidating in order to new residents accustomed to measuring their particular personal space in square inches. Some research suggests that people fare better in more intimate settings, but Brenda Rosen, Busting Ground’s president and CEO, is a believer in bigness. “The economics work better. We can have 24/7 front-desk security and a staff-to-tenant ratio that allows for a lot of attention to detail. ”

Still, projects like this have a lot of convincing to do. New occupants may be overwhelmed simply by both unaccustomed freedoms plus the responsibilities that come with signing a lease. Staff can coax (but not require) them directly into taking advantage of the available services; the design needs to draw them straight into the unfamiliar experience of feeling at home. A new structure full of struggling tenants must also soothe neighbors who worry that their streets will be overrun by sidewalk mutterers and become a magnet for drug dealers. Organizers are ready with reassuring data , most notably that supportive casing doesn’t depress real-estate values (not within the long term, anyway). But even rational fears have emotional components, and that’s where design comes in — to express what research cannot. “These are beautiful buildings, plus that’s intentional, ” states Pascale Leon, the executive director of the umbrella organization Supportive Housing Network of New York. “To people which have experienced years associated with trauma and instability, they affirm their own dignity plus humanity. ” Architecture doesn’t have to be radical or even expensive in order to communicate joy and pride. Or, to put it another way: When you’re rich, gorgeous surroundings are an optional amenity; when a person have next to nothing, they’re an essential ingredient of that many precious resource, optimism.

Designing and erecting new supportive housing means trying to squeeze the particular most architecture out associated with every scant cent. That doesn’t make it cheap. Splitting Ground spent $170 million to buy the hotel and another $78 mil to renovate it. On-site counseling, which is provided by a different organization, the Center for Urban Community Services, costs $17, five hundred per individual per year. All of that is still peanuts compared to the particular astronomical cost of a year’s incarceration on Rikers Island . “We’ve always had to prove that will supportive housing isn’t just the right thing in order to do but also the cost-effective thing to do, ” says Cynthia Stuart, the Supportive Casing Network’s chief operating officer. She cites studies that have been conducted across the nation in a range of settings, all pointing in the same direction. Nearly half the particular inmates in the America’s jails and prisons deal with mental illness, and we spend fortunes in order to help nobody and fix nothing. For a subset of the most gravely affected, homelessness will be “a soluble problem, ” says Leone. “We know the antidote”: many more 90 Sandses.

Inside 90 Sands Street. Photos: Wes Tarca.

Inside 90 Sands Street. Photos: Wes Tarca.

Encouraging housing is a small but growing part of the battle against the overlapping crises in homelessness and psychological illness. In 2015, the city committed to creating 15, 000 a lot more apartments within 15 many years; the state kicked in a promise of an additional 20, 000. Nearly halfway through that arc, each programs remain on track, and Governor Hochul has called with regard to another 3, 500 units. Those goals address the constantly shifting, never-met set of needs and definitions. (One area that’s ripe for innovation is bureaucratic routine: In 90 Sands, Breaking Ground is piloting a new procedure allowing them in order to find and screen prospective tenants directly rather than routing every step of the process through a government agency. The particular result is that it now takes three to four weeks to get from application to signed lease, down from two and a half months. ) A new protocol has emerged in the past couple of decades: Instead of requiring that will applicants be in treatment and have their issues under control before they are eligible for a good apartment, the particular “housing first” approach begins by giving them a place of their own on theory that every other form associated with suffering is usually easier in order to tackle if you’re dry, comfortable, and safe.

None of this is the panacea or an exact science. There are a lot of budgetary requirements plus regulations yet few guides for architects as to what functions and what does not. At El Borinquen, a from-the-ground-up building at Third Avenue and East 166th Street in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, the architect Alexander Gorlin fit 148 apartments (90 of them supportive) into a concrete grid enlivened by multicolored pixels upon the façade . The polychrome theme continues indoors in kaleidoscopic floor patterns, a wall tiled with the colors of every Latin American flag, plus an immense mural by Aurelio del Muro and Marta Blair. The brightness is an experiment, says Rosa Gil, who heads the not for profit developer Comunlife. “We wanted to incorporate a lot associated with art to see whether we could help individuals get better wellness outcomes. ” A glass-walled art gallery on the ground floor announces that ambition to anyone walking simply by. Equally important, the studios are almost luxurious, along with floor-to-ceiling windows, ample plus wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, and kitchens set off so as in order to insert the spatial border between food preparation as well as the rest of life. On a gray winter day, El Borinquen feels like a haven associated with liveliness and calm within a troubled part of the town, pearly light flowing in from almost all sides, igniting strokes associated with deliberate charm.

Inside Este Borinquen, within Morrisania. Photo: Michael Moran

Satisfying as they are, these tasks merely sharpen the desire for more. The headwinds are obvious: costs, the particular scarcity of sites, the feebleness associated with consensus, and the flickering availability of funds. But as governments try to fortify their particular responses in order to the intertwined epidemics of homelessness plus mental sickness, they might stop to savor one zone associated with small success. Ingrid Gould Ellen, the particular director of NYU’s Furman Center regarding Real Estate and Urban Policy, points out that will effective strategies in 1 section of the chain may alleviate the need for desperate tactics in another. “If we could obtain everyone into supportive casing, then we wouldn’t possess to get people involuntarily  off the road. They wouldn’t be there. ”

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