Lower East Side Community Comes Together to Save Rivington House

Yesterday over 100 Lower East Side residents and advocates, and their elected officials, came together to raise their voices and be heard as they demanded that Rivington House be restored to the community as a care facility.

Melissa Aase, Executive Director of University Settlement, kicked off the event with inspiring remarks. You can read an edited version below and see links to press coverage after the event.

Michael, a neighborhood supporter whose father was cared for at Rivington House, was quoted in Gothamist as saying, “We need common space where the most vulnerable can be safe and actually be cared for when their families can’t care for them…Rivington House was a monument to compassion. Now we’re going to give it up for 16 million dollars. Really?”

Several public officials attended and spoke passionately about their support for the neighborhood’s campaign: City Council Member Margaret Chin, Manhattan Borough Deputy President Matthew Washington, New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, and Community Board 3 Chair Gigi Li. Activists Bob Humber and Kathleen Webster as well as Roni-Sue’s Chocolates owner Rhonda Cave spoke as members of the Lower East Side community.

You can help save Rivington House by signing our petition urging Mayor de Blasio to return Rivington House to the Lower East Side. 1500 signatures and counting!

And join the conversation by following #RivingtonHouse and #CareNotCondos.

Melissa Aase, Executive Director, University Settlement – Opening Remarks
Neighbors to Save Rivington House
Press Conference and Community Speak-Out. June 27, 2016

I am Melissa Aase, Executive Director of University Settlement, and I welcome you to University Settlement’s Speyer Hall, which has been the home for conversations just like this one since 1898, when this building opened.

That was just one year before the building across the street opened, first used as Public School 20, then as Rivington House, serving the Lower East Side community for well over a century.

University Settlement was established in 1886, in a tenement basement a few blocks away and built on this site within thirteen years of its founding.  We have, from the beginning to this day, committed ourselves to being an anchor for the community in times of trial, and to devising schemes and solutions from within the community.

That is why our auditorium, Speyer hall, was built. It was built for today, and for this issue, and for you – to hear from the neighbors of the community about what is important to all of us.

Today the topic is the devastating specter of losing Rivington House as a care facility, and to show and share the community’s strongly united voice calling for the reinstatement of this facility as a place of community care and community benefit.

That is why Rivington House was built. That is how it was used from 1899 until last year, when the last resident was moved out. That is why the State invested many, many millions of your dollars and mine to retrofit the building to become a care facility just 25 years ago.

When an AIDS nursing facility was needed, this community said YES! We didn’t do the NIMBY thing, we did the YIMBY thing! YES, in my back yard!! YES, let’s keep our community diverse, welcoming, accessible, affordable, and able to care for people as they grow older or struggle with health issues.

We said YES to all of this in early 90’s.  We said YES again in 2014, when it was clear there would be a change to the ownership of the building. We said YES to continued health care, and continued affordability, and continued diversity, and continued health and wellness, to giving all people a home and a community.

The stories in the press are focusing on the deals made, the way that deed restrictions do and don’t work, the questions of and effect of more luxury development here, and of course the politics, power, and legality of it all.  All of this is important, but none of it brings forward the voices of the community, the voices of Rivington House residents, staff and neighbors, and the voices of those who will need care soon.

So the Neighbors to Save Rivington House organized and called for neighborhood voices to be heard, by launching a petition and bringing the voices forward.

I am proud to say the settlement house movement of New York City is behind us and sends support and solidarity from every corner of the City.  From 37 houses in all 5 boroughs, working with over 600,000 New Yorkers each year, community members are adding their voices to ours.

And I know that we have the support of our Lower East Side community neighbors, Henry Street Settlement, Grand Street Settlement, Educational Alliance, Cooper Square Committee, Good Old Lower East Side, CAAAV, Friends of the Lower East Side, Hand in Hand, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the Campaign for Caring Across Generations, and many, many others. They are activating their networks too, and we will continue to bring forward the voices of those who know best and deepest what this kind of loss means to the people of the community.  I am grateful for their support.

Nearly every player in this drama has agreed that something went very wrong, and that there is a dire need for this facility, in this community, and that losing 150,000 square feet of community benefit space and all the millions in public funds it took to build the facility, with no public comment, is just wrong.

This was not a natural disaster, out of our control.  This was human choice, aspiration, machination, exchange, capitulation, and perhaps many other things to be uncovered through the investigations, but above all: human choice.

This can be reversed. This can be reconsidered, walked back, un-done, and restored – if we have the will to do so. There is still time to stop, and to do differently.  There is still time to make it right.

The Neighbors to Save Rivington House have gathered this meeting to urge us all to do just that, and we are backing that with over 1500 (and counting!) signatures, many endorsers, and incredible stories and comments that we will present to the Mayor.

As our leader on equity, our leader on ending the Tale of Two Cities, as our leader on fairness and progressive values and the inclusion of all voices, we are calling on our Mayor to help us get this done.

This is the kind of difficult moment that makes a community and makes a city.  This is when we join together and lift up the voices of the neighbors from the underside of history, from the second and supposedly “lesser” of the Two Cities.

We must hear from these voices and then do what’s right.

This is the moment for YES, for one New York, for equity, and for community.

This is the moment for CARE NOT CONDOS.

You can sign the petition urging Mayor de Blasio to return Rivington House to the Lower East Side.

Join the conversation by following #RivingtonHouse and #CareNotCondos


Press Coverage

“LES Residents on de Blasio’s Rivington House Debacle: ‘There’s Still Time to Do Right'”
Village Voice, June 28, 2016

Yesterday, a group of locals, activists, and elected officials under the name of Neighbors to Save Rivington House gathered to demand that the de Blasio administration do everything in its power to reverse the $116 million deal and turn the property back into a nursing home for patients with HIV and AIDS.

“LES Residents Frustrated With De Blasio’s Inaction on Rivington House”
Gothamist, June 27, 2016

We need common space where the most vulnerable can be safe and actually be cared for when their families can’t care for them themselves,” added Michael, whose father lived at Rivington House for 8 years until his death in 2009 (Michael asked that his last name be withheld because his father was not public about his HIV diagnosis). “Rivington House was a monument to compassion. Now we’re going to give it up for 16 million dollars. Really?”

“Petition with 1,300 Signatures Urges Mayor de Blsaio to Stop Sale of Rivington House Nursing Home”
New York Daily News, June 27, 2016

Neighborhood resident Miriam Colon, who lives across the street from Rivington, said city officials should be held accountable for allowing the home to be lost. “People on the Lower East Side deserve better. We are pissed off,” she said. “I’m not going to vote for a politician who doesn’t give a damn about us, our parents, our children.”

“‘Restore the Deed, Restore Rivington House,’ Locals Demand with Press Conference”
Bowery Boogie, June 27, 2016

Nascent group Neighbors to Save Rivington House spearheaded a petition that, to date, has netted nearly 1,300 signatures of support that demand de Blasio return Rivington House to the community.

“Community petition called on the city to return Rivington House, home for the elderly”
Epoch Times, June 30, 2016
(Chinese-language newspaper)

On Monday (June 27th), community-based organizations held a press conference at University Settlement on 184 Eldridge and called on citizens to sign a petition urging Mayor de Blasio to return Rivington House. Rivington House had a deed restriction that was cancelled a few months ago. While there are several ongoing investigations, residents have not heard any further news since.

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