University Settlement to NYC Council: Return Rivington House to the Community

Testimony for the New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations and Committee on Oversight and Investigations

The Lifting of the Rivington House Deed Restrictions

Kevin Tobar Pesantez, Senior Housing Advocate

September 29, 2016

Good morning, my name is Kevin Tobar Pesantez. I’m a Senior Housing Advocate at University Settlement. We are America’s first social settlement house and have been across the street from Rivington House since 1899.

For over 130 years, University Settlement has joined with our neighbors in the never ending fight for social and economic justice. The Lower East Side didn’t become a destination neighborhood overnight; we built this neighborhood. Community activists reclaimed our streets and parks; renovated and repaired tenement buildings; created new affordable and supportive housing; and we continue to invest resources in a robust social service and education network.

Today, we stand with our neighbors and say that the Mayor’s response to the Rivington House scandal is not good enough.  We demand that Rivington House be returned to the Lower East Side community with deed restrictions that protect the uses for the most vulnerable of our community.

What do we think of the City’s promised investment of $16 million? Too little.

It cost New York City tax payers $70 million dollars to renovate Rivington House into a functional and compliant nursing home.  Will they be reimbursed for this loss?  Additionally, the deed restriction fee should have been $29 million, not $16 million, based on the price Allure paid for Rivington House.   Will the City make up the difference?  Even with this amount we would not regain all that New Yorkers have lost.

What do we think of the City’s efforts to change the deed process? Too late.

First Bialystoker and Cabrini nursing homes were closed.  With the possible loss of Rivington House, our community would lose another 150,000 square feet of community-benefit skilled nursing home space. Where is the City’s concrete, detailed plan to replace Rivington House if it isn’t restored to the neighborhood?

The City needs to do much more than make a few promises and hope that we go away.

Here are the facts. The Lower East Side is ranked the third highest gentrifying district in New York City. But there are still deep, chronic needs in our neighborhood. The Furman Center ranked the Lower East Side as one of the neighborhoods with the highest gap between lower income and higher income residents. Nearly one out of three seniors in the Lower East Side lives in poverty. Over 70% of seniors in the neighborhood are foreign born – one of the highest rates in NYC.  University Settlement knows these seniors – we serve over 2,000 people, ages 60 to 106, each year.  We work with them through every cycle of life, including when it is time for long-term nursing care assistance in their own neighborhood.

The City’s needs to step up and seriously discuss returning Rivington House to the Lower East Side. It’s fair, it’s right, and it’s necessary.  We need and deserve better than promises and excuses. Thank you for your time.

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