Press | May 28, 2015

Home, At Last

The Bronx Free Press

by Eric Cuello


“I love it here.”


Arnold Smalls was home.


The 58-year-old had moved to the Creston Avenue Residence this past December.


He had not come alone; his 4-year-old daughter Deleta joined him.


“She is all over the place, like a ping-pong ball,” he beamed. “But I wouldn’t trade her for the world,” he added proudly.


Smalls has been treated for substance abuse at many residences across the State, and has been frequently hospitalized due to two strokes and seizures.


Now drug-free for over two years, Smalls was one of many individuals identified as high-needs who had found a stable home at the Creston Avenue Residence.


The development is the first supportive housing residence funded with the State’s Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT) savings.


The 10-story building provides 66 units of affordable homes for low-income tenants and residents with special needs, including war veterans, chronically homeless, and disabled individuals. Volunteers of America of Greater New York (VOLS) provide on-site social services for tenants.


On Mon., May 18th, New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) joined building developers, VOLS, and The Housing Collaborative LLC, to announce its completion and celebrate its official ribbon-cutting.


“[This] allows Volunteers of America to fulfill its mission to help individuals and families in need create positive and lasting change by offering them the support they need and by empowering them to live safe, healthy and productive lives,” said Tere Pettitt, President

and CEO, Volunteers of America-Greater New York.


“Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New Yorkers who were chronically homeless or living in housing that lacked supportive services now have safe and decent homes with on-site social services that will help them live more stable, fulfilling and productive lives,” said Darryl Towns, Commissioner and CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR).


The HCR agency consists of all the State’s major housing and community renewal agencies, including the Affordable Housing Corporation, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, Housing Finance Agency, State of New York Mortgage Agency, Housing Trust Fund Corporation and others.


In 2011, Cuomo charged MRT with the task of identifying positive and therapeutic results for Medicaid clients while simultaneously delivering taxpayer savings on Medicaid expenditures.


Investing in supportive housing was the primary response.


As the MRT identified billions in savings for taxpayers over the past four years, over $300 million has been invested in supportive housing.


Since 2012, the state has financed 1,074 units with MRT.


The Housing Collaborative is an organization that partners with non-profit organizations and contractor Sisca Northeast to produce what it has labeled “service-enriched” affordable housing – including the Creston Avenue Residence.


“Not only does this innovative development provide safe, affordable homes for families in an exceptionally designed, green building, it will result in critical savings for New York State taxpayers,” said Robert Sanborn, Principal at The Housing Collaborative.


Richard Roberts is the Managing Director of Acquisitions at Red Stone Equity, which provided $12 million in low-income housing tax credit equity to support the project.


He underscored the importance of on-site social services for tenants.


“Housing with services on-site is the key,” he said.


“When individuals have safe affordable housing, they can achieve their goals,” added Caren Abate, Director of Housing for the New York State Office of Mental Health.


Julie Irwin, Homeless Care Line Manager, for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair, underscored the importance of stable housing for veterans, noting that the Creston Avenue Residence houses eight veterans.


“We have been making great progress in ending veterans’ homelessness,” said Irwin. “One homeless veteran is too many.”


In addition to providing housing and social services for high-need individuals and families, the $24 million state-of-the-art development offers 24-hour security, rooftop gardens, a recreational area, a community space for special events, and a backyard play space. An innovative bilingual system called TransitScreen, located at the lobby of the building, offers residents and visitor real-time, local transportation information.


Moreover, the high-tech development offers eco-friendly features such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting system, a high-efficiency boiler, a community garden, and more.


Fernando Villa, Principal at Magnusson Architecture and Planning, led the design team. While he was pleased with the development’s many green features, he found the social aspects of the enterprise as impressive.


“The most important thing is the combination of affordable and supportive housing,” said Villa.


Arnold Smalls could not have been more in agreement.


The services he had been provided, he said, served to keep him on the right path.


And he was particularly grateful to the individuals who helped keep him there.


“My counselor treats me beautifully,” said Smalls. “They have an open-door policy for me, [and] they are here for me when I need them.”


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