Public Employee Press
Building homes, building lives
Happy to show off her
new home, Gertha Reid greets visitors on her doorstep. I feel safe here.
I like everything about it, she said. There are so many things I like!
An innovative, cost-effective program at HPD
is transforming lives and producing hundreds of units of housing each year for
former residents of city shelters.
By JANE LaTOUR
Most New Yorkers can take many simple things for granted. The key in the lock
of your own door, shelter every night, a space to call your own. But for thousands
of New Yorkers, these simple things seem unattainable. Almost 4,000 New Yorkers
live on the streets. We see them in subway cars or living on a bench just two
blocks from City Hall. Over 32,000 New Yorkers sleep in homeless shelters every
Research released in March by Public Agenda, an advocacy group,
shows that New Yorkers strongly support solutions beyond shelters for the homeless,
solutions that focus on preventing homelessness, rental assistance, and permanent
housing. New York City has become a model for other large cities struggling to
find long-term solutions.
This initiative begins with an ambitious plan,
unfolds through the combined efforts of many skilled and dedicated participants,
and ends with new housing that improves the lives of real people. DC 37 members
are the key to making this happen. A team of experts at the Dept. of Housing Preservation
and Development puts all the pieces together and keeps the projects moving forward.
City Planners, Fiscal and Community Coordinators, Community Liaisons, Project
Managers, Architects and Engineers make up the team. All are members of Civil
Service Technical Guild Local 375.
Under the umbrella
of the Supportive Housing Loan Program, 10,000 units have been provided in the
five boroughs within the last 15 years. The team completes 500 new units each
year. Most of the units are for occupancy by single adults. Acting as the bank
for the projects, HPD partners with the nonprofits that first build or rehabilitate
and then operate the units. The program funds not-for-profit organizations
Common Ground, Project Renewal, and the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive
Housing, among others to develop supportive housing for homeless adults,
including people suffering from disabilities such as mental illness and AIDS.
The Dept. of Homeless Services refers residents, and HPD enters into service contracts
with other city agencies, including the Human Resources Administration, HIV/AIDS
Services Administration and the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Gertha Reid is proud
of the home she moved into on Jan. 8. Shes appreciative of all the amenities
available to the residents, including the 24-hour laundry, on-site social services,
mail boxes, movie night, and events that bring residents together, including some
communal meals and yoga classes.
life amongst many
The program has transformed Gertha Reids
life. As she greets visitors on her doorstep at Georgias Place, a 48-unit
supportive housing residence in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, she welcomes them with
a smile. The warm touches throughout her small apartment speak of home, from the
afghan on the bed to the photos on the wall. There are a lot of things I
like about this building. I take advantage of everything it has to offer. I feel
safe here, she said.
Reid is now ready to take on new challenges
with the help of the staff at the residence. Her dream is to find her 19-year-old
son, Edwin Alvarez Reid. Although 10 turbulent years of homelessness separated
her from her only child, she is eager to reconnect. Surrounded by a safety net
that makes dreams possible, Reid is looking forward to achieving some of the personal
goals she has set for herself, such as taking classes in reading, math and computer
Touring the premises
of Georgias Court Place provides Community Liaison Yolanda Gibbs and David
Rougé, deputy director of the Supportive Housing Loan Program, an opportunity
to see the fruits of their labor. A patio, basketball hoop, and quiet neighborhood
provide a warm, welcoming home.
The talented team at
the Housing and Preservation Dept. that makes the program work includes an array
of skilled professionals who embrace their work with a high degree of dedication.
We have an opportunity to help make the world a better place, said
Project Manager Liz Eastman.
a tour of the complex, Laura Welder, program director for Georgias Place,
pointed out the amenities and services that make up the safety net for residents.
These include round-the-clock security, on-site services for mental health, counseling
for substance abuse, nutritional workshops, recreational activities, vocational
training and much more.
The residents are so much
in the shelter mentality when they arrive that for one or two months they dont
even unpack, said Welder. Then slowly they start interacting. They
have a hard time believing that they have a home.
Local 375 member
Yolanda Gibbs is a Principal Community Liaison. She ensures that rental assistance
is in place before the building is up. Her job is to submit all the forms for
project-based Section 8 housing for the units. When we walked into Gertha
Reids apartment and I saw how happy she was, I said, Wow. Were
really changing lives. That feels real good, said Gibbs.
Coordinator Danielle Brown, a Service Enriched Project Manager, is looking to
apply the supportive housing model to homeless families. Every project needs to
win the support of a Community Board. These situations can happen to anyone,
said Brown. We fail to realize that we are all one community. We need to
look at it that way: This could be me or it could be someone I love. Its
an eye opener and a struggle, but one I enjoy, she said.
Project Manager for Georgias Place, enjoys the variety of her job. Its
never routine. We see different things and work with a large variety of people,
she said. Its not a textbook job. We have to deal with problems they
dont teach in planning school! Were trying to help make the world
a better place and be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Here, we
have a wonderful opportunity to do that, said Eastman.
Director David Rougé summed up the job description: From A to Z,
were responsible for getting the job done. As Gibbs pointed out, this
happens through teamwork. We do get it done and we all do it together! Ive
never worked in a place that relies so much on teamwork. Our co-workers go out
of their way to make it all work.