Hell’s Kitchen Affordable Housing Project Gets Mixed Reaction



Future Site of the Lirio Project












Future site of the Lirio project. Photo by Niroja Arulananthan

To the disappointment of some of its neighbors, developers are free to break ground on an affordable and supportive housing project on 9th Avenue and 53rd Street in Hell’s Kitchen.

A former bus depot being used as a parking lot by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will soon become the Lirio project. In August, the Lirio passed the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the final step paving the way for groundbreaking on a 112-unit development with commercial space on the ground floor and an office for the MTA.

Within the residential development, 67 units are intended to become supportive housing for previously homeless individuals, including 59 units for long-term survivors of HIV and AIDS. The remaining 44 units will serve as affordable housing for lower-income residents. However, some local residents argue this housing mix breaches the city’s previous commitment to the Hell’s Kitchen community.

“We are not asking not to build affordable housing, said Hell’s Kitchen resident Catie Savage during a community board meeting earlier this year. “We are asking to build the middle-income housing promised,” she said.

Savage was referring to a 2009 agreement between the city council and the Department of City Planning. That agreement called for a housing allocation for earners making up to 165% of the area median income, or about $154,110. In 2018, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development requested proposals for the site and about a year later, the project was awarded to private real estate firm Hudson Companies Inc., in partnership with Housing Works, a nonprofit focused on homelessness and AIDS advocacy.

“We met with the city several times. We made recommendations for what should and shouldn’t be included in the request to bid on the site,” said Manhattan Community Board 4 district manager Jesse Bodine. “We found out through a press release that it was going to be for a mixture of supportive and low-income housing. We were confused and frustrated that no consultation was made to the community board or community on the changes” he said.

In March of this year, the community board recommended the city adjust the affordable housing threshold to include residents earning no less than 80% of the area median income and no more than 165% AMI, or between $74,720 and $154,110. This meant that the site would create permanent affordable housing for middle-income renters who might otherwise be priced out of the neighborhood. But now, final plans for the Lirio do not include that allocation. Instead, most of the units deemed as affordable housing are for residents earning 40% to 80% AMI, or those with incomes between $37,360 and $74,720.

Manhattan Borough President, Mark Levine, wrote a letter to the city in April. Levine requested the city deny the Lirio project unless amendments were made to bring the plan closer to its original intent. “I share the Board’s concerns regarding the proposal’s non-adherence to the 2009 Western Railyards Points of Agreement and encourage the applicants to arrive at an AMI mix that is closer to the original commitments,” Levine wrote.

Within the 25-block radius that makes up Hell’s Kitchen, there are 226 subsidized properties for qualifying low-income residents and 11 public housing properties managed by the city for low-income residents, according NYC Open Data.

“When I first heard about the change to Lirio, I was resistant to it,” said Hell’s Kitchen resident Joe Gioco. Gioco said he’s lived in Hell’s Kitchen since 1989 and learned about the project change through a local newsletter. “However, I’ve since changed my mind somewhat. There’s enough for regular folks out here,” he said.

Brian O’Neill has lived in the area since 1993. He said he is worried about what changes more supportive housing will bring. “I want to know the city’s plans for these people. When the right resources aren’t set up for vulnerable populations, there is a lot of crime,” he said.

Cynthia Stuart is the Chief Operating Officer of the Supportive Housing Network of New York. The membership-based organization represents 200 nonprofits that provide supportive housing, including Housing Works. Stuart is an advocate of the Lirio project. “Staff in each building replicate what friends and family do for the rest of us. They are people on site who can help residents access the help they need to help them thrive,” she said.

But safety remains a concern for some. Sal Ochilove owns the NYC Bike and Scooter Shop across the street from the Lirio site. “I don’t know how I feel,” he said. “There’s another affordable housing building nearby, and there’s a lot of criminal activity there. I don’t want this to be the same.”

Ochilove explained that his worries about the neighborhood began before the Lirio project was approved. “My store was robbed in March, and the store next door was robbed this year too. Safety is a concern for me in this area,” he said.

Despite the mixed reaction, the Lirio project is expected to open in 2023.