Housing on Hudson Street— Just What We DO Need

Alec Pruchnicki, M.D.

My medical office is in Vista on 5th, a non-profit, community-run, Medicaid-supported assisted living facility off 108th Street and Fifth Avenue, right across from Central Park. I’ve noticed over the years that many of the older adults who come to the facility from lower Manhattan, especially Little Italy, SoHo, and Greenwich Village, come for one unexpected reason. The most common reason they move all the way uptown, away from familiar communities where they’ve lived sometimes for decades, is because of housing issues. In their old apartments they can get food delivered, maybe a home health aide, visiting homecare nursing services, and sometimes doctor visits. But their apartments have become a problem.

Sometimes, the problem is just the rent. If they are not in rent controlled or stabilized apartments, and sometimes even if they are, rents have outpaced their fixed incomes. Our facility is Medicaid-supported so its benefits can usually cover costs. Sometimes, the seniors are in walk up apartment buildings and they just are physically unable to climb the stairs. Not only does this make them prisoners in their own apartments, and greatly dependent on the help of others, but in case of a fire it can become a death trap. As people grow older and frailer, they need modern affordable living quarters and they often just can’t get it in these downtown neighborhoods. They would prefer to stay where they are, or at least in the same neighborhood, but just cannot.

What is there locally in these downtown neighborhoods? I may be missing some places, but in general there is little designated low-income housing, housing for the elderly, assisted living facilities, NYCHA housing, or even long-term nursing home beds. Recently, even some young gainfully employed friends of mine had to leave the Village due to lack of affordable housing, and they can’t be the only people in that situation. By moving five miles away to my facility, older residents often lose contact with life-long friends and find themselves in a totally new environment. Most adapt well, or at least acceptably, whereas others get depressed or disoriented. All this, for lack of housing.

There is another issue which concerns many of us who are politically active, as many Villagers are. The national drive for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is nowhere more relevant than here in one of the richest and whitest neighborhoods in the city. Affordable to low-income housing on Hudson Street, if it uses a city-wide lottery for placement, will provide at least some of the diversity that it is presently lacking. If the new families have children, they will be enrolled in the excellent nearby schools and so provide some equity and inclusion to a population that can use it. It is easy to advocate for DEI issues when confronting a corporation, university, or government agency but might take a little more determination when dealing with our own community. The Village has a reputation for being a liberal accepting community in many ways, going back over a century. Now is the time for us to prove it. Put up or shut up.

Speaking of “us,” there is one final issue. Lately, political types have been very attentive to using the correct pronoun, and pity the person who uses the wrong pronoun in the wrong environment or in the wrong public statement. In a recent article in The Village View (“Urgent Alert!” October 2023) I couldn’t help but notice the statement “…Just What We Don’t Need” (italics added). Who are “we”? Are “we” the metaphorical “we” the people of the City of New York? Or are “we” some of the people who actually live in the Village? The article was adapted from the Village Preservation Newsletter. Although Village Preservation has had some spectacular and greatly beneficial successes in preserving parts of the Village, Meatpacking, and other neighborhoods, it has also been accused of representing the wealthiest class of Villagers, despite proclaiming an average donation of only $50. It should be the last organization qualified to tell the city how to build affordable housing.

But I digress. We, in whatever city or neighborhood-wide definition “youse” (a pronoun commonly used in The Bronx where I grew up) want, do need housing. Build housing on Hudson Street already.