For 54 years, the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center had a looming and ominous presence in the Hunts Point section as notoriously poor conditions for detained youth led to its eventual closure in 2011. It’s perhaps fitting that one of the center’s former detainees, Mayor Eric Adams, who transformed his life to ascend to political prominence, was on hand to signal the site’s ultimate transformation into an 743-unit affordable housing project with commercial benefits for the area.
“Today is a new day for Hunts Point and so many young people who were traumatized at Spofford,” said Adams, who was held there for a night at the age of 15. “I went from being a detainee here to becoming the mayor who is working to transform it. And now, we are taking a major step forward in that transformation and bringing this community the affordable homes, good-paying jobs, and public space they deserve.”
Spofford left a black mark on its juvenile detainees, and according to data obtained by the Bronx Times, an average of 289 young people at a time were housed there. Additionally, the population at Spofford was comprised of overpoliced and overcriminalized Black and brown youth.
Roughly 95% of Spofford’s juvenile detainees were Black or Latino, and 54% of detainees came from the same 15 low-income neighborhoods — a list including Soundview and Morris Heights.
In its place is a grand vision of affordable housing called The Peninsula, a five-acre redevelopment project that plans to bring 740 affordable homes, a one-acre public plaza and a supermarket to Hunts Point.
On Wednesday, Adams and project partners officially christened the Tiffany Street parcel’s first step to transformation, a residential building that includes 183 affordable homes, a cultural arts center and studio space for local artists.
In all, The Peninsula is a $121 million effort that the city hopes will be a bastion of affordability, with the first slate of homes for residents earning between 30 and 80% of the area median income (AMI) — 18 homes are specifically reserved for New Yorkers who previously experienced homelessness.
The former Spofford site cost the city $358 of public money a day, adding up to $131,000 a year per detainee.
As city officials touted amenities of The Peninsula that includes an early childhood education center, community room, a children’s playroom, a fitness room, and bike storage space, it’s easy to forget that Spofford was a structure that was decorated in lead-based paint and often crawling with rats, according to a 1997 Daily News article.
Hunts Point natives had rallied in the 1990s to have the center shut closed, and groups like the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York helped form a coalition of New York City residents and former Spofford detainees to create the document “Broken Promises, Broken System: 10 Reasons New York City Should Close the Spofford Youth Jail” in 2004.
In 2011, the New York City Council voted to demolish the structure and began opening bids for affordable housing ideas on the land it occupies. For Hunts Points residents, the transformation of Tiffany Street — once marred by the external and internal disarray of Spofford into a space for those in need of housing and commercial vitality — is welcomed.
“I lived here in the height of this horrible structure. The pain it caused. People avoided this street because you knew the horrors happening in that damn building,” said Jimmy Walker, 55, a longtime Hunts Points resident, who said he had childhood friends “lost” to Spofford. “I’m glad it’s going to be a home for people now, instead of a children’s prison.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes