The opening of a new housing facility in Pelham Bay by a group that works with people with HIV has sent shock waves through the community.
About 100 protesters rallied on Sunday, August 24 outside a building soon to be home to 70 in a program for low-income residents, if the sponsoring group continues with its plan.
The protest coincided with an open house by AIDS Service Center of New York, which runs the program already operating at a former hospital building at 1870 Pelham Parkway South.
The Pelham Bay Taxpayers and Community Association has made its position clear on the building’s use, which has been vacant, except for short stints, since Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center D’urso Pavilion closed. The building, known as the “Pelham Grand,” was sold in 2006.
Calling the Pelham Grand a work in progress, PBTCA treasurer Joseph Oddo stated the rally “was successful in getting the word out that the current use of the Grand by ASCNYC is and will not be acceptable to the community.”
“There is no other way to say it: Pelham Grand must be used as housing for our seniors and our veterans!” Oddo stated in an e-mail to east Bronx community leaders. “There is more that can be written about. But the major, and for many citizens in Pelham Bay, the only, issue of importance at this time is the Pelham Grand.”
In a follow-up conversation, Oddo said the three- hour rally was peaceful, and that the concerns of the residents included property values and quality of life.
“The primary concern is what it has always been,” he said. “They don’t want to have the neighborhood deteriorate.”
Elected officials, which had proposed various plans for senior and veterans housing over the years, are continuing to work to get something at the Grand that the community would find acceptable.
A spokesperson for Senator Jeff Klein has said that he is working with groups that are seeking a state Department of Health grant for senior housing.
“Senator Klein is tirelessly advocating for senior housing at the Pelham Grand and just learned that award letters went out to senior housing service providers this week,” stated Klein spokeswoman Candice Giove. “This positive development brings the community another step closer to a housing project that is the right fit for the area.”
Councilman Jimmy Vacca raised questions about the conversion of the building from a hospital to a residence, and said he has insisted on a total zoning review based on his research of records.
“At my request, the Buildings Department has agreed to audit all recently-filed applications at 1870 Pelham Parkway South,” said Vacca. “I am joined in this request by Senator Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Michael Benedetto.”
Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns said that while the private landlord of the building can do what he wants, there is significant community opposition to the current choice of tenant and the board wants senior housing.
But outspoken Pelham Bay activist Egidio Sementilli demanded more action by officials, and called ASCNYC’s program “a nail in the coffin of Pelham Bay.”
“ASCNYC is providing safe housing and supportive services for low-income New Yorkers,” stated ASCNYC spokeswoman Biz Gormally in an e-mail. “We thank the many neighbors who joined us for tours of the facility and conversations about our work during Sunday’s Open House. We look forward to continuing conversations and further developing our positive relationship with our neighbors in the Pelham Bay community.