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Making Dreams of Safe, Affordable Apartments a Reality

Bronx Times
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Cheryl Williams had been through the city shelter system twice and experienced her share of disreputable landlords. But that narrative would change when her application for housing at Webster Residence in the Tremont section of the Bronx came through. She had no idea what awaited her.

Opened in 2018, Webster Residence consists of 170 units of supportive, affordable housing -- with the trappings of a luxury development. The building’s design accentuates connections to nature: daylight floods the elevator vestibules and common areas; there is a green roof and a landscaped courtyard. Webster is just one example of new, beautiful, thoughtfully constructed, and well supported affordable developments in the Bronx.

“I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it,” said Ms. Williams of her home there.

The amenities are similarly impressive -- a gym, in-house laundry, computer lab, a multi-purpose center where coffee is served three times a week. And the support services include medical care, case management, psychiatric care, and other baseline social services.

This was made possible by Breaking Ground -- New York’s largest provider and operator of supportive housing -- in partnership with Capital One, New York State Housing Finance Agency, New York State Office of Mental Health, and New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“We’ve been working with Capital One for years now,” said Breaking Ground CEO Brenda Rosen. “They came into our life over a decade ago and have been investors in a few of our buildings and are one of the best partners; they really care and get involved with us.”

Rosen points to the multi-year grants that Capital One has provided to finance Webster’s tenant services, the “secret sauce to supportive housing,” she said. Residents participate in cooking classes, financial literacy programs, supportive peer groups, art programming, yoga, meditation, etc. “You name it, and we do it,” said Rosen.

Williams’ favorite part of this secret sauce is the outings. “They take us to the farmers markets, to the movies, and we celebrate birthdays monthly,” she said. “They really go above and beyond here.”

Other residences in the Bronx -- including Marcy Sheridan Apartments and Lee Goodwin Apartments -- have also benefited from investments from Capital One. The Bank’s loans and investments supporting affordable housing in the borough have increased from $127.5 million in 2014 to $150.7 million in 2018. The bank also supports several non-profit partners in the Bronx, including Project Renewal, the YMCA, iMentor, and The Knowledge House.

Laura Bailey, Capital One head of community finance (as well as community affairs), said she hears constantly about the need for stable and secure housing in the Bronx for the homeless, special needs, and low- to moderate-income New Yorkers. “Our motivation is to see high quality safe places for people to live in the borough,” she said. “And if we can use our resources, nothing makes us happier than being there to help.”

These resources include a full array of financial tools to make these developments a reality -- either through a traditional construction loan or issuing letters of credit to enhance tax exempt bonds that are issued by either New York City’s Housing Development Corporation or New York State Housing Finance Agency, as well as the purchase of low-income housing tax credits.

For Webster Avenue, Capital One provided a $30 million letter of credit and a $26 million equity investment; it financed a $15 million loan and a $12 million equity investment for Lee Goodwin; and an equity investment of over $21 million for Marcy Sheridan.

But it’s in the social purpose grants, the “secret sauce,” where Capital One employees see the most meaningful outcomes. “It’s a way that we can help fund resident services, since many of the developments that Capital One is involved with provide additional benefits for the residents beyond just being a great place to live,” said Desiree Francis, Capital One’s VP of originations for community finance, who leads the team that provides funding for these developments.

Breaking Ground CEO Rosen said that support services and activities build relationships between tenants and help decrease isolation. “These services help to build community in the surrounding neighborhood by really instilling a variety of independent living skills,” said Rosen.

But that’s not all these services do. Along with providing affordable housing that allows people to live for the rest of their lives safely and securely, they also save money.

“Medical costs over time go down,” said Rosen. “Residents are less likely to have chronic conditions that go unabated and are therefore less likely to use emergency rooms.”

The tangible results for the likes of Ms. Williams, of course, exist not on a spreadsheet. The senior citizen, who moved into Webster last November, counts her blessings every morning when the sunlight fills her apartment; she marvels at the recessed lighting and lack of clutter; she’s soothed by the presence of electric appliances that reduces the risk of gas leaks and fires; she’s even found a “gentleman suitor” at the weekly coffee gatherings.

And when members of her church visit from Midtown, “they have given the building a thumbs up,” said Ms. Williams. “They’re really, really impressed when they come in my apartment.”

Updated 3:17 pm, October 21, 2019
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