Group Wants Parking Converted to Elderly Housing

LiveOn NY says 39 underused lots should be redeveloped as senior housing

BY CORINNE RAMEY

UPDATED MAY 20, 2015 10:46 P.M. ET

 PHOTO: JULIE PLATNER FORTHE WALL STREET JOURNAL A partly empty parking lot adjacent to a senior housing complex at 50 Norfolk St. on the Lower East Side.

 PHOTO: JULIE PLATNER FORTHE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A partly empty parking lot adjacent to a senior housing complex at 50 Norfolk St. on the Lower East Side.

In this city of cutthroat parking, there is perhaps one place where there is always a free space: the parking lots of low-income senior-housing buildings.

On Thursday, the elderly-advocacy group LiveOn NY, formerly the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City, plans to release a report proposing to transform underused parking lots adjacent to senior housing into more housing—at least 2,000 units, which it has suggested as affordable housing for low-income seniors.

The nonprofit analyzed 277 buildings and 191 parking lots in the five boroughs and determined that 39 lots would be better suited to housing than parking. They are all owned by nonprofit affordable-housing providers and financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The demand for affordable senior housing is literally through the roof,” said Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at LiveOn NY. “We are really at the beginning of a huge wave, and we wanted to make sure that there would be adequate senior housing built.”

Parking lots ripe for development have the size and placement of a typical building and are located near subway stops, Ms. Sackman said.

Only 5% of seniors who live in these types of buildings own cars, according to an analysis by the Department of City Planning, which in February proposed zoning changes that would allow for development on lots like these.

New York City is going increasingly gray. According to census data, 1.4 million New Yorkers were age 60 and over in 2010, representing 17.2% of the city’s population, up from 15.6% in 2000.

There are hurdles between the report and the creation of 2,000 units, notably funding and zoning restrictions.

“The issue is clearly funding,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the think-tank Center for an Urban Future. “If there is funding from the de Blasio administration to build new senior housing, these might be really attractive sites.”

Current HUD regulations require an approval process to develop the lots. The agency would be willing to consider requests that would allow development of additional housing for low-income seniors, but hasn’t received any, a HUD spokesman said.

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which manages affordable housing, said there is a need for more city housing for seniors.

“Removing unnecessary parking requirements for affordable senior housing in transit-served areas and where car ownership is low would enable us to create more affordable housing and better meet the needs of our city’s seniors,” he said.

At a senior-housing center last week, several staffers said the parking lots were essential, particularly because they provide parking for workers’ cars and center vans.

But lots at a Manhattan center and two in Brooklyn were about half-full that day and in various states of disrepair.

John Furino, 85, at the entrance to Jennings Hall Senior Housing at 75 Bushwick Ave. 

PHOTO:JULIE PLATNER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

John Furino, 85, a resident at Bushwick’s St. Thomas Episcopal Senior Citizen Housing, sat outside in a wheelchair, Tom Brokaw’s book “Boom!: Talking About the Sixties” open in his lap.

“We need more housing for seniors,” said Mr. Furino, adding that the parking lot was half empty. “We can’t afford the rents—they’re outrageous.”

“I prefer to see homes for folks,” said Sarah Perez, 48, of Williamsburg, a guidance counselor who was visiting the facility. “After a certain period of time, people shouldn’t be driving.”

Write to Corinne Ramey at Corinne.Ramey@wsj.com