City Council approves plan to turn Jehovah’s Witnesses tower into housing for formerly homeless

affordable housing
The former Jehovah’s Witnesses hotel at 90 Sands St.
Photo by Susan Devries

The City Council voted unanimously on April 22 to allow a non-profit developer to convert a Downtown Brooklyn tower previously owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses into housing for the formerly homeless.

The Council’s approval of the tower’s rezoning paves the way for a renovation that would add more than 500 affordable apartment units to the 29-story tower at 90 Sands St, said the building’s developer.

“We’re on our way to bringing approximately 500 much-needed affordable units to DUMBO, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the borough,” said Brenda Rosen, the chief executive of Breaking Ground. “We are especially grateful for the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Stephen Levin and Rafael Salamanca in championing the development of new supportive housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

The Council’s vote is the last step in the land use review process before the rezoning application moves to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to back the Council’s approval.

Breaking Ground — a non-profit that already hosts some 4,000 units across the city — plans refurbish the 1992-built tower between Jay and Pearl streets that once housed volunteers for the Christian evangelist group, adding 305 “supportive units” for recently homeless people and 202 below-market-rate rentals.

The “supportive units” will come equipped with social services to help residents find jobs, treat their medical needs, and transition into the housing, while the 202 other units will be open to households that make 30-100 percent of the area’s median income, which is currently set at $96,100 for a family of three.

The 202 affordable units will range from $504 for a studio to $2,000 for a one-bedroom.

Breaking Ground bought the tower from Big Apple developer RFR Realty for $170 million in August 2018, one year after the Jehovah’s Witnesses sold the building for $135 million.

During Wednesday’s Council meeting over Zoom — the Council’s first meeting since mid-March — lawmakers approved three other rezoning applications, including the rezoning of a package of vacant, publicly-owned lots in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The city plans to sell the lots to three development firms that seek to erect seven affordable housing condos on them, should the mayor approve the rezoning request.

The four-to-seven-story buildings will house 78 affordable units, either one- or two-bedroom apartments, priced within the federally-designated Area Median Income (AMI) index of the Five Boroughs, deeming the units “affordable.” However, the city’s median income — $96,100 for a family of three — is significantly higher than Bedford-Stuyvesant’s median income of around $52,900, meaning that the residents who qualify for the “affordable” housing will make between $11,120 and $52,733 more than the neighborhood’s average household.

Developers plan to erect a seven-story condo building on city land at 335 Ralph Ave., along with six other below-market-rate developments in Bedford-Stuyvesant.Fulcrum Properties

The Council also approved a rezoning in Crown Heights that will allow the construction of a nine-story mixed-use building at the corner of Grand Avenue and Pacific Street. The developer, Elie Pariente, plans to build 64 units, 16 of which would be affordable, along with a ground floor retail space on the 9,000 square-foot lot. Both Community Board 8 and Borough President Eric Adams gave their advisory disapproval of that application due to concerns about the proposed building’s height and density.

The Grand Avenue rezoning would make way for a 9-story, 64-unit building.Archamaera.

Finally, legislators gave the green light on a minor technical change for a supportive housing development on Alabama Avenue in East New York. Developer CB Emmanuel Realty and nonprofit Services for the UnderServed will build and manage 70 affordable homes for formerly homeless and low-income households at the 10,000 square-foot site, which is currently a vacant lot, between Dumont and Livonia avenues.

Council already approved the application in February 2019, but voted Wednesday to add in an Urban Development Action Area Project designation, which carries a 20-year exemption from real estate taxes on the assessed value of the building.

All other land use review applications are temporarily suspended since Mayor de Blasio issued an executive order on March 16 halting the review process in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.