Talk about a safe house.
At Fort Hamilton Homes in Bay Ridge, prospective tenants are being offered awesome views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, spacious living accommodations, and peace of mind — reinforced quite literally by the fact that their homes are guarded by the United States Army, this paper has learned.
The Fort Hamilton army base is now allowing postal workers, U.S. Census Bureau staff — any federal employee or military retiree — an opportunity to live shoulder to musket with active military personnel.
“We are like a gated community like no other,” said Claudia Shapiro, community manager for Balfour Beatty Construction, the London-based construction giant behind the project. “We have MPs and all that good stuff at all our gates,” she added, referring to military police.
Army base spokesperson John Manley said the housing was opened up to federal employees within the last eight months. “Essentially, it’s because there aren’t enough soldiers on active duty here,” he said. “We’re trying to fill up the housing and open it up to other eligible categories.”
The development company maintains the housing for the federal government in exchange for the rent it collects. Once it was seen that there were not enough people to fill the 288 available units, the criteria were loosened, Manley said. “It is a business to them,” Manley noted. “They are looking to fill the units.”
In total, there are 185 newly constructed homes and 37 newly renovated homes on the base, along with six newly renovated historic homes. Shapiro said that just 53 of the total units remain vacant. All the units are rentals she said, with a range of prices: a three bedroom, 2,000 square foot apartment rents for $2,499 a month until Oct. 31, for example, and a one bedroom goes for $1,100 a month. “The beauty of it is that while we are situated in Brooklyn, we have rolling hills and grass here. It’s a little slice of heaven,” she said.
Anthony Mercante, the asset manager for the privatized housing program, called Residential Communities Initiative (RCI), said the units are a conglomeration of sorts, from town homes to garden style apartments.
New construction was completed in 2006, and renovations were completed on other parts of the complex in 2008. “It’s a very friendly atmosphere,” he said. “This was brought about so we could harness private resources along with their know-how to provide a better product and thus a better quality of life.”
But some wonder how loose residency requirements will be stretched. Assemblymember Peter Abbate said he recently noticed an advertisement for the homes, and called to inquire about the restrictions. “My fear is that they will just rent it out to ordinary citizens,” he said. If that’s the case, he offered, “I’d love it to be for senior citizens residences.”
Mercante, who lives on the base, said Fort Hamilton Homes are a marked improvement over previous accommodations. “That’s the least we can do for our soldiers and their families,” he said.The program has built into it “different checks and balances to protect the fiscal health of the project,” he continued.“The government wants to be good fiduciary agent’s of people’s money.” So when occupancy lagged, allowing different tier groups access to housing made sense, he added.
But while the living might seem easy on the base, relative safety is a subjective call, according to Mercante. “I consider this part of Brooklyn a nice respite from the confusion and bedlam outside the gate,” he said.