Car Storage Clashes Against Affordable Housing on the Upper West Side

An affordable housing developer wants to expand the Valley Lodge transitional homeless shelter and build new apartments on the sites of three parking garages between Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue on W. 108th Street. Photo: Google Maps
An affordable housing developer wants to expand the Valley Lodge transitional homeless shelter and build new apartments on the sites of three parking garages between Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue on W. 108th Street. Photo: Google Maps

Which do New Yorkers value more: parking garages to store cars or apartments to house neighbors? Rarely is the question framed as starkly as with the plan to demolish two city-owned parking garages and build 304 units of subsidized housing on 108th Street.

The West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) is looking to replace an existing homeless shelter and the 675 parking spaces in those garages with 194 rentals for households making 60 percent or less of the area median income plus 110 beds for a transitional homeless shelter for seniors.

The prospect of subtracting hundreds of parking spots to make room for housing has stoked an intense backlash among some nearby residents. But they don’t represent the majority: This is a neighborhood with excellent transit access, where 80 percent of households don’t own cars.

Last night, at a Manhattan Community Board 7 forum on the project attended by about 200 people, a well-organized contingent of supporters far outnumbered opponents. (A second forum will follow in November.) There was no vote — the event was all about airing opinions in public. Here’s a look at some of their perspectives and how certain New Yorkers view their private car storage as a worthier need than housing.

Tradeoffs? What tradeoffs?

Parking is expensive to build. An underground garage with space for 118 vehicles would cost $17 million, according to a WSFSSH-commissioned estimate by Nelson/Nygaard. There is no way to accommodate car storage while delivering affordably-priced housing.

But to many people who spoke last night, the costs imposed by parking just didn’t register.

“There should be a way of finding the solution for both the housing, which we all support, and also the other community need,” said local resident David Dubin. “There are a great number of people who park in those garages who desperately need their cars for their health and for their occupations.”

“Why is it being positioned as car owners, or business owners — taxpaying business owners — versus people who need housing?” asked Tom Powell, who told Streetsblog he parks extra-wide vehicles for his photography businesses in one of the garages.

For the record, the Nelson/Nygaard study found 3,500 garage spaces within a 12-block radius of the project site. There will be fewer parking spaces if these two garages are demolished, but it won’t be impossible to park off-street.

The dog whistlers and NIMBYs

For some opponents, their perspective was rooted in a desire to keep other people out.

“I’m not here to oppose any of the impassioned pleas about affordable housing, however, I am here to support reasonable and responsible balance in urban planning,” said Albert Bergeret. “When you take away a resource [he meant parking] that supports those who have the means, and replacing them with those who don’t have the means, you drive the neighborhood down, not up.”

Another opponent, Ronald Hoffman, told Streetsblog he was primarily concerned about “the segregated community of Manhattan Valley,” and the “high concentration of low-income affordable housing” in the neighborhood. He argued that the new affordable housing units should be built below 96th Street.

“When you concentrate people of one socioeconomic background in one area, you’re segregating,” he said. “By sending more people into an already segregated community, you’re going to have less opportunity for people.”

While Manhattan Valley is lower-income than the Upper West Side as a whole, market rents are rising fast. This project will enable hundreds of people to afford living in an area they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

The parking fundamentalist

One line of argument positioned car owners as the beating heart of New York City.

“People living in the city who are paying taxes, who can afford a car, and want to have that lifestyle need a place to put their car,” said Steven O’Gallagher, a neighborhood resident who said he needs his car to drive his kids to sporting events outside the city. “Like it or not, they’re the people who are paying excess taxes in so that the people who don’t have as much money can get something out of the system. If you take away the ability for people who are [paying] excess tax to have a decent life in the city, they will leave.”

“If I can’t park my car, I will simply leave the city, and I will take my taxes with me,” O’Gallagher said.

The housing-before-parking crowd

Most people who attended last night want the project to move forward, including Sarah Kolodny, who uses one of the garages slated for demolition.

“My car is parked at 151 West 108th Street. I’m sorry at the prospect of losing this parking space,” she told the crowd. “It’s affordable, and it’s very convenient. But when it comes to a choice between affordable housing and a parking garage, it’s a no-brainer.”

David Broxton, who used to live at the transitional shelter, Valley Lodge, and currently works with clients there, put it all in perspective. “Valley Lodge saved my life,” he said. “When I have people talking about parking their car, how can you compare a car to a life?”

  • Reggie

    What is “excess tax?”

  • Daisy

    What this reporter didn’t share in this post is that residents, parents and teachers who oppose this project feel steamrolled. Manhattan Valley is being taken advantage of while their more affluent neighbors to the south are living in splendor.

    The full environmental impact of this project wasn’t revealed by the developer. [Yes, affordable and supportive housing is still real estate development and people who do it are making money like everyone else in the industry!]

    Toxic air caused by the release of heavy metals in the current 60+ year-old buildings plus asbestos, lead and gasoline contamination from underground tanks and shadow impacts over multiple large playgrounds and fields are just some of the issues. There will also be economic impact on local hospital workers, teachers and merchants whose commute to and from work is made much more difficult and expensive. Not to mention nearly 1,000 school children who will be trying to learn while dangerous construction goes on nearby. If the buildings are built, they will study and play in their shadows, literally. Walk on 108th Street and you’ll see bright sun now. Not so after this oversized project is built.

    The Nelson Nygaard study the city commissioned to support its own agenda of using “dirty money” in CB7 is simply not accurate.

    Let’s make sure all the facts are clear, Streetsblog!

  • MamaBear

    I have begun to wonder how the community got pitted against itself rather than all working together with the same end goals: protecting the air we breathe, quality of life, diversity, safe streets, affordable housing, places to park for those who really rely on it for livelihood, and good schools to name a few. Supporters of affordable housing and parkers should come together and storm City Hall for West 108 Street and Manhattan Valley.

    Additionally, WSFSSH is rallying elderly as though they get affordable housing because of this project when very few, if any, long time elderly residents who are getting squeezed by housing prices will ever get a shot at this housing – it’s earmarked for the homeless to transition into permanently from WSFSSH next door – which is fed from shelters in outer boroughs and many who are new to NYC. Don’t the 200,000 NYC seniors on the forever waitlist for senior housing get priority? Apparently not. Don’t see how that’s not reported by the media.

    WSFSSH creates a “false narrative” regarding all the collaboration they’ve done regarding what the community needs on this project. There are many constituencies that have never been spoken to by the developer and who are deeply affected by this development. They are building what they want – not surveying the community as to what we want.

    Additionally, they have not compromised on any major areas of their proposed site (unless you count keeping one garage for 5 years but blow through the approval now and dupe the community in the process).

    Just saying…

  • elvevaag

    At the end of the day, all resources on this small planet of ours are limited, and especially in places like Manhattan where space is so tight. It would be great to have your pie and eat it too, but in the real world, the moral calculus is simple: does city government (in one of the cities where car-free living is easiest) prioritize storage for private cars, or roofs over people’s heads?

    Not saying people who need cars should be banned from parking. If someone wants to build or open another garage using private money, by all means let them. But it’s not a public policy necessity, not something that government should be subsidizing through its policy, at the expense of housing.

  • elvevaag

    So you believe making money from anything is wrong? How do you live without money? I’m sincerely curious. Increasing affordable housing supply for a living (in a city with a huge affordable housing shortage) seems like one of the least objectionable occupations I can think of, if we have to make money to survive in this world (which we do).

    I mean, the building you live in, somebody made money building it too. Doesn’t mean it should never have been built.

  • qrt145

    Regarding the shadows, let’s not forget that they will also help protect the community from skin cancer due to harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun!

  • Joe R.

    I don’t get the whole thing about shadows myself. Unless you’re doing something which needs sun, like growing a vegetable garden, who cares if a new building creates shadows? If anything, that makes it cooler in warm weather. Besides, if people want to get sun, I’m sure they can find it within a few blocks (or just go on the roof of one of the new buildings).

    Frivolous concerns like shadows and private car storage shouldn’t hold up necessities like building affordable housing. As for the people with cars who say they’ll leave, good riddance. For every person who leaves there are ten waiting to take their place. Quite a few people who want to live in NYC expressly want a car-free lifestyle, including those who would pay lots of taxes.

  • Rex Rocket

    Oh god no–don’t walk on the sidewalk! You’re exposing me to germs, crushed concrete, toxic material in your soles being abraded and let loose into the atmosphere! Think of the children trying to learn!

    I’m betting Daisy parks at least one car in the garages at their bargain rate.

  • Andrew

    I have begun to wonder how the community got pitted against itself rather than all working together with the same end goals: protecting the air we breathe, quality of life, diversity, safe streets, affordable housing, places to park for those who really rely on it for livelihood, and good schools to name a few.

    Most Upper West Side residents do not share your “end goal” of “places to park for those who really rely on it for livelihood.” On the contrary, parking stands in direct opposition to at least four of the other items you’ve listed.

    Most Upper West Siders who own cars do not, in fact, rely on their cars for livelihood. Some use their cars to commute to work, but most of them also have transit options. Some commute by transit and use their cars for leisure. Some don’t work at all. And, for those who really do rely on their cars for livelihood, they are quite welcome to pay the full market price for their business needs.

    Housing in New York City is very expensive because it’s in very short supply. The only way to address the problem is to build more housing. Demanding that space in one of the most transit-accessible neighborhoods anywhere be set aside for storage of automobiles rather than for housing is selfish and short-sighted.

  • AnoNYC

    If I can’t park my car, I will simply leave the city, and I will take my taxes with me,” O’Gallagher said.

    Bye, bye.

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