A Harlem Renaissance
After 17 Years, Stand Up Harlem Houses Opens Despite Years of Obstacles
October 23, 2008
In 1991 a group of ex-cons living with HIV formed a group called Stand Up Harlem. Their dream? To rehab abandoned dilapidated residences on 130th Street in hopes of providing housing to homeless or drug addicted people with HIV/AIDS in Harlem.
Seventeen years later, after mountains of legal, political and funding challenges, that dream has finally come true.
Starting this Monday, residents will being moving into Housing Works' Stand Up Harlem Houses facility, three brownstones that will furnish 12 studio apartments to 12 single homeless adults living with HIV/AIDS and four homeless families with children in which at least one of the parents has HIV or AIDS. The $2.8 million project was funded by New York State's Homeless Housing and Assistance Program (HHAP) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Supportive Housing Program.
"I've followed the tortured history of this project, and it could have been abandoned at so many points," David Hansell, commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), said at the ribbon cutting ceremony that officially opened the new residence on Wednesday. OTDA was instrumental in defending the construction even when the entire Harlem political establishment was against it. "Once we make a commitment to a project, we maintain that commitment," Hansell said. "We know there is a very high need in this community."
In 2006, Harlem accounted for nearly 10 percent of the New York's new HIV infections, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Stand Up Harlem Resident Devi Glazier was all smiles on Wednesday. "I'm totally overwhelmed," she said. Glazier said that as someone with AIDS, it is important for her to be living in a consistent location. "When you don't have stable housing, you don't have a Frigidaire to put your medication in. It's harder to adhere to your meds," Glazier said. The move was all the more special because Glazier is from Harlem. "It's like coming home," she said.
"After a lot of litigation and political pressure, we are thrilled to bring the vision of Stand Up Harlem to fruition," said Charles King, Housing Works president and CEO, at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
A Long Time Coming
Stand Up Harlem, a not-for-profit composed of ex-offenders with AIDS living in Emaeus House Shelter in Harlem, bought four properties in Harlem in 1991, with the intention of providing homes for people similar to themselves. When the group disbanded in 1999, it sold the brownstones at 143, 145 and 162 130th Street to Housing Works, and sold one property on 135th Street to Harlem United. In 2001 Housing Works and Harlem United received state funding from HHAP, a program of OTDA, to get the projects started.
But there were obstacles in the way.
The Not In My Backyard mentality kicked in, with Harlem residents worrying that people living with AIDS on the block would disrupt the neighborhood. The 130th Street Neighborhood Association, along with Assemblyman Keith Wright and now-Governor David Patterson sued Housing Works and HHAP to stop construction on the properties. Every elected official in Harlem opposed it, including U.S. Representative Charles Rangel and then-Manhattan Borough President and current NBLCA President C. Virginia Fields, who wrote letters opposing the project.
HHAP tried to settle the matter amicably, bringing members of Housing Works and the 130th Street Neighborhood Association up to Albany to meet.
When Housing Works showed a video about how its properties revitalized neighborhoods, members of the neighborhood association turned their chairs around to show opposition to the project, and didn't watch the video. Nonetheless, Housing Works successfully rebuffed the lawsuit in 2003 and started construction in 2004.
Along the way there were roadblocks with construction. Ineptitude from the City building inspectors further delayed the project.
Adding to the Neighborhood
But seven years after Harlem residents turned their backs on people living with AIDS, the new neighbors couldn't be friendlier. When one neighbor learned there would be children in the residences, she even donated books and winter coats. While the reasons for this change are numerous and complex, including more progressive neighbors and more understanding of people with HIV and AIDS, the look of the brownstones make it clear that Housing Works isn't bringing down the neighborhood.
"A top priority was making sure these didn't feel like a group of apartments, but like homes, where families are able to gather together," said Housing Works Chief Financial Officer Andrew Coamey who worked on this project since its inception, and made sure every detail, from the new kitchens to the modern furniture was in place. Stand Up Harlem Houses is the first of Housing Works' 144 units of housing throughout New York City designated for families.
The spotlessly renovated buildings provide a safe, nurturing environment for residents. The airy, high-ceiling apartments feature bay windows, recessed ceiling fixtures, sleek furniture, air-conditioners in every room and full kitchens with microwaves.
All apartments come fully equipped with colorful linens, kitchen ware, cleaning supplies and other home necessities. The brownstones have spacious backyard gardens with open decks and patio furniture. The brownstones at 143-145 130th Street have a homey common area where residents can socialize and watch TV.
Green building principles were incorporated into the construction of the Stand Up Harlem Houses. Apartment floor tiles are made from recycled stone; carpets are 95 percent recycled; the furniture is made from sustainable wood; the deck at 162 130th Street is constructed of plastic lumber made from recycled bottles.
Guy Scannavino, a Stand Up Harlem Houses resident, is thrilled to be moving with his 9-year old son into a two-bedroom unit in the glorious brownstone on 130th street. He has not been allowed to have full custody of his son because he lived in a single room occupancy (SRO) unit. "The judge said, 'When you show me a lease to a two-bedroom, you can have custody.' Well, I'm finally getting my lease!" Scannavino said. He excitedly took visitors on a tour of his new apartment, which he and his son plan to move into this month. For more about Scannavino, check out this Poz.com web exclusive.
This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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