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Jehovah's Witnesses Hotel Becomes Affordable Housing

A former Jehovah’s Witnesses hotel has been converted into 491 affordable and supportive housing units in New York City.

Photography by Wes TarcaOf the 491 apartments at 90 Sands, 185 are affordable to a wide range of New Yorkers, from extremely low- to moderate-income households, and 305 units are home to formerly homeless individuals.

The opening of 90 Sands marks the fourth hotel conversion by Breaking Ground, the city’s largest supportive housing developers.

“We are thrilled to open 90 Sands at such a critical time for New York City to abate a relentless homelessness crisis and provide much-needed housing for low-income and formerly homeless New Yorkers,” said Brenda Rosen, president and CEO of Breaking Ground. “Over the course of two years, the redevelopment of 90 Sands remained on schedule and in turn was scaled for impact to help more than 300 people leave homelessness behind and find dignity and security with a home of their own. Our first hotel conversion project to open amid the pandemic, 90 Sands advances key goals of equity and inclusion, bringing an additional 185 affordable apartments for New Yorkers with extremely low to moderate incomes in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods.”

Rosen added that the organization is grateful to New York City mayor Eric Adams, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and its other partners to bring the project to life.

90 Sands was previously a residential hotel operated by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society until August 2017, and Breaking Ground purchased the hotel in August 2018 for $170 million. For the acquisition, Breaking Ground received $2 million from the New York City Council, a $155 million loan from HPD, and a $10 million grant from Enterprise Community Partners. Breaking Ground provided a $6.7 million sponsor loan to finance acquisition and pre-construction costs. The Leviticus Fund also provided $1.5 million in pre-construction financing. Subsequent to the acquisition, Breaking Ground obtained a zoning change for the project in 2020 after an approval pursuant to the city’s land-use review procedure.

Financing for the renovation and repositioning of the building as supportive and affordable housing included 501(c)(3) and taxable bonds totaling more than $70.4 million issued by the New York City Housing Development Corp. (HDC). HDC provided an additional $6 million in capital subsidy.

Construction financing was also supported by a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York’s Affordable Housing Program. JPMorgan Chase provided a construction letter of credit. Monadnock Construction is the general contractor, Beyer Blinder Belle is the project architect, and W Architecture and Planning designed the public plaza space at the corner of Jay and Sands streets.

Key philanthropic support for the project has enabled Breaking Ground to create new supportive and affordable housing at 90 Sands, most prominently a $3 million lead grant from Wells Fargo. Additional support was provided by Deutsche Bank’s DB SHARE program and National Grid.

Of the 491 apartments at 90 Sands, 185 are affordable to a wide range of New Yorkers, from extremely low- to moderate-income households, and 305 units are home to formerly homeless individuals. One unit is for a building superintendent. Half of the units, 246, are permanently affordable, and the balance are affordable under a 60-year regulatory agreement. The 30-story building features a 24-hour attended lobby, a security camera system throughout, a multipurpose room for community events and meetings, a digital library, a fitness room, and extensive bike storage.

Breaking Ground worked closely with the Adams administration to implement a unique pilot program that allows for the direct referral of homeless clients from street outreach and transitional housing programs to a supportive apartment at 90 Sands. This streamlined process, made possible by cross-agency collaboration, cuts the time it typically takes to complete a permanent housing placement by more than two months.

The Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) will provide on-site social services. Breaking Ground and CUCS have a longstanding partnership, and 90 Sands marks their 12th building together to provide housing and on-site support for formerly homeless individuals and families. Services provided at 90 Sands will be available to all tenants and will include: case management, primary medical care, mental health services, employment readiness, and benefits counseling.

The development also includes a newly activated plaza for public use, adding a new green space to the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO communities. Breaking Ground plans to bring in community-serving uses to occupy more than 20,000 square feet of community facility and commercial space on the ground floor and lower level.

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