Ribbons spanning all the colors of the rainbow hung from the gray walkway and black fences enclosing the trees perched in front of the salmon-pink Rivington House, a former public school that re-opened in the 1990s to assist individuals with HIV and AIDS. Scrawled on the ribbons in black marker were phrases and stories in support of the Rivington House in English, Chinese and Spanish. Each ribbon was dedicated to a specific bed number at Rivington House in honor of the individuals that the center served over the past two decades.
After operating for 20 years, the 219-bed skilled nursing facility was sold to the for-profit Allure Group for $28 million. Through a $16.5 million payment to the city, which advocates like the Neighbors to Save Rivington House decried as a series of backdoor transactions, Allure was able to remove the deed that restricted the use of the site to a medical facility. Allure parceled off the land to developers in short order, who plan to turn the site into a development with more than 100 condominiums.
Dozens of Lower East Side residents and other advocates gathered for a rally organized by the Neighbors to Save Rivington House yesterday to protest the city’s decision to sell the building. The press release for the event stated that “the action will also remind the community of our desperate need for skilled nursing beds throughout the neighborhood. This is a call for all of us to double down on our commitment to weaving a safety net for all vulnerable neighbors and family members in our community.”
Bedford + Bowery chatted with three attendees and asked them why they participated in Wednesday’s call to action. Here’s what they had to say:
I’m here today to fight for the Rivington House. I’m trying to take it back from the developers. We would like something in this community. At least some space for the seniors. I had looked forward to in my retirement that I may see some of the work I’ve done in the park… If I get sick, I would like to be close to my community—the one that I spent so many years developing and nourishing. I would like my final days to be here in this community. Right now, if a senior gets sick, there’s no place for him. There’s no nursing homes. There’s nothing right here for us. And there should be. This has always been a building for the community. And it should always be a building for the community…We’re not going to give up. We will never give up. Never. -Robert Humber, Park Warden of Sara D. Roosevelt Park for the past 28 years
My friends who live down here have been fighting for this building for over three years. And I’ve been hearing about it and inspired by the idea that you don’t have to just gripe about gentrification. You can actually fight it. And so I’m coming here hoping that it’s infectious. And it’ll motivate me to organize people to fight gentrification. –Ela Thier, supporter
I work for the Alliance for Positive Change. We started out as the Allied Service Center, working mostly with HIV and other chronic illnesses…I’m here, first of all, because it’s my community. This block is special to me because at one time I had a substance abuse problem. This is where, [when] I was maybe 12 years old, I used to come to buy $2 bags of dope. Eldridge Street right there used to be the drug capital of the Lower East Side. A lot of big drug dealers came out of here. And they contributed a lot to the spread of HIV…There’s less drugs and stuff now. But the one good thing that was left of this block was this house. And the mayor sold it. This was the only thing helping people who were adversely affected by drugs on this block. And he just sold it. He sold it like a bag of dope…My cousin who is here right now, she has been HIV positive for a long time. She’s doing great, but she was here one time. She was hospitalized here. If this wouldn’t have been here, she probably would have died. –William Gonzalez, lifelong LES/East Village resident