Could a new bill help prevent nursing homes from becoming luxury condos? State Senator Daniel Squadron believes so, and has drafted a new bill to insure that other adult-care facilities don’t suffer the same fate as Rivington House, which closed in his Lower East Side district last year.
The announcement of the so-called Rivington Act comes in the wake of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s announcement, yesterday, that the city is planning a new development at 30 Pike Street that would bring affordable housing to more than 100 seniors. The move was implicitly billed as a remedy for the loss of Rivington House, though the new facility, if approved, would replace less than half of its beds.
When the nursing home and HIV/AIDS treatment center on Rivington Street was sold to a new operator in 2015, the city lifted a deed restriction that required its building to be used as a nonprofit residential health care facility. The new operator then flipped the building to a luxury housing developer to the tune of $116 million (nearly ten times what the city had gotten for lifting the restriction), causing outraged politicians and neighborhood activists to rally for more transparency in the deed modification process.
The Rivington Act aims to keep this from happening again by making it harder for nursing homes to close in areas where their beds are sorely needed. The bill would require the state health department to produce a report within 30 days of any closure application. The report would outline the impacts of the closure on local residents’ access to health care, any potential remedies to the closure, and the feasibility of a state takeover of the facility. The relevant community board, state assembly, city council, and state senate members would then have 30 days to weigh in on the report, and the state health commissioner would only be able to approve the closure application if the needs of the community could be adequately met.
The bill was praised in a press release by City Council members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander, Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Board 3 chair Jamie Rogers, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, and others.
Yesterday, Squadron testified about the closure of Rivington House before the city’s Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations and Committee on Governmental Operations. The state senator, who represents the East Village, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, noted that local residents and activists had also protested the loss of the Bialystoker Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, in the Lower East Side, and the Cabrini Nursing Home in the East Village, which is now a luxury apartment building.
Squadron complained of “a major breakdown in information between on-the-ground realities and the state closure process. Currently, the process allows no public input or transparency when a nursing home closure is threatened or approved by the State Department of Health (DOH). Further, DOH is not required to consider how a facility’s closure will impact health needs in the community.”
“The process to remove the deed restriction was insufficiently transparent, and failed to protect the public interest,” he later said.
In July, amidst investigations into the deed modification, the mayor’s office announced that it had come up with its own solution, which gives final approval of deed restriction changes to Mayor de Blasio rather than the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.