Food stands aren’t the only things being bulldozed for Essex Crossing, the ever-growing Lower East Side development of housing, vendors and aerial vegetables. Community Healthcare Network, a medical mainstay since 1971, will be demolished in 2021 to make way for Site 10 of Essex Crossing. Now, the nonprofit health-care provider is calling for the city to provide financial support for their expensive move.
“We were told that the City’s obligation is to relocate us in a comfortable and reasonably close location,” said Community Healthcare Network CEO Robert Hayes.
CHN was under the impression that the impending demolition of 150 Essex would mean that the city-owned building’s landlord, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) would finance a new health center for them in the neighborhood or in Essex Crossing, to be ready by 2021. Instead, Site 10 will become a retail and residential property and CHN has had to find a new location (which they have not disclosed), leaving them with two leases to pay through 2021. CHN is calling on the city to grant them a rent abatement, which would let them stop paying rent on their current location in order to finance their new one.
“We cannot under any circumstance pay rent to the landlord in the new space while simultaneously paying rent to the city in the space that they are going to demolish on us,” said Hayes.
Though only blocks from their current location, the new center will come at a far increased cost. Not only is CHN paying rent in a market surged by new luxury development, but it also has to finance rebuilding a facility. CHN serves over 7,000 patients yearly, offering a wide range of services including ophthalmology, dental care and substance abuse treatment. In the hunt for a new space, CHN had to find a minimum of 15,000 square feet. It will have to reconstruct at least 18 exam rooms, three dental suites and three behavioral suites, in addition to other spaces.
“In large part because of market forces accelerated by this city urban renewal project, there were virtually no suitable sites that were anywhere near affordable,” said Hayes.
CHN doesn’t think its demands for the NYCEDC are out of line. They believe the NYCEDC admitted its responsibility to relocate them in its Seward Park Final Environmental Impact Statement (a document laying out the impact that mixed-use development in Seward Park would have on services and businesses in the Lower East Side). The statement says that “the lease between NYCEDC and the CHN allows for the facility to be relocated within its lease term to another location in the immediate area.” CHN also says their demands were granted to another displaced business: Essex Market. Vendors there got a swift replacement when their original location at 120 Essex was closed for demolition. After the market’s longtime abode at 120 Essex closed on May 5, a new space opened at Essex Crossing’s 88 Essex less than two weeks later. All vendors (save for Santa Lucia Religious, which declined the move) have resumed business at the new location, accompanied by 15 new vendors.
“Ideally, two years or so before we’re going to get the building demolished by the city, [the city] will have identified the space and will spend those two years, presumably, at the expense of the city, renovating and setting up a health center,” said Hayes. “That did not happen.”
Additionally, Essex Market vendors were able to get a rent abatement when they had to move from 120 Essex to 88 Essex. According to the Lo-Down, Essex Crossing developers were required to pay the vendors’ buildout and moving expenses.
A spokesperson for Delancey Street Associates, the developers of Essex Crossing, declined to comment on the situation.
The call for a rent abatement has since garnered the support of Manhattan Community Board 3, which covers Alphabet City, the East Village, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Last month, the board passed a resolution requesting that the NYCEDC support CHN’s relocation before its lease runs out, by either issuing the rent abatement, partially funding rent payment or providing any other kind of assistance that would allow CHN to make up for its buildout and higher rent costs.
“The loss of CHN to the CB 3 community would be a gross and flagrant example of the most serious displacement of necessary services due to gentrification of our community,” Community Board 3 wrote in a November 2018 version of the resolution it shared with Bedford + Bowery.
CB 3 says the move is coming as the Lower East Side is already struggling in the medical care department. While there is no shortage of luxury developments coming to the neighborhood, the board insists there is a major shortage of federal medical facilities. CB 3’s District Needs Statement for 2020 say that’s District 3 is a “federally designated health professional shortage area in the fields of primary care, dental care and mental health.” The Lower East Side has a significant amount of uninsured or Medicaid patients who rely on community-based health clinics to receive services.
“If you already have a shortage and you’re losing one facility, it creates quite a burden on a very vulnerable population,” the board’s district manager, Susan Stetzer, told Bedford + Bowery.
Still, the NYCEDC’s environmental impact statement says that as for the retail, restaurants and healthcare services that would be displaced by development like Essex Crossing, consumers “would be able to find similar products and services elsewhere in the study area in the future with the proposed actions.”
Nonetheless, the Community Health Network says it doesn’t wish EDC or the city ill-will. It simply wants to continue its nearly 50 years of health services in a neighborhood that needs it– and hopes the city will have its back.
“I’m very confident that the city will do the right thing and work with us and abate this rent,” said Hayes. “I’m counting on the same outcome as the merchants received. The universal support of the community and of the elected officials are as close as we get to a guarantee that we all will cooperate.”