Housing services and retention collaborative will be formed to facilitate equitable access
Following an extensive community engagement process that included stakeholder meetings, information sharing and one-on-one discussions with numerous community leaders, service providers and elected officials, a plan to create the Flushing community’s first transitional housing facility for families with children is entering its next phase of development.
The project, Magnolia Gardens, located at 133-04 39th Avenue, will provide 90 apartments for families experiencing housing instability, along with comprehensive services to help them get back on their feet and build stable, sustainable futures. Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), which owns the property, is collaborating with Urban Resource Institute (URI), an experienced provider and valued city partner with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to build Magnolia Gardens.
As part of the project, URI and AAFE are establishing an innovative Housing Services & Retention Collaborative with participation from locally-based providers and community partners who will help facilitate access to culturally competent services that support families with children who have historically been under-served, including AAPI families with children. Details about the Collaborative and other key commitments were spelled out in a letter to local elected officials and made public today.
In December of last year, AAFE announced with local elected officials that the project would go on hold to provide time for further community outreach. Throughout the first 4 months of 2022, AAFE, URI and the DHS participated in community meetings, including a meeting of Queens Community Board 7 on January 24, a stakeholder meeting on January 12 organized by City Council member Sandra Ung, and a follow-up stakeholder session on March 30. The City and the project partners have also responded in writing to elected officials and stakeholders, answering several rounds of additional questions. Smaller group and individual meetings have taken place involving a wide array of community and nonprofit leaders.
While the project team will continue to engage with the Flushing community to share pertinent information and build productive working relationships, it is necessary to resume planning for construction at the 39th Avenue site.
“For almost a half century, Asian Americans for Equality has been devoted to helping many of our city’s most vulnerable families achieve housing stability and economic security,” said Lydia Tom, AAFE board president. “We are steadfast in our commitment to this project, which will truly be an asset to the Flushing community, and we are looking forward to working with our partners at URI and the City for many years to come, ensuring that this transitional housing facility provides low-income immigrant families and other families in need the support they require to thrive.”
“Language and cultural barriers prevent many vulnerable families in Flushing from accessing housing assistance and critical social services,” said Jennifer Sun and Thomas Yu, AAFE co-executive directors. That’s why we were determined to utilize our site on 39th Avenue to create transitional housing for a resident population who are supported by staff reflecting the diversity of the local community and providing inclusive services, especially Asian language services and outreach programs. We look forward to working with Flushing stakeholders in the months and years ahead to make sure our entire community can advance together.”
“Since 1980, Urban Resource Institute has transformed the lives of New York City families impacted by domestic violence and homelessness, with a focus on communities of color and other vulnerable populations. We look forward to bringing our holistic, innovative approach and comprehensive services to the Flushing community and to the families we will serve in Magnolia Gardens,” stated Nathaniel M. Fields, CEO of Urban Resource Institute. “I am proud that URI is widely recognized for the social service expertise, deep relationships with the diverse communities we serve, and excellence in program development and service delivery that we will bring to this new site.”
Only families with children under the age of 21 will be eligible for Magnolia Gardens. Residents will receive daily case management, individual and group counseling, permanent housing placement assistance, referrals for medical care, life skills training, access to recreational activities for children and after school programs, workforce training and placement and childcare. The comprehensive program is designed to assist at-risk families in securing long-term housing and employment to facilitate their ability to build stable futures and contribute positively to their community.
“URI looks forward to working closely with the community to ensure services are culturally competent and responsive to each individual family,” stated Dr. Carla Smith, Deputy CEO of Urban Resource Institute. “We remain committed to establishing a community advisory board to continue to support the provision of transformational spaces and services, in line with our reputation as a valued resource for those we serve”.
URI will be the service provider at Magnolia Gardens. The organization has more than 40 year’s effective experience operating transitional housing facilities for families, with more than 20 sites located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens that offer shelter and comprehensive programs for domestic violence survivors and homeless families, as well as prevention and intervention programs. AAFE and URI will jointly own the Magnolia Gardens site through a Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC). A use restriction will require the site to be utilized for transitional housing for the contract term of 30-40 years and as affordable housing after that.
The Housing Services & Retention Collaborative brings together AAPI-serving nonprofit social service providers in Flushing and surrounding communities in Queens to reduce barriers for the placement of eligible AAPI families with children. While the facility will be open to all homeless families, working to prioritize those from CD7 is consistent with efforts by the Department of Homeless Services. AAFE will coordinate Collaborative outreach and referral efforts. AAFE staff will arrange for transportation and chaperone AAPI families with children seeking transitional housing to the PATH intake center in the Bronx and other DHS intake centers if they are established in the future. They will work with families throughout the intake process and during their temporary residency at Magnolia Gardens, and after they find a permanent home so that they do not fall back into homelessness. Placement for transitional housing will be prioritized based on children’s school and/or previous residence in CD7. Families from the community in existing DHS facilities will be offered transfers into Magnolia Gardens. Placement will be contingent on availability. Read the full commitment letter here.
URI will form a Community Advisory Board (CAB) comprised of Flushing and CD7 stakeholders – residents (renters and homeowners), small business owners, nonprofit service providers including AAFE, and elected officials – to keep the Flushing community informed about the project’s operations, security measures, and utilization by families with children – and to address any operational and safety impacts on the surrounding community. It will be convened two months before the facility opens with monthly meetings scheduled in the first year of operations and quarterly meetings in subsequent years.
Magnolia Gardens will help bolster neighborhood health, safety and economic development in Flushing by reducing the homeless and unstably housed population in the short and long term, providing good jobs for community residents, and activating a site that has been vacant for several years. Many families in Flushing are living in illegal basement apartments, unsafe hotels, overcrowded apartments with extended family members and have in some cases ended up on the street with no shelter at all. Even before the pandemic, 41% of households in CD7 were severely rent burdened, an increase of 10% over the past decade. In addition, 25% of CD7 families are living in overcrowded homes, with nearly 22,000 Asian individuals in CD7 living in households with annual income levels below the federal poverty line. The project, which is the first for families with children facility in CD7, will address a critical community need.
AAFE explored the possibility of building permanent affordable housing on the 39th Avenue site. The greatest need was clearly for deeply affordable housing at 30% of Area Median Income. But due to zoning limitations and high development costs to create a relatively small number of units, it wasn’t feasible. At the same time, AAFE was well aware from its deep experience working with formerly homeless families that many community members require short-term comprehensive social and career development resources, in addition to housing. Transitional housing provides a pathway to permanent affordable housing, enabling families to secure Section 8 vouchers and qualify for housing units specifically reserved for formerly homeless residents.
The new building has been designed by Urban Architectural Initiatives (UAI) and will be contextual to the neighborhood.. Each family apartment will be fully equipped with kitchens and bathrooms. There will be a community room accessible to the public and the building will have 24-hour security. As part of the goals for the site, URI upon funding availability would like to install a digital fabrication laboratory, known as a Fab Lab, to support clients in developing skills for jobs of the future. The intent is to offer periodic access to this unique training for youth of the community in addition to residents. This will be the second Fab Lab URI has created for clients to provide a state-of-the-art learning environment in industrial fabrication, electronic tools, software, and programming..
The project is expected to break ground shortly after closing, with construction continuing for approximately 20 months.
Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) advances racial, social and economic justice for Asian Americans and other systematically disadvantaged communities through affordable housing development and management, an array of community services, small business lending and grassroots advocacy. AAFE has been an anchor in the Flushing community for more than 30 years, providing access to government entitlement programs, affordable health care, senior and youth programs and multilingual immigration services. AAFE co-developed One Flushing, the largest 100% affordable housing project in the Flushing community in decades. During the pandemic, AAFE’s affiliate, Renaissance Economic Development Corporation, dispersed millions of dollars in emergency aid to struggling small businesses. For more information, please visit www.aafe.org.
Urban Resource Institute (URI) transforms the lives of domestic violence survivors and homeless families in New York City by empowering individuals, families, and communities, particularly communities of color and other vulnerable populations, to end cycles of domestic violence, homelessness, poverty, and trauma by increasing safety and resiliency. As the largest provider of domestic violence shelter services in the US and a leading provider of homeless services, URI’s programs impact more than 40,000 individuals annually through prevention, intervention, education, and direct services in both residential and non-residential settings. URI is recognized as a thought-leader with influence across the U.S. and beyond. For more information, please visit www.urinyc.org.