Reaching The Heights
New SRO Project Home to Homeless

New York Daily News | February 20, 1986

By Ricki Fulman

An abandoned building in Washington Heights has been totally rehabilitated and transformed into the first new single-room-occupancy project to open in New York City in 30 years.

Called The Heights, the five-story brick building at 530 W. 178th St. is now home to 55 formerly homeless men and women. Each unit boasts two windows and oak floors.

One of the new occupants, 34-year-old Gwendolyn Palmer, called her new home “heaven.” She said over the weekend that she had lived in a Brooklyn shelter for seven months until she moved into the building recently.

“It was filthy, there was no security, no privacy,” she said of her former dwelling. “It’s just the opposite here.”

Palmer, who used to work as a cook, is cooking once again at The Heights, as part of a special training and education program the project has established for its residents.

“Feels wonderful”

“It feels wonderful to be preparing meals again,” she said.

Heights Director Ellen Baxter said that an integral part of the program is having the tenants operate the kitchen, buy the food-and prepare It for the residents’. breakfasts and lunches, which are served daily. Lunch is $1; breakfast is 50 cents.

Baxter said that the residents, who will pay one-third of their income for their furnished rooms, also are being trained to take full responsibility for the building on evenings and weekends, taking shifts at the front desk, and learning what to do in an emergency.

The $1 million project, which offers on-site social and mental-health services, was Financed with a conventional loan from the New York City Community Preservation Corporation, a participation loan from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and a grant from the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

Help with loans

The Community Service Society of New York assisted in securing both the loans and grants and provided technical assistance for the project.

Baxter noted that 110,000 SRO units have been lost throughout the city since 1975, and that preservation of the remaining SRO units and development of new ones were viable solutions to the ongoing housing crisis faced by single, poor people.

She also said that a big effort had been made to integrate the residents, so that the project is racially mixed, with half of them men, and half women, ages 20 to 74.

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