Today ground broke at 37 Hillside Avenue in Upper Manhattan, and what was once a steep wooded hillside curbed by a one-story church will soon be home to another.
Developed by Coconut Properties and nonprofit RiseBoro Community Partnership, 37 Hillside will rise nine stories on a sweeping curved street at the boundary of Washington Heights and Inwood. The affordable mixed-use project takes a stand against the city’s rising housing costs with 163 homes designed solely for low-income seniors—with 50 units set aside for formerly-unhoused seniors—making at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI).
Designed by NYC-based firm Architecture in Formation, the homes at 37 Hillside will sit atop the former and future site of the Rocky Mount Baptist Church, a community pillar that will return to a 7,400-square-foot space at the ground floor.
In 2016, Adam Zeidel, principal at Coconut Properties, approached the church about the underutilization of their property, offering a partnership to ensure the future of the congregation, create housing for at-risk seniors, and provide a set of community assets. When murmurs of gentrification spread, Matthew Bremer, founder and principal at Architecture in Formation was quick to position 37 Hillside within the local effort to increase affordable housing—namely Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Your Home NYC plan to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026.
“This project is there to buttress existing communities who really need housing,” Bremer said. “And now the church is in a better position financially to continue to age and evolve in place.”
With amenity spaces ranging from a community kitchen to a library, 37 Hillside is intended to be an all-in-one community similar to Architecture in Formation’s first affordable housing project, Navy Green Supportive Housing in Brooklyn. The residents of 37 Hillside will have easy access to multiple modes of public transportation including A and 1 subway service and multiple bus routes, and social services with in-house programming by RiseBoro.
Bringing 75 years of New York City housing expertise, SCLE Architects will serve as the executive architect, overseeing construction through its anticipated completion in early 2023.
The project is designed for convenience with specific features—like laundry rooms on every floor, call buttons in each unit, and handrails on corners—targeted toward improving resident mobility. Bright colors and natural lighting in an oversized fire stair are intended to help senior residents use the stairs rather than the elevator in the event of an emergency.
“A series of micro strategies are deployed to create an overall framework for design whereby we bring sustainability, healthy living, equity, pride, and joy to the homes we create,” said Bremer.
Speaking of Sustainability
An all-electric building, 37 Hillside has set lofty energy performance goals with its studio units designed to Passive House standards. The sustainability initiatives were driven by RiseBoro, who completed the first multi-family Passive House-certified project in New York State at Knickerbocker Commons in Bushwick.
However, due to budgetary limitations, 37 Hillside Avenue will fall short of certification—an increasing occurrence in which the urgent need for attainable housing outranks the social and ecological benefits of advanced building performance. It remains to be seen whether the potential passage of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Agenda to lower housing costs and hold the construction industry accountable for its impact on the environment will help negotiate these seemingly contradictory initiatives.
Fitting in and Standing Out
Contrary to the strict pre-war aesthetic of the neighborhood, 37 Hillside shies away from the neutral brick of its neighbors. The restrained copper facade in standing seam metal is designed to patinate over time, reminiscent of the autumnal leaves of the formerly wooded site. The facade is punctuated by clean punched windows and underscored by horizontal board form concrete at the ground floor.
Gloria B. Glas, partner at SLCE Architects, said the building didn’t have to go through a landmark or community approval process, allowing the designers the freedom of selecting their own materials. “The materials are metallic but the building still responds to the colors of the area,” Glas said. “It is a more modern interpretation of the buildings in the area.”
A Stabilized Sanctuary
The new home of Rocky Mount Baptist Church will continue the organization’s 42-year legacy on the site. The revenue from the dwindling congregation hasn’t been able to support the aging facility, but the partnership with Coconut Properties will allow the church building and programs to expand.
Tyberius Asante, deacon of Rocky Mount Baptist Church, said that the new building “will enable us to reach the community in greater ways and offer programs such as GED, after school programs for children, possibly even a daycare.”
The congregation has been meeting virtually since the beginning of the pandemic and will continue to do so during the first phase of construction. When they are ready to return to in-person gatherings, the church has reserved a temporary location at the Catholic Charities Archdiocese further south on Broadway. After 37 Hillside is complete, Rocky Mount plans to return to its original home, potentially welcoming new members from upstairs.
“We’re committed to changing lives, strengthening families, and impacting community, so all are welcome,” said Asante. “We’ll be looking forward to getting to know a whole new group of people as they move into the neighborhood.”
With a shiny new front for affordable housing and a grounding community organization, 37 Hillside will help solidify seniors in the neighborhood, allowing them to age—and thrive—in place.