Seniors find home in historic hotel

In Times Square, the Woodstock center for those in need will open single-room units next summer

  • David Gillchrist, Executive Director of Project FIND, in Midtown. Photo: Megan Conn

“It’s an unusual neighborhood to find us in, but now we’re part of the landscape.”

David Gillchrist, Executive Director, Project FIND

For a few struggling seniors, 13 will soon be their lucky number. Next summer, ten affordable single-room units — plus a roof terrace with views of Times Square — will open on the thirteenth floor of the Project FIND Woodstock Senior Center. The center is already home to 280 seniors, most of whom were formerly homeless, and has assisted 2,400 needy seniors this year.

“Ten units may not seem like a big number, but every unit matters,” said Caryn Resnick, Acting Commissioner of the Department for the Aging, which operates the senior center on the building’s second floor. “One of the great things here is having services right in the building – hot meals, activities, computers. It really adds to the quality of life.”

The new residential units, funded by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, have been years in the making. After the Woodstock Hotel was converted to a senior center in 1977, the penthouse floor gradually became crammed with old furniture and equipment.

David Gillchrist, Executive Director of Project FIND, has worked to convert the top floor into housing for years, but expensive engineering challenges delayed the project. The ceiling was too low to pass a city inspection, so engineers had to lower the floor to increase the total height.

Each of the new units will include a private bathroom, a microwave and a minifridge. The units provide a long-term solution to the basic needs that bring homeless New Yorkers to the senior center in the first place.

Dale Evans, 68, used to be one of those seniors in need. In 2012, after a long illness claimed his wife and nearly all of their savings, he resorted to sleeping in a nearby plaza and selling his drawings in Central Park. After he began visiting Woodstock to get a shower and a hot meal, he was surprised to find that there were also affordable housing units in such prime real estate.

“I thought it was all office buildings here,” Evans said. “It’s a very strange place for housing.”

Before long, a case worker helped him get his own room in the building. “It was like winning the lottery,” Evans said. He stayed for nearly three years, until he secured the subsidized studio apartment he now calls home. According to Evans, having a case worker guide him through the application process was essential.

“The vast majority of people in financial straits can’t put the pieces together — that’s why we need counselors,” he said. “Otherwise, people give up because they don’t have a concrete reason to believe they’ll get a benefit from it.”

The Department for the Aging says the need for both senior services and dedicated housing will intensify in the coming years. “The senior population is growing exponentially,” said Resnick. “By 2030 there will be 1.7 million older adults in New York City — more than the number of school-age children.”

This wave of aging means neighborhoods across the city will see a growing demand for affordable units like Woodstock. As the owner of the Woodstock building, and the valuable air rights that go with it, Project FIND is confident they will be able to sustain an affordable housing cluster here — even as sleek offices and chic hotels continue sprouting up on all sides.

“It’s an unusual neighborhood to find us in, but now we’re part of the landscape,” said Gillchrist.

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