Corona welcomes new affordable senior residence

When HANAC founder George Douris formed the social services organization in 1972, one of his top priorities was to help seniors find with affordable housing.

The nonprofit built its first housing development in Astoria, the HANAC Archbishop Iakovos Center, in 1993. Douris died two years later.

Last Wednesday, HANAC officially opened its fourth senior affordable building, this time in Corona. The eight-story, 67-unit complex for low-income seniors features a mix of studios and one-bedroom apartments.

Notably, 21 of those units are set aside for formerly homeless seniors, who will receive social services and other assistance on site.

On the ground floor of the HANAC Corona Senior Residence will be a universal pre-kindergarten site that will serve nearly 60 children.

“We value our seniors, we want them to have beautiful buildings ” said Evangeline Douris, HANAC’s board chair. “I like nice colors because seniors should not be living in dark spaces.”

The $36 million project was part of the Willets Point community benefits agreement, according to officials, including $14 million in city subsidies.

That includes $9.7 million from the Department of Housing Development and Preservation (HPD)’s SARA Program, $3.6 million from the City Council and the borough president, and $1 million in settlement funds from the state attorney general’s office.

The rest came from private organizations, including Enterprise Community Partners and Chase.

Borough President Melinda Katz said the concept of using the property, which was once a garden space, for affordable housing dates back to 2005. Many government partners across the city and state worked together to make the building possible.

“We look forward to many generations benefitting from this housing,” she said.

The building is now one of the largest low-income senior housing developments to meet the Passive House Institute’s design standards, which cut energy consumption by up to 90 percent.

That will translate to both lower utility bills for tenants and lower operating costs for the building owner.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said this type of development is “truly groundbreaking and innovative.”

“It’s a socially, environmentally and economically innovative development,” she said. “What HANAC did in this building is a model for how we can move forward.”

The congresswoman noted that there were 35,000 applications for the 67 units in the residence, proving just how bad the need is for affordable housing in the area.

“It shows we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It shows there is so much potential, and Queens wants this kind of development here.”
One of the residents who moved in is Maureen Reardon, a multicultural artist who moved to New York from New England.

The 66-year-old lived in a shelter in the Bronx, but was assaulted there. Reardon said it was a privilege to be living at the affordable complex.

“I would have never guessed a lottery would change my life this way,” she said.

HRA Administrator Grace Bonilla added that the city agency meets with clients everyday who are hoping for a better future.

“That’s what this represents,” she said.

The building was designed by Think! Architecture and Design, a Downtown Brooklyn-based firm. Jack Esterson, a principal at the company, said they were hired five years ago by HANAC.

He said they were “totally on board from day one” because they loved the mission of building an intergenerational building with Passive House standards.

“We are very committed as architects to sustainable green design,” he said.
Although they were not experts in Passive House certification, they became experts “very quickly.” They hired consultants and through a collaborative process with their client and residents, developed the design.

Visually, Esterson said, they attempted to integrate the building into the community using natural materials and colors. The firm used warm colors on the inside and oversized windows to “give the seniors a sense of lightness and openness.”

“We were looking to create a very optimistic, positive and uplifting atmosphere in the building,” he said. “And at the same time, a very ecologically sustainable building.”

One of the project’s main challenges was money, Esterson said, because complying with Passive House standards is expensive, but he said it will “pay for itself in the long term.”

Esterson said he enjoyed working with HANAC on the senior residence.

“One of my very favorite projects in my entire career,” he said.

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