When Erica Diaz moved into her new apartment in Freeport last December, she said it felt like she hit the lottery.
“It was life-changing,” Diaz said. “It still is.”
Diaz, 59, lives in one of 45 apartments in a new building, called the Allan and Geraldine Rosenberg Residence, in Freeport off Merrick Road. It was designed by globally renowned architecture firm Studio Libeskind and developed by Manhattan-based nonprofit Selfhelp with the goal of providing permanently affordable housing for adults 55 and older.
Diaz, a survivor of domestic violence, said she was previously struggling to find a place to sleep every night. Some nights she found someone’s couch and others she slept in the backseat of her Nissan Sentra. She said she didn’t allow herself to believe she had been selected to live in the new building even after she was assigned an apartment number.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Public officials held a ceremony Tuesday in Freeport to celebrate a new 45-unit affordable apartment building for seniors.
- The building was designed by the award-winning architecture firm of Daniel Libeskind, who oversaw the master plan to rebuild the World Trade Center development.
- The building, which was developed by nonprofit Selfhelp, was praised by officials for adding new housing in Nassau County, where rising rents and home prices have made it difficult to afford a home.
When she moved in, she worried about not having a bed to sleep on.
“It wasn’t until the day that I signed that lease and I came in fearful that, ‘Oh shoot, I’m going to be sleeping on the floor but it beats sleeping in the car,’ only to find that I had a set of pots and pans, a towel to dry off with after my shower and a bed to sleep on,” she said.
The building arrives at a time when Gov. Kathy Hochul is encouraging communities around the state to build more housing to address a shortage of affordable units. The governor recently opened up $650 million in funding for pro-housing communitiesafter an effort to give the state more power to approve building and override local zoning rules failed to gain traction in the state Legislature.
Rents at the building start around $1,200 for a one-bedroom, with most renting for $1,432 a month. Residents must earn no more than 60% of the area median income, or a maximum of $54,600 for an individual or $62,400 for a couple. Fourteen units are set aside for formerly homeless adults who are frail or have a disability.
“We want to make sure that we are building where people want to live, where they want to work, where they can find jobs, [and] where they want to retire,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal. “That means we need to build in every nook and cranny in this state from Buffalo to Brooklyn to Montauk and the East End … and this is an example here today.”
A star architect
The five-story building stands out in the neighborhood of smaller red-brick apartment developments. It has a white synthetic stucco exterior, using a system called External Insulation and Finishing Systems or EIFs, and a sloping metal siding which cuts across the face of the building. Its windows are varying shapes and sizes changing the way light enters different units.
“It’s not a box,” said Daniel Libeskind, founder of his eponymous architecture firm. "You don’t live in a box with punched-in windows. Every unit is really studied for light, proportions, materials. It’s really a home in a larger sense and it’s as unique as the people who are going to be making this their home.”
Diaz agreed. She appreciates her north-facing window that faces the street and allows her to look down on flowers below. “It doesn’t look like some institutionalized-type setting,” she said. “It looks like something that, had I not been subsidized, and I was still working-class making a good amount of money, I’d want to rent something like this.”
Libeskind said he had a personal connection to the project. The son of Holocaust survivors, he was born in communist Poland and emigrated to New York from Israel as a teenager.
His family lived in the Amalgamated Houses in the Bronx, one of the country’s first large-scale, moderate-income housing cooperatives. Two of Libeskind’s most notable projects are the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which opened in 2001 and uses architectural features such as voids and intersecting corridors to help the museum tell the story of the Jewish people in Germany, and the master plan for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.
“When I started this project, a lot of people asked me, ‘Why are you doing affordable housing in a Long Island? You’re doing luxury towers here, museums there,” Libeskind said. “But I have to say, in my view, there is nothing more important than housing which is affordable and particularly for older people. What's going to be more important for architects to do?”
Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy said affordable housing, particularly for seniors, is desperately needed in the village to keep people from leaving.
“People are moving out day by day,” Kennedy said. “… “We want to keep our residents here and keep them happy.”
The building includes community space, a roof deck with distant views of the New York City skyline and social services onsite.
“We do have a critical shortage of housing in the state as well as the country,” said Stuart Kaplan, CEO of Selfhelp Community Services. “Together what we have created is a community where [residents] have companionship, enjoy life and live with dignity.”
Other funders included the Allan and Geraldine Rosenberg family, Capital One, Hudson Housing Capital, Community Preservation Corp., Freddie Mac, The Weinberg Foundation, Nassau County and TD Bank.