June 19, 2008 – Bronx, NY – A 105-unit affordable housing development at 870 Southern Boulevard now stands on the site of the last City-owned vacant lot in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. Today, this development was officially named Sister Thomas Apartments, culminating a 40-year journey that SEBCO Development embarked upon under the visionary leadership of Father Louis R. Gigante, in an attempt to fight the deterioration that plagued the Hunts Point community of the Bronx.
In the 60’s and 70’s the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx was a desolate place lined with the carcasses of buildings still smoldering from the latest fire. Landlords torched their buildings for insurance money, gangs ruled the streets, and crime was at an all time high. The community complained of no heat and hot water, no garbage pick-up and no police presence. The only refuge was the neighborhood Roman Catholic Church – St. Athanasius and its priests and nuns, namely Fr. Louis R. Gigante and Sister Thomas, who became beacons of hope and leaders in the tenant’s rights movement and in empowering this community. In 1968, Fr. Gigante launched the South East Bronx Community Organization, SEBCO.
Today, forty years later, the streets of Hunts Point are lined with clean, safe, affordable buildings, with trees and neighborhood parks, private homes, condos and coops. Sister Thomas Apartments symbolizes the redevelopment of the last City-owned empty lot in this part of the South Bronx, an extraordinary accomplishment that is a testament to this community’s renaissance and Fr. Gigante.
“When I started SEBCO, it was out of pure necessity, fulfilling the basic human needs of the people of this community – livable affordable housing. I never thought that I would see this neighborhood rise up from the decay and abandonment of the late 60’s and 70’s in such a relatively short period of time. It was a vicious struggle to get funding from federal, state and local government, and gain political respect to achieve the incredible accomplishments we have reached,” said Fr. Louis R. Gigante. “Sister Thomas Apartments culminates a 40-year journey and completes my vision for the redevelopment of the Hunts Point community. I am extremely proud and genuinely satisfied with what has been built in this neighborhood, a legacy that will live on for many years, after I am gone.”
The vacant lot where the building now stands was City-owned property that was allocated to SEBCO under the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch. It stood vacant for almost 30 years. Mayor Koch, an instrumental key figure during SEBCO’s formative years, came back to a hero’s welcome today. “The reason I supported Fr. Lou was that I knew him very well. I knew him during the days he was at the City Council. I had great respect for him, and he was totally involved in his community and they loved him. He had a proven record of producing housing before I was Mayor. The SEBCO people treated the whole person, it was not just housing, it was the social programs that were involved,” said former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
The building’s name pays tribute to the strength and character of Sister Thomas, S. C. a key leader in the Hunts Point community that empowered her community by meeting their needs at a grassroots level. The beloved Sister of Charity boasts that although she is a NYS licensed teacher, her unofficial training came by way of the “Academy of the South Bronx Streets,” where she earned what she refers to as her “P.H.D.” – a degree in Poverty, Hunger and a Determination to bring about Social Change.
All of the apartments in this new building have two bedrooms with hardwood floors and plenty of closet space. The building is wired for both cable and satellite TV and has a laundry room on the lobby level, a parking area, a community room and a spacious backyard. The rents range from $739 to $899 depending on household income. The income bands for this project have been set to permit tenants to pay no more than 33% of their income. At least 21 of the units are affordable to families at or below 50% of the HUD Income Limits. A family with a minimum income of $26,748 and a maximum income of $32,689 will pay $739. A household earning a minimum income of $32, 690 and a maximum income of $46,080 will pay $899 in rent. It should also be noted that homeless families and others renting with a Section 8 voucher can have lower incomes than those listed, since the voucher will make up the difference in their rent. SEBCO Development will also provide these tenants with essential social services.
“I am so happy with my apartment that I cannot stop smiling. I have been homeless for almost 3 years and I am finally part of a community. I finally belong somewhere. I cannot thank SEBCO enough for giving me back my dignity and providing me with a beautiful, safe and affordable apartment. I am home.” said Aida Santos, a single mother of two.
Since its inception in 1968, SEBCO has sponsored and/or developed numerous projects for affordable housing throughout the South Bronx. SEBCO is responsible for the development and construction of over 6000 new or rehabilitated housing units and homes in approximately 450 buildings, many of which have retail and/or community facilities. SEBCO provides housing for the elderly, disabled, formerly homeless, low- and moderate-income individuals and families.
“SEBCO and its affiliates have grown from a small group of community activists into a sizeable and sophisticated not-for-profit development company with over 300 employees providing management, maintenance and security services to our residents. From modest origins SEBCO has contributed greatly to the Bronx and the City of New York by not just providing homes but, more importantly jobs, social services, recreation, business opportunities, and a safer community for its low- and moderate-income residents. SEBCO is rightfully proud of its record, its accomplishments and its successes in carrying out this mission. SEBCO stands ready to continue to better this City and the Bronx for another 40 years,” said Peter Cantillo, president of SEBCO Development.
“The City has financed more than 100,000 units of affordable housing in the Bronx since 1986, including 22,000 units of affordable housing financed through Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan. Our work is made possible by local organizations, like SEBCO, that are dedicated to maintaining and improving the city’s neighborhoods by understanding their communities’ needs and working with local government and political officials to create more affordable housing. HPD is proud to call SEBCO a partner in the revitalization of the South Bronx. Together with local officials and state agencies we can sustain the borough’s renaissance and ensure that long-time residents experience its positive impact,” said Commissioner Shaun Donovan, NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
A ground-breaking ceremony for Tiffany Park, adjacent to the Sister Thomas Apartments, was also held today. Tiffany Park is the highly anticipated community oasis comprised of trees, park benches and greenery that will offer a peaceful meeting place for children, families and the elderly. Tiffany Park is being built with a half-million dollar award of NYC capital funds through Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion’s office and additional funds raised privately by SEBCO.
“I would like to congratulate SEBCO for developing Sister Thomas Apartments. This 105-unit building replaces a once desolate stretch of Hunts Point with much-needed affordable housing. I am thrilled that SEBCO will also complement the building with Tiffany Park next door, a publicly accessible open space project that I assisted,” said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion.
The grand opening celebration gathered an impressive group of dignitaries from the Federal, State and City government agencies. Priscilla Almodovar, president and CEO of the NYS Housing Finance Agency, whose agency provided most of the funding for this project, said: “Sister Thomas S.C. Apartments is a wonderful example of the renaissance of the South Bronx. With this development, much needed larger-sized apartments will come to Hunts Point. By doing so, we allow families to make this their permanent home and to live near their work. The State’s Housing Finance Agency is proud to partner with SEBCO Development Inc. in strengthening neighborhoods.”