|The new Serviam Gardens complex sits on the campus of Mt. St. Ursula Academy in Bedford Park. (Photo by Adi Talwar. See slideshow below for more.)|
Residents call this scenic spot the "Intergenerational Garden" because it straddles the space between the historic all-girls' high school and a brand new, $65 million affordable housing project for seniors that officially opened yesterday. Here, the students are encouraged to stop by after class to mingle with the older residents or volunteer their time to help out in the garden.
"The girls love coming over here," said Sister Mary Alice Giordano, a teacher at Mount Saint Ursula's and a member of the Ursuline Sisters, the group that runs the Bedford Park school. "One of them said to me the other day, 'I love learning about the old days from someone who actually lived through it.'"
The Ursuline Sisters leased the property surrounding an unused former convent to the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, which, recognizing the neighborhood's need for more senior citizen housing, spent the past several years converting the space--which includes two newly built buildings--into a stunning 296 unit apartment complex, named Serviam Gardens.
"This is a terrific project for so many reasons," said Abby Jo Sigal, of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., a Manhattan-based organization which collaborated on and helped secure funding for the ambitious undertaking. "It's really a testament to Fordham Bedford's work."
The end result is luxury-style living for the 296 seniors who now call Serviam Gardens home. The complex is the first city subsidized affordable housing development that meets certain "green building" criteria required by HPD for new construction projects, to minimize waste and maximize energy efficiency and water conservation.
Tanks collect rain to water plants on the rooftop garden, which offers views of the nearby Botanical Garden, Fordham University and a hazy Manhattan skyline off in the distance.
The three buildings that make up the development are all connected, so residents can visit their neighbors in bad weather without having to step outside. Other on-premise treats: a movie theatre-style entertainment room, fitness room and gym, library and a game room with billiards and ping-pong tables.
"No one, including myself, actually dreamed of having this quality of living and this quality of housing at this stage of our lives," said Tony Carter, who was the first tenant to move into Serviam Gardens when the first building was completed in 2009. When he first moved in, he marveled at how each apartment has it's own thermostat and air conditioner, recalling New York City apartments of his youth where the temperature was at the mercy of the building's super.
Before the move, Carter had been without a permanent home, and staying with friends in New Jersey. Now, he heads the Tenants Association. He's learning Chinese so he can communicate better with his neighbor across the hall. At the apartments' Thanksgiving dinner last November, he said, everyone gave thanks for their new home.
"You wake up in the morning with a smile on your face," he said. "I think it's going to improve people's health. You don't have to lock your doors."
A number of community groups, elected officials and representatives from several city agencies showed up at Tuesday's ribbon cutting ceremony, as the project was financed by a number of different sources: the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, the city's Housing Development Corporation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Chase Bank among them.
"It's beautiful,” said former Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who now works with HUD and showed up for the ceremony. “Senior housing is one of our signature missions.”
Carmen and Carlos DeJesus just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary in their new apartment. The still-beaming couple, who lived in the Bronx most of their lives, said they'd fallen on hard times last year and were forced to move in with a relative in Pennsylvania before they heard about Serviam Gardens. Carmen, a former art teacher, now leads a craft class for the other tenants once a week.
"For us, this has really been the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "A lot of people don't know what 'home,' really means. But it's everything."
Photos by Adi Talwar