Church of the Nativity Sold

Community fears that developer will turn historic site into high-end housing

06 Apr 2020 | 12:55

For five years residents of the Lower East Side campaigned to have the former site of the Church of the Nativity turned into affordable housing. However, that does not look likely.

According to the Real Deal, the New Mexico offices of Gemini Rosemont, a Los Angeles based company, purchased the building, 44 Second Ave. along with the adjacent property 42-46 Second Ave. for $40 million and plans were filed for demolition.

The Church of the Nativity has been an anchor on the Lower East Side since 1842. It was a place where second- and third-generation Americans came, and it was the site of the funeral for Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. In 2015 the church shuttered and merged with the Most Holy Redeemer Parish at 173 East 3rd Street.

Many people in the community are angry about the sale. Among them is Terry Cook of the Cooper Square Community Land Trust. Cook said everyone involved in this transaction is a “greedy pig.” She hopes the developer does not build luxury housing.

“I’m very interested in why these churches are being sold,” Cook said. “Where’s the money going? We had wanted use the land for affordable housing. People are very upset about what’s going to happen and the fact that we could not get any information from the Archdiocese of New York about the property.”

The developer declined to comment, but according to its website “it focuses on creating housing for “local vibrant economies with a concentration of technology, new economy, and high-growth tenants and industries.”

Market-Rate Housing

In February 2018, the land trust had a goal of turning the former home of the Nativity Church into 123 low-income senior housing units. But the plan didn’t work.

The land trust had attempted to purchase the property for $18.5 million. Of that amount, $5 million would be paid to the archdiocese upon closing. The remainder, which would use a combination of federal tax credits and state and local funding, would be paid in installments over a 20-year period. This offer was rejected and instead the archdiocese prefers to develop market-rate housing at this site. The archdiocese wants to sell the church for $50 million.

Rebecca Amato, who is an associate director of NYU’s Urban Democracy Lab, which focuses on urban renewal in areas affected by gentrification, spoke with Our Town about the sale. Amato explained that she and other activists had heard about the sale in the late fall, but were under the belief that the developer had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Archdiocese to keep its identity private at least until early this year.

“Even though we were expecting this announcement, I have to say it still felt like a gut-punch,” Amato said. “It feels very real and very sad.”

People in the community deserve better, she stressed. Amato said it’s like another piece of the LES and East Village is being torn apart and destroyed.

She noted that to those who haven’t followed the situation may see a five-year vacancy and a sale for large amount of money as a good thing, but in actuality it’s horrendous.

“There is little reason to believe the $40 million dollar sale will result in anything that serves the existing low-income community,” Amato said. “For those who have watched the church decay and were unfamiliar with the battle to transform it into low-income housing, I think there will be some celebration.”

“Even though we were expecting this announcement, I have to say it still felt like a gut-punch. It feels very real and very sad.” Rebecca Amato of NYU’s Urban Democracy Lab