By Teri Tynes, Communications Associate
The Sisters of Charity of New York have been strong advocates for affordable housing since their earliest days. Recognizing a growing need, in the 1980s the Sister embarked on an ambitious program to sponsor housing developments that provided supportive services for the most vulnerable. In Staten Island, Manhattan, and Rockland County, not only did SCHDC develop safe and affordable housing for the elderly, formerly homeless, disabled, and chronically mentally ill, they insisted that additional services be in place to treat the residents with dignity and respect.
On October 28, 2021, Sister Donna Dodge joined other representatives of the Vincentian family for a United Nations (UN) panel discussion titled What Happens When People Have Housing — Better Cities, Better Life. Moderated by Sister Teresa Kotturan, SC-Nazareth, the Sisters of Charity Federation Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representative at the UN, the panel was part of the Urban October UN initiative to raise awareness of a new urban agenda and the role cities must play in fighting the climate crisis.
In her introduction, Sister Teresa described Sister Donna as “a passionate advocate for ending homelessness and for affordable housing for vulnerable people.” Before becoming President, Sister Donna Dodge was Assistant Executive Director and later CEO and Executive Director of the Sisters of Charity Housing Development Corporation from 2013 to 2019. Sister Donna’s UN panel presentation provided an overview of SCNY-sponsored housing developments with an emphasis of the support services and other facets of “value-added” experience. In her words, the Sisters are “not just a landlord.”
Provided services vary with the needs of the developments. Services offered on Staten Island include social service coordinators in each facility, assistance with Meals on Wheels, government benefits, and live-in maintenance staff. Fundraising, grants, and development efforts have raised funds for iPads and classes on how to use them, recreational activities, emergency funds, and more.
At Fox House, a Tier II shelter for homeless women and children in Manhattan, services include a program director, case manager, social worker, housing specialist, recreation coordinator, and maintenance and security staff.
The Sisters maintain high standards, ensuring that every person is treated with dignity and respect. They share these expectations in training sessions for new staff. Staff members must refrain from saying, “We can’t do that,” and instead find ways to comply with requests. Sister Donna meets with every person before hiring.
Future Staten Island Development
The Sisters have a long history of ministry on Staten Island, so it should not surprise anyone that the borough is the location for the next development. With Monadnock and the Master Group, the Sister of Charity Housing Development Corporation is undertaking a new mixed-use development on a city-owned site on Staten Island’s North Shore. More than half of the 360 new affordable homes will service very low-income households, with 54 reserved for formerly homeless. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) announced the winning proposal on October 13, 2021. Located on the former U.S. Navy Homeport site in Stapleton, development amenities will include health and social programs operated by ArchCare, and a YMCA counseling center.
Planning for the future waterfront development considers possible climate hazards “including sea level rise, increasing precipitation, and increasing temperatures through resilient design,” according to the announcement.
Matthew T. Janeczko, Executive Director and CEO of SCHDC, said, “Along with its public and private partners, SCHDC looks forward to the construction of the Stapleton project, which will forever transform the northern shore of Staten Island and cements SCHDC’s commitment to mission-driven, value-added housing for the local community.”
The Sisters of Charity of New York will continue to press that housing is a right and address the scarcity of affordable housing. As Sister Donna says, “I hope that someday we don’t have to build for the homeless.”
Watch the UN event from October 28, 2021 on Vimeo.