In 1982, the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) announced its plan to close the 67-year-old Greenpoint Hospital on this site and replace it with the 600-bed Woodhull Medical and Mental health Center in Williamsburg which had been built in 1978 but remained vacant because the city said it could not afford to open it. The Greenpoint Hospital Task Force had created plans to build a nursing home and senior housing, so they challenged the ruling and brought it before the State Supreme Court on the grounds that the corporation had not received prior approval for its plan from the State Department of Health and had failed to consult with the board of neighborhood residents as required by the law that created the corporation. In May 1982, State Supreme Court Justice William T. Bellard ruled against the plan, but an Appellate Division stay on his opposition enabled the corporation to close Greenpoint. In July, Justice Ballard said the new plan could proceed but be also ordered that the corporation consult with the Board.
The Health & Hospitals Corporation did not do that. Instead, ignoring plans that had been presented to the Department of Housing and Preservation Development for redevelopment of a nursing home and senior housing, the Department of Housing and Preservation obtained a consent decree to convert Greenpoint Hospital to a men’s homeless shelter. Without consulting the community, HHC moved forty homeless men into the main building in the middle of the night; in a short time, the numbers rose to 1,200. The result was neglect of the men, along with a profound disturbance, to the quality of life in the neighborhood.
The Wither Street Block Association, under the leadership of Theresa and Guido Cianiotta, picketed outside the hospital for 140 nights to fight for a positive reuse of the eight abandoned buildings of the Greenpoint Hospital. Councilman Abe Gerges went to the City Council to form the first working committee on homelessness.
A coalition of five neighborhood groups formed The Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation (GREC): St. Nicholas Neighborhood Housing and Preservation Organization (later known as St. Nick’s), the Concerned Citizens of the Wither Street Block Association, the National Congress of Neighborhood Women, Cooper Park Tenants Association, and the Conselyea Street Block Association (The Swinging Sixties Senior Center). The majority of those involved in GREC were women from the neighborhood. GREC’s goal was to have an input into what happened to eight buildings on the Greenpoint Hospital site. With the help of Brooklyn Legal Services, GREC went to city, state and federal courts to reduce the number of homeless based on an environmental quality review. As a result, HHC had to reduce the number of sheltered homeless in the neighborhood to 200.
After protesting the hospital closing, and trying to limit the numbers in the homeless shelter, GREC worked to present its vision for housing and a nursing home to the Community Board; at one point they were challenged by a religious group that didn’t want to take public money but were interested in proselytizing the other churchgoers in the community. The Community Board voted in favor of the GREC proposals.
St. Nicholas received one hospital building to develop into 10 housing units; however, the state put a moratorium on nursing homes after one was built in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. Neighborhood Women received three hospital buildings to convert into thirty-three units of housing. The development of Neighborhood Women Renaissance Houses (NWRH) included establishing a tenants selection process, a tentant association and a community center. The group worked with architect Katrin Adam to make the most efficient use of the space and incorporate innovative designs for public housing that addressed the specific needs of women. The NWRH are now called Neighborhood Women Houses. Each one of the three buildings is named after a NW member, Jan Peterson and Marie Leanza (28 Kinglsand Ave), Margaret Carnegie and Mildred Johnson (302-310 Jackson St) and Tish and Guido Ciancotta (276-284 Jackson St), the community room is named after Mary Alice Richardson and Geraldine Miller and the garden after Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Marrero.
To learn more about the Greenpoint Hospital Battle and the Neighborhood Women Houses please join us on our Walking Tour.