Government officials, housing officials, parishioners, clergy and those that were the force behind the St. Michael's Senior Housing project gathered at the Amagansett church for a long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday.
"East Hampton is known for many things," said Gerry Mooney, a member of the church and manager of affordable housing apartment complexes in town, who had spurred the project along over 10 years, "but is also a place where a community says, simply, housing a human right, not a privilege."
The St. Michael's Lutheran Church made way for the complex that includes 40 apartments for those 62 years or older with an annual income of $30,000 or less, and a community center by knocking down the old parsonage a few hundred hards from the church in December.
"The church wanted this for the community," said Michael DeSario, the president of the the housing board that secured funding, including a $5.9 million federal grant and an $891,000 federal rent subsidiary. "All told, it's an $11 million project," he said.
Six years after St. Michael's looked to East Hampton's Windmill affordable housing board for assistance, the building has begun. Four out of six foundations have already been installed. Completion is expected within less than a year, as the buildings are modular.
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, said he was looking forward to returning for the ribbon cutting upon the project's completion. "East Hampton has had a leadership role in affordable housing," he said referring to Windmill and Whalebone villages, where Mooney is the manager.
"Gerry's really been the heart and soul of the project," DeSario said. He and other speakers, such a Legis. Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, spoke of Mooney's tenacity navigating bureaucracies and red tape.
In fact, the project was close to coming to an end, just this December, when certain grant money was about to expire unless final approvals came through, DeSario said.
Joining in the celebration with St. Michael's pastor the Rev. Dr. Katrina Foster were Lutheran Bishop Robert Rimbo and St. Michael's former pastor the Rev. Yvette Shock. Foster presented Shock with a gift — a piece of the siding from the parsonage, in which Shock was the last pastor to live. It included a photo of the decommissioned house and a quote, "Wisdom has built her home," from Proverbs 9:1.
"We were losing the soul of our community," Schneiderman said of the importance of creating more senior housing. He said he hopes the next affordable housing project "will be for the young folks are struggling to stay here."