SHNNY Names The Schermerhorn Residence of the Year

Left to right: Comunilife President/CEO Dr. Rosa Gil, Common Ground Executive Director Brenda Rosen, Schermerhorn Program Director Stacy Matuza, Actors Fund President/CEO Joseph P. Benincasa and Network Executive Director Ted Houghton.

Every year, the Supportive Housing Network of New York honors two outstanding supportive housing residences at its Awards Gala. In 2011, Common Ground’s Schermerhorn was one of the buildings selected. 

Certainly, the Schermerhorn Residence’s beautiful, light-filled design sets it apart. So does its distinctive mix of tenants—chronically homeless individuals and low-income arts professionals. But what really knocked our socks off about the Schermerhorn is the sense of community—among tenants, in the residence’s relationship with its surrounding neighborhood and within the three agencies that make it work: Common Ground, the Center for Urban Community Services and the Actors Fund. In every way, the building exemplifies the modern paradigm of supportive housing.

Located in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, the 217-unit residence adds both architectural dazzle and uncommon community space to the neighborhood. A theater and 2,000 square-foot rehearsal space built for the Brooklyn Ballet also serves community groups, as well as tenants. Other amenities include a fitness room, a computer lab and a still-in-construction terrace. The much-in-demand community room is shared with the surrounding community; the 84th Precinct Community Council holds its meetings there.

But it is the unique, integrated mix of support services delivered by the three participating organizations that stands out. The three agencies’ long-working relationship in other residences was cemented among onsite staff by co-locating their offices and “surviving” the building’s first months of life while still under construction. Common Ground developed and now operates the building (which won a 2011 prize from the American Institute of Architects). Common Ground’s longtime partner CUCS provides comprehensive support services to the 116 tenants who were chronically homeless and coping with either a mental health or chronic health issue, most referred directly from living on the street. These services include CUCS’ signature Career Network, through which half the individuals enrolled are currently working.

The Actors Fund, which joined forces with Common Ground to develop it, also provides recreational services to the entire building and support services to the 100 low-income tenants, nearly half of whom are from the arts and entertainment world. As a result, the community is treated to trips to museums, theater and parks, a book club, screenwriting 101, “chair yoga,” a cooking class, massage and personal training. Residents are also encouraged to volunteer at a nearby soup kitchen and participate in regular talent shows. Resident musicians entertain other tenants and staff at the regular holiday parties, which bring everyone in the building together.
True to its unique population, the Schermerhorn feels very much like a high-concept, raucous and difficult-to-perform off-Broadway show that you want to see again and again. The Network is proud to offer its review of the three organizations’ bold experiment and celebrate the Schermerhorn as an Outstanding Residence of the Year.