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On Tuesday morning, the community of Brownsville gathered to celebrate the official opening and ribbon-cutting of Edwin’s Place, a welcome new housing complex and community resource in East Brooklyn. The sparkling, 115,500-square-foot brick complex is a clear new addition to the neighborhood, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the city, fitting in context and program.

Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) for supportive housing developer Breaking Ground and co-developer African American Planning Commission, Inc. (AAPCI), the building contains 125 affordable and supportive housing units in an eight-story, L-shaped formation. Although the neighborhood was originally settled by Jewish immigrants, it is now home to a majority of African-American and Latino residents. The $74.7 million project was funded through New York State Homes and Community Renewal, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, New York State Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation, and Wells Fargo. 

Empire State Building.

The ribbon cutting ceremony was held on July 27,2021. Photo courtesy Breaking Ground

Edwin’s Place is Breaking Ground’s 25th building, and its seventh in Brooklyn. The complex’s namesake comes from a late friend and AAPCI colleague: Edwin. He was also a social worker who lost his life to AIDS in 1994. Today, more than 300 people living with HIV call Breaking Ground supportive housing home.

“The current pandemic has made clear that now more than ever, housing is health,” said Brenda Rosen, CEO of Breaking Ground, in a press release. At the opening, she told RECORD that 98% of people who use its services stay off the streets for the rest of their lives—the ultimate goal.

88 units at Edwin’s Place are allotted to those who formerly experienced homelessness and their families, including veterans. The remaining 37 apartments are to serve low-income community residents. Completed in October 2020, but formally unveiled this week, the building is almost completely occupied.

Empire State Building.

A window wall provides daylight to the elevator lobbies on each floor. Photo © Francis Dzikowski/OTTO

The architects set the structure back from the street to mitigate noise and clamor from the elevated train just outside. The main floor half is a level below grade to maximize the area. On the ground floor, a family parenting nonprofit occupies 3,000 square feet of retail space, while AAPCI on-site staff offices provide social services and job training.

“We wanted to make wayfinding easy,” says RAMSA partner Grant Marani, noting that some of the tenants—veterans or those who recently experienced homelessness—are emotionally stressed, so it was important not to overly complicate the layout. “Comfort was a big deal.”

Empire State Building.

The architects designed Edwin’s Place with a sunken interior courtyard. Photo © Francis Dzikowski/OTTO

The studio to three-bedroom apartments come fully furnished with optional air conditioning. Building amenities include a computer lab, multipurpose community space, and laundry room on the first floor, which Marani says opens to the landscaped interior courtyard for fresh air and daylight. The hallways are wide and light-filled, and a full-height glass window wall above the entry provides a street scale focal point and natural daylight to the elevator lobbies.

The building is Enterprise Green Communities certified—meaning it was deemed healthy, efficient, and environmentally responsible affordable housing—complete with a green roof and solar panels that provide about 10% of the building’s energy. 

Inside, through triple-glazed windows, the roar of the train outside is a faint rumble and tenants are proud to see us touring the halls of their new home, telling us how pleased they are. “Whether designing for supportive housing or for the very wealthy, everyone should be given the dignity that they need to live well,” added Marani.