Longtime Hester Street partner Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) broke ground on a permanent home for Justice, Compassion and Love in Downtown Brooklyn on February 19, 2020. Since 1999, VOCAL-NY has been building power amongst low-income communities of color to end the HIV/AIDS crisis, the drug war, mass incarceration and homelessness. The live-streamed groundbreaking was attended by VOCAL-NY members, key partners, elected officials, community advocates, and more who have supported the organization’s capital campaign over the past few years. Read more about VOCAL-NY’s campaign for its new home and how to support it. 

As Brooklyn rapidly gentrifies, VOCAL-NY’s long-time existing office space on 4th Avenue was sold to developers and will now be replaced with luxury condos. After close to 20 years, the organization was forced to move, but has now secured a larger space and permanent home only blocks away from their current location so they can continue to be accessible to the Brooklyn (and citywide) communities they have served for decades. 

HST Co-Executive Director Betsy MacLean

Once finished, the organization will own a newly renovated space that is twice the size of their current office where they can expand life-saving harm reduction services and grow their capacity to build the power of low-income residents citywide. Hester Street has been working closely with the VOCAL-NY team since 2017 to ensure that they have a permanent home and a safeguard against growing displacement and volatile market conditions across the city. Early on, the Hester Street team supported VOCAL-NY in assessing their space needs and in developing a plan for acquisition for their original 4th Avenue space. At the time, despite the inadequacy of the rental space, purchasing it was the primary consideration. However, in 2019, a major developer and investment firm bought the building out from under VOCAL-NY, forcing the team to evaluate other options. Hester Street helped the organization identify the perfect space at 300 Douglass Street and developed a new, multi-year financial plan to help VOCAL-NY renovate and acquire the 6,000 square foot building.

The current warehouse space at 300 Douglass and a rendering of the new VOCAL-NY space

With a purpose-built, owned building that offers twice more space, VOCAL-NY will:

– Expand harm reduction services and care including a medical exam room, testing offices, and more;

– Create new workspace for staff, space for meetings, and training rooms for membership and community;

– Increase capacity with a new computer lab, phone banking station, and library; and

– Combat displacement and cement VOCAL-NY’s place as a sustainable community resource in a rapidly gentrifying Downtown Brooklyn.

Hester Street manages capital projects alongside our nonprofit community-based partners through project planning, spatial needs assessments, site analyses, acquisition, financing, fundraising, design and construction for community-owned assets and dignified public spaces. Through our anti-displacement work, we seek to research and analyze the nonprofit real estate landscape; advocate for changes to NYC’s capital grants funding; strengthen financing and development channels for CBO capital projects; and build a stronger, more resilient city through long-term community ownership models.