Bernistine Hartry likes to joke that she’s the mayor of Wyandanch Village, a mixed use development in Suffolk County, New York. But take a little time to get to know her, and that idea becomes less and less improbable. “I live here. I work here. I play here,” she says proudly, and repeatedly, about the development.
At 61 years old, Bernistine has lived in Wyandanch, a hamlet in Long Island’s Suffolk County in the Town of Babylon, for the bulk of her life—charting the area’s ups and downs along with her own. But it was the construction of the Albanese Organization’s 40-acre, $500 million, sustainable, mixed income transit oriented development that made her think that an upswing was in the cards for both her and the local area.
Russell Albanese, Chairman of the Albanese Organization, explained that the planning for the initiative, called Wyandanch Rising, started over ten years ago, when leaders in the Town of Babylon came together with the community to start a community wide engagement and visioning process.
“We were designated the Master Developer for Wyandanch Rising in late 2011,” Mr. Albanese explained. “During 2012, we worked closely with the Town to refine the Master Plan and we began design of the first two mixed-use buildings in the first phase of the development located at what would become the Town Center.”
The result has created community in every sense, from the businesses and apartments that dot the area to the people, like Bernistine, who inhabit them.
Capital One was proud to help to fuel the development with a $30 million construction loan, a $14 million permanent loan, and a $17 million LIHTC equity investment for the first building of the two-building master development. Capital One also provided a $24.4 million Letter of Credit and a $14.7 million LIHTC equity investment for the second building.
Between the two buildings, Wyandanch Village boasts nearly 180 residential rental units, and 35,000 square feet of retail space. But it wasn’t just about big buildings and lots of space. There was a bigger picture in terms of planning, and it was that bigger picture that first caught Bernistine’s eye.
“I said, oh my God, look at these buildings! This is so beautiful!” Bernistine said of the moment she first noticed the construction. “I couldn’t wait to see this development. I was so happy. And I said, I just want to live there.” But that was much easier said than done—Bernistine was one of 8,000 people on the waiting list.
Not easily dissuaded, she refused to lose hope, asking construction workers at the site when she passed by how she could get in as a resident.
And then she got the call. “I was crying so bad on the phone,” she recalled, “the guy said to me, ‘Do you want me to call you an ambulance, ma’am?’”
Bernistine was born in Georgia and was working by age four, taking care of babies while the adults in her Milledgeville neighborhood worked themselves. But at 13 years old, she moved to Wyandanch, New York where she lived with an aunt and uncle. She described the move as a step up.
Bernistine recalls the Wyandanch of the 1960s as quite different than it is now, especially thanks to the community revitalization that Wyandanch Village has brought. The area was more of a quaint, small town with very few rental homes, and little in the way of commerce. “Straight Path was a narrow, little road when I first came here,” she said. “We used to walk Straight Path to the hardware store.”
Now, Bernistine lives on an upper floor of Wyandanch Village and marvels at the views outside and the space inside. Not surprisingly, demand has outstripped supply with the buildings quickly reaching 100 percent occupancy. Mr. Albanese attributes this to “the design and construction quality of the apartments, coupled with the affordable rents made possible through Capital One, New York State Homes and Community Renewal” and the developer’s public partners. He added that “the convenience of the LIRR station at the doorstep with convenient access to NYC and major Long Island business hubs has been a recipe for success and high demand.”
None of this is lost on Bernistine. “I love it. The space is huge,” she said. “The floors are beautiful. There are no splinters getting in your feet. You got hot, running water, heat, and the lighting is perfect. And my view…I feel like I’m in New York City.”
Bernistine not only landed her dream apartment, she also landed herself a job she loves at a commercial tenant in the development. She speaks glowingly about her colleagues there, as well as the staff at Wyandanch Village. In her other homes in Wyandanch, the landlords and supers were rarely around. At Wyandanch Village, they are always around. It’s a reassuring thing, as it lets residents know there is always someone there to help, and that the people running the community development truly care about it.
Bernistine warns everyone that they’re not allowed to say anything bad about Wyandanch Village. “I tell them, I’m the mayor of these apartments, and we got the most beautiful people in here!” She talks about how active she is in community relations and how she even successfully lobbied to have the school-bus stop moved to a safer place, away from the busy traffic on Straight Path. Perhaps she could be mayor after all—she’s already got the slogan: “I live here. I work here. I play here.”