Today’s news:

Greater Allen grabs shovels one more time

Expanding on a non-profit empire that has rehabilitated large swaths of southeast Queens, the Jamaica church broke ground Monday on a new building across from its cathedral that will hold stores on the ground level and rental apartments for low-income residents, the homeless and the physically disabled on the three stories above."I'm as happy as a pig in slop," said Community Board 12 Chairwoman Gloria Black, drawing howls of laughter during the ground-breaking, held under a tent at the site on Merrick Boulevard between 110th Road and 111th Avenue.The new project, called Greater Allen Affordable Housing, will replace a rundown row of storefronts topped by a single floor of apartments, a structure that was torn down during the first part of work. The new building will be completed by October 2006, with the land provided by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Tax credits will be granted by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and nearly half the financing will be supplied by Citibank's Community Development program. Greater Allen's Neighborhood Preservation and Development Corp. will fund the rest.The mixed-use building will contain 54 apartments, including nine specially equipped units reserved for the physically disabled and the rest for low-income residents and the homeless. Among the larger block of 45 apartments, units will be earmarked for those making 30 percent of the median income, those hitting the 50 percent mark and those reaching 60 percent. A lottery will be held in six months for the spaces, with the two-bedroom apartments renting for $350 to $750.The project represents another step toward redeveloping the community, a goal of the church."This project is part of a grand plan for Merrick Boulevard," said Rev. Reed, Allen's chief financial officer. "We're going to change the face of Merrick Boulevard so it represents all of you." Others who attended the ground-breaking ceremony also noted that there is often a disparity between the well-kept residences of the area and the dilapidated commercial strips, which causes shoppers to head elsewhere."The money is not staying in the community," Borough President Helen Marshall said. "Allen is changing that direction."The church, 18,000 members strong, has already built 225 units of housing in the area and rehabilitated another 300. It finished a 330-apartment senior housing development last fall at Merrick Boulevard and 107th Avenue. While the church's efforts began in the Methodist self-help tradition with Sunday tithes, they have grown into million-dollar partnerships with public agencies in a community once scorned."Allen is just not about building blocks," Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said. "Allen is about rebuilding the community."Already holding an asset base of $126 million, church leaders mentioned building a hotel and convention center in the area and developing vacant land at Jamaica's York College in the future. Said Rev. Floyd Flake, the head of Greater Allen and a driving force of the organization, "We believe that is just the beginning."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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