GOWANUS — “Sister Kay” would call it a dream come true.
In an event that furthers its mission of supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Mercy Home, a local nonprofit, officially broke ground Tuesday, Oct. 3, for a new housing development that will rise in Brooklyn’s steadily gentrifying Gowanus neighborhood.
It’s been in the works since 2006, and when completed, the 11-story facility at 487 4th Ave. will have 44 units, 10 of which will be one-bedroom apartments set aside for the developmentally disabled. The other 34 units will be 100% affordable housing, offered through the Housing Connect lottery.
Mercy Home will finally realize the dream of its former executive director, Mercy Sister Catherine “Kay” Crumlish, who sought to have housing built on that site for decades. Though she will not get the opportunity to witness its completion — currently slated for the end of summer 2025 — her memory will be honored by the facility’s name: Kay’s Place.
Sister Kay served as Mercy Home’s executive director from 1991 until 2015. She lost her battle with cancer at the start of 2020; she was 78 years old. Her parting wish, said Janice Aris, her successor as Mercy Home’s executive director, was that the housing development would become a reality.
“It’s such a gift to stand here today and to have this groundbreaking ceremony in her honor. Her legacy will live on forever because she did not give up,” said Sister Frances Picone, a Sister of Mercy and a board member of Mercy Home, who knew Sister Kay for 60 years.
They joined the Sisters of Mercy at around the same time, and Sister Frances recalls the bubbling personality of her longtime friend and its residual impact to this day.
“She believed in people. She knew it would work, and when we came against a thousand stumbling blocks, she held that wall up,” Sister Frances added.
The initial vision for the complex was that it would be three stories tall and consist of only a handful of units. And while Mercy Home owned the land, the project kept meeting roadblocks, Aris said.
That changed, however, when a partnership was formed between the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, which teamed up to supplement the funding necessary to construct the building.
A lottery to determine who will live in Kay’s Place will open in early 2025, with selected residents moving in later that year. Aris said the facility will also serve people who were formerly homeless.
“You know what they say: Man plans and God laughs,” said Aris, who is Catholic. Sister Kay had this plan, she explained, and God further enhanced it to embrace the entire Gowanus community. “That’s such a wonderful thing,” she added. “We ask for one thing, but God blesses us with something entirely different.”
Gowanus is growing as a residential community thanks to a rezoning plan approved in 2021 that is set to add 8,500 new apartments to the area by 2035, of which 3,000 are slated to be affordable.
Mercy Home for Children was founded more than 150 years ago, when the Sisters of Mercy opened their convent doors on Willoughby Ave. to five orphan boys.
Their mission has since been transformed to focus on the needs of the intellectually and developmentally disabled, and they have since opened 13 residential facilities in Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County.