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FirstService Residential: Making a Difference Every Day For New York City’s Homeless

Photo courtesy of Jill Lotenberg

FirstService Residential New York, the largest property management firm in New York City, is no stranger to making a difference every day for each and every one of the 225,000 residents that reside in the properties it manages. Now the organization, led by President Dan Wurtzel, has taken its brand slogan and applied it to New York’s often underserved and forgotten residents: People experiencing homelessness.

An integral part of FirstService Residential’s Social Purpose Initiative for 2019 was an alignment with Community Access — a nonprofit organization whose core mission is to provide affordable housing, training, advocacy and healing-focused services for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and New Yorkers who live with mental health concerns.

The partnership between the two organizations goes beyond a financial contribution. Every associate in the New York City office has been invited to volunteer their time for a number of initiatives that range from urban gardening at a Community Access residential building to reviewing submissions for the New York City Mental Health Film Festival which takes place every October at the Village East Cinema in Manhattan.

“One of FirstService Residential’s core values is ‘Doing What’s Right.’ Many companies offer sponsorships or donate money to different organizations but that is simply a financial donation,” Wurtzel said. “We wanted to offer our associates the opportunity to get personally involved and feel good about giving to a cause they are very passionate about.”

Founded in 1974 in response to the mass release of patients from New York psychiatric hospitals, Community Access is one of the oldest organizations and the leader in providing housing and services for those with mental health concerns. Over the past four decades, Community Access’ mission has expanded to include education and job-readiness programs as well as recovery and crisis services. These programs seek to ensure basic dignity and self-determination for those with mental health concerns, including providing spaces safe from stigma and discrimination, where people are free to create the lives of their choosing.

“If you walk around New York City, you’ll almost certainly see people experiencing homelessness. We innately want to help but don’t necessarily know how to make a lasting impact,” Wurtzel said. “And there’s only so much an individual can do. We wanted to give our associates more than a day at a soup kitchen. We want them to be able to foster a relationship with this organization and be empowered to help in numerous ways.”

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, as of March 2019, 63,029 people were sleeping in the New York City municipal shelter system. And these figures are anticipated to rise. Additionally, 71% of the shelter population is made up of families, a third of whom have a head of household who is employed, yet cannot afford housing.

Community Access owns over 1,500 housing units in the city — many of which are located in the Bronx. The organization plans to add an additional 1,000 units in the next two years.

“This common focus on real estate and assisting our communities made the alliance between these two organizations even more natural,” Wurtzel said.

Wurtzel began working with First Service Residential in 1987, when the organization was renting apartments to Community Access in the East Village and the Lower East Side. At that time, housing was very limited within Community Access and there was a focus on working with building owners to accommodate their tenants. Wurtzel’s personal work has continued with Community Access over more than 32 years. Therefore, it was a logical connection for FirstService Residential NY to join forces with Community Access to provide a social purpose outlet for organization’s associates.

“I didn’t want our associates to feel obligated to get involved, so we invited Community Access to our office and give an introductory presentation on the organization to gauge interest, and the response has been wonderful. Almost a third of our New York office has shown interest and is eager to help out,” Wurtzel said.

“Dan Wurtzel and FirstService Residental have been strong supporters of Community Access’ work for many years. FirstService Residential understands what a safe, stable home means for an individual’s well-being,” said Steve Coe, CEO of Community Access. “We are excited to partner with their associates to collaborate in developing meaningful health, wellness and community outreach opportunities.”

Additional opportunities for associates will include volunteering at the “Changing Minds Young Filmmakers Competition,” the premier competition for filmmakers between the ages of 15 and 25, aimed at challenging the stigmas around mental health, as well as seasonal activities including bike rides, toy drives and baking classes.

“We live by a set of core values and have global service standards — it all ties in to our corporate culture, how we operate,” Wurtzel said. “At FirstService Residential New York, we want to make a difference every day for the people who live in our buildings. Now we want to make a difference for the vulnerable and often overlooked members of our society.”