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Breaking Ground

Breaking Ground, formerly known as Common Ground, creates residences that are integrated into their host neighborhoods by transforming under-utilized land into property assets that benefit all of New York City.

Breaking Ground was an early pioneer in social housing in New York City, and has since grown to become the largest provider in the city. Calling its model “supportive housing,” Breaking Ground re-purposes older buildings and constructs new ones that combine dignified, permanent, affordable housing with services that support residents in breaking their cycle of homelessness.

With a traditional shelter model, moving residents out as soon as possible is frequently a priority. The resident might be ‘back on their feet’ for a period of time and then suffer a setback which sees them lose their housing again. Because shelter is only one part of the equation, a shelter-only approach has proven insufficient at actually combatting homelessness. By understanding homelessness as a multi-layered condition, Breaking Ground has made substantial progress in moving individuals and families away from recurring instability.

Breaking Ground offers its clients a complete suite of services to address concerns typically faced by homeless populations. For example, residents are provided with access to job training, substance use counseling, social support, and public benefits. The constellation of services works to address many of the root causes of chronic homelessness. Moreover, Breaking Ground’s clients are provided homes without obligation to complete a drug rehabilitation program, obtain sobriety or to meet most any other precondition.

Opened in 2022, its Betances Residence in the South Bronx is one of only a handful of supportive residences to embrace the Passive House standard, which aims to reduce energy use and push further toward net-zero emissions in new construction. In Summer of 2022, Breaking Ground opened their first passive house for homeless and low-income seniors using ground up new construction designed by COOKFOX Architects. This building will be the second largest supportive residence in the nation, converting a 29 story building in DUMBO, Brooklyn to this use. 

We had an opportunity to speak with Jonathan Kirschenfeld and Brenda Rosen on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episodes below.

6 | Fighting for Dignified Housing, Part 1
7 | Fighting for Dignified Housing, Part 2


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "New York" by US from their album "All That You Can't Leave Behind."