Every Friday around 1pm, senior residents gather in the atrium at St. Margaret’s House to practice ballroom dance. Hou Wong, the dance group’s leader and organizer, arrives early to connect the sound equipment to his phone and select the music. Today, Mr. Wong picked his light-yellow sweater vest for the dance, stating that “this color is good for photoshoots” with a big smile on his face.
Ballroom dance is one of the most popular activities at St. Margaret’s House, but it stopped for three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tradition returned this year after the Chinese New Year lion dance celebration.
“Mr. Wong requested that we move the dancing from 7pm to 1pm on Fridays, because 7pm is a bit late now for Mr. Wong and the others,” said Claire Guerette, Executive Director at St. Margaret’s House.
Mr. Wong started the ballroom dance club when he moved into St. Margaret’s House in 2017, after waiting seven years for an apartment. Like the other 330 residents, he now calls this place home. Mr. Wong’s sister helps him organize the dance club every Friday and is on the waiting list for an apartment.
“On average, a person on the waiting list will usually wait two to five years until their number reaches the top of the list,” noted Gaik Sim Khoo, the Occupancy and Housing Compliance Manager at St. Margaret’s House. The last time they opened the lottery for the waiting list, under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was in 2017. “We will go through the waiting list applications one by one, chronologically, when there is a vacancy,” said Khoo.
“As our Housing and Homelessness initiative works to expand access to affordable housing, St. Margaret’s House is illustrating what’s possible,” said Beatriz de la Torre, Chief Philanthropy Officer at Trinity.
St. Margaret’s House opened its doors in the Lower Manhattan community in 1981 under the vision and guidance of Trinity Church Wall Street’s Rector, Churchwardens, and Vestry. It was named for the Episcopal Church Religious Order, the Society of St. Margaret.
The 20-story apartment building features 249 affordable housing units for adults aged 62 and over, as well as mobility-impaired individuals aged 18 and over. All apartments come with a kitchen, bathroom, and air conditioning in the living room and bedrooms. The first floor provides public space for residents and guests to rest and engage in activities, including ballroom dance.
Before the pandemic, many activities, such as ballroom dance, painting classes, and Tai Chi were offered to the residents. However, due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, these activities were suspended. Recently, management has begun reintroducing programming for the residents. “It’s our job to not only provide them with a great place to live but also to ensure that services and programs are available as well,” said Guerette.
This year, the former commercial kitchen and dining room are undergoing a major renovation. The new space, totaling more than 6,000 square feet, represents the largest capital improvement to the building since its inception. It will include an art room, a tech room, a yoga and dance studio, a game space, a lounge area, and new bathrooms.
“The refinancing of St. Margaret’s House allowed us to convert the former commercial kitchen and dining room into a multi-use recreational space that was thoughtfully designed with the residents' needs in mind,” said de la Torre. “We’re thrilled to offer this wonderful amenity to current and future residents.”
Mr. Wong and his friends are all very excited about the new dance studio, which could attract more people to their club. When asked about his plan for the dance club, Mr. Wong said, “I will run it as long as I can.”