Affordable housing pioneer Howard Kimmel dies at 95

Robert Pelaez
Howard Kimmel, a man who was instrumental in developing affordable housing throughout New York, died at 95 years old. (Photo courtesy of Linda Kimmel Engle)

Howard Kimmel, a longtime Great Neck resident and pivotal figure for affordable housing throughout New York, died on Feb 5. He was 95.

Kimmel was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 19, 1925, to Philip and Anna Kimmel.  Kimmel spent his early years in Brooklyn, where he met his future wife, Sylvia, while roller skating. He and Sylvia were married for 67 years before her death on Aug. 22, 2015, at 88.

In a 2019 interview with Blank Slate Media, Kimmel began telling his story by saying, “There are really three stages to my life. Three stages, but one theme: how to create affordable housing.”

Prior to his 40-year stint working at the state’s Division of Housing, Kimmel’s introduction to the field began at 7 years old, following his mother around while she collected rents from the 300 tenants in her real estate business.  Kimmel said he rode with his mother on the trolley from their Bensonhurst home into Bedford-Stuyvesant to collect the rents.

Kimmel sought to expand his knowledge by enrolling in Brooklyn College. World War II interrupted his education, as he served stateside in the U.S. Air Force in 1946.

Kimmel returned to college and graduated in 1948, a year after Sylvia graduated from the same college. That same year, the two got married and rented space in the home of a couple who would become their best friends.

After college, Kimmel’s tenure began at the state’s Division of Housing.  One of his first roles in the department was overseeing the projects of Fred Trump. Kimmel oversaw a major housing project put up by the Needle Trades Union near Coney Island, of which Trump ultimately received 5,000 units.  

As a result, Trump Village was created and Kimmel was the one who oversaw it for nearly four years and played a role in desegregating one of its buildings. Kimmel said then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller awarded him commendation by writing two personal letters for his early accomplishments. Kimmel also spent time implementing a Shared Housing Opportunities Program.

He and his wife moved to Great Neck, where he immediately became active in community groups. Kimmel served as the president of the Thomaston Civic Association and spearheaded the rezoning efforts of a mile-long stretch of Northern Boulevard that increased the village’s tax base.

Kimmel also served as president for the Great Neck Committee for Community Planning, which oversaw dozens of local civic associations throughout the Great Neck peninsula as well as chairman of the Thomaston Planning Board, member of the Thomaston Zoning Board of Appeals, trustee of the Village of Thomaston, and more.

He proposed to develop a 60-unit, low-income housing project in Kings Point. The proposal met with opposition, but Kimmel ultimately succeeded in his efforts to develop affordable housing on the peninsula. The end result was creating the “Autumn Housing” on the site formerly home to the Arrandle School that provided senior citizens with affordable housing.

After years of serving the community, Kimmel founded the Kimmel Housing Development Foundation, which called upon leaders from the local, county, state and federal levels to work with architects, developers, attorneys, and financiers for affordable homes. Two buildings to provide affordable housing to families were built in New Cassel/Westbury.

Kimmel was predeceased by his brother, Fred D. Kimmel, and sister, Gladys Hymanson. He is survived by three children, Linda Kimmel Engle, Debra Kimmel Kresch and Lawrence Michael Kimmel, and by six grandchildren, Michael and Darrell Engle, Rachelle and Jolie Kresch, and Ava and Mark Kimmel.

A small graveside service was held at the Mount Hebron Cemetery, which was officiated by Rabbi Robert S. Widom of Temple Emanuel of Great Neck.

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