Lower East Side Development Accused of Ignoring Low-Income Residents

Members of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side say the housing from the Seward Park Mixed-Used Development Project leaves out low-income people of color. (Photo by Juan Matossian/EDLP)

Tenants groups argue that a city plan to develop vacant lots by the Williamsburg Bridge in the Lower East Side ignores the area’s low-income residents, reported  El Diario/La Prensa.

Although the Seward Park Mixed-Used Development Project has designated affordable housing apartments, those in opposition question the plan’s definition of “affordable,” reported Juan Matossian in the excerpt translated below.

Tenants organizations representing the Lower East Side and Chinatown have accused the city of leaving the local community out of the planning for a large-scale renovation project in Seward Park, which includes the construction of residential apartments and businesses.

The project, an initiative of the Department for Economic Development, has been approved unanimously by Seward Park’s Community Board. It includes the creation of at least 50 percent affordable housing in different spots along Essex and Delancey Streets in the Lower East Side, a neighborhood where 23 percent of the population is Hispanic.

However, the organizations that oppose the project, banded together under the name Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, don’t agree with the project’s definition of “affordable.”

According to statistics that the organizations have gathered, opponents maintain that only 30 percent of the residential apartments will house families with an income of less than $40,000 a year, in a neighborhood where 60 percent of households earn less than $38,000.

“It’s a strategy to kick low-income residents and people of color out of the neighborhood,” said Yolanda Donato, who represents the coalition and has lived in the area for 40 years.

“We live shoulder-to-shoulder in our homes; it’s very crowded here, and they give the new apartments to the rich. They’re a bunch of bigots.”

Joey Rearick for the Lo-Down covered a city-hosted public hearing on July 11 concerning the project. The article provides some background, including a breakdown of the proposed buildings in the dvelopment: “900 apartments, up to 600,000 square foot of commercial space, a new Essex Street market, a small park, a hotel and community facilities.”

During the hearing, representatives from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side voiced concerns that the proposal brushes off working-class New Yorkers.

A few of those offering testimony yesterday asserted that the plan does too little for lower-income residents, since the income requirements are, in their view, too high for the neighborhood. “Some have said 50 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing,” said Soo Young Lee, one of the leaders of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. “But what is that something when it’s out of our reach?” Members of the Coalition turned up in large numbers to demand that 100 percent of the housing developed on the Seward Park site be reserved for low-income tenants, and described plans to collect 10,000 signatures in opposition to the planned development.

Margaret Chin, the city councilmember for the district, has been criticized for not fighting for local residents, nor giving enough notice for the Department of City Planning’s public hearing on July 11. Chin issued a statement in response to the allegations from protesters, part of which was included in Spanish in El Diario/La Prensa. Here is the original English version of that excerpt, from OurChinatown and the Lo-Down.

Members of the ‘Coalition to Protect the Lower East Side and Chinatown’ have grossly misrepresented my position with regards to the development of SPURA. From day one, I have unequivocally stated that increasing the number of affordable units is necessary. And again, at last week’s meeting, I clearly stated that permanence of affordable housing is one of my highest priorities. I will continue to fight for what Community Board 3 has identified as priorities when this plan comes to the Council, but at this moment, it is imperative that this project keeps moving forward.

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