Councilwoman Chin Takes Heat Over Seward Park Plan

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side held a meeting to oppose plans for Seward Park. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side held a meeting to protest Councilwoman Margaret Chin for supporting of the redevelopment project of Seward Park, the Sing Tao Daily reported. The article was translated from Chinese.

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side, which includes the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association and National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, held a meeting to protest Councilwoman Margaret Chin for going against the will of the public and selling out the community by abandoning the construction of low-income housing in Seward Park.

The City Council approved last week the redevelopment of Manhattan’s Seward Park by a unanimous vote of 48 to zero. The vote has been blasted by the Coalition for “betraying” the community.  Chin, as an elected official, was criticized for “stealing from the poor to benefit the rich.”

Wei-Yee Ling, a Coalition representative, said the group has already gathered 8,000 signatures in support of the construction of affordable housing, a school, day care, youth center, health center, and spaces for small businesses.  This will also increase job opportunities for the community’s workers and residents.  There are developers willing to build all the units low income, but Chin and the City Council only allocated 50 percent of the project for low income housing.  Furthermore, only 20 percent of the so-called affordable housing would really benefit low income people, while the remaining would only benefit the middle class and seniors.

According to Coalition members, the 1.5 million square foot lot will be mainly luxury buildings and hotels as well as shopping malls.  These will be residences for people whose annual income ranges from $100,000 to $130,000.  It does not provide housing for people with an annual income of less than $40,000.  It’s another step in the gentrification of Chinatown, the Coalition said.

In the face of criticism, Chin responded for the first time to the accusations.

“The Coalition does not speak for this community,” she said. “They are not even from this community. I have spent my entire life in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, and I have dedicated my life to fighting for resources for this community. I am nobody’s puppet. I am not pushing anyone’s agenda.”

Chin emphasized that the plan is to use 50 percent of the space for low income housing, which is unprecedented in New York City.  The income requirement follows federal regulations in order to get the requisite funding.  The business space usually compensates low income housing which does not generate any revenue; the ratio is usually 20 percent or 40 percent.  But because the land is public, the government was able to require 50 percent.

At the same time, the construction requires federal funding, so federal regulations must be followed.  Community Board 3 must use census figures published by New York University, which designates an annual income of $43,518 as the income limit for residents applying for low income housing.

Chin added that if a developer offers to build 100 percent low income housing, then she would consider the proposal.

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