Protesting Displacement in Lower Manhattan

A Chinatown resident at the October 28 march organized by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side (Photo by Samantha Lee for Voices of NY)

A Chinatown resident at the Oct. 28 march organized by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side (Photo by Samantha Lee for Voices of NY)

Luxury buildings planned for the Lower East Side and Chinatown will displace small businesses and low-income minority families, community leaders and residents said in a march on Oct. 28.

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, a group of community organizations and leaders dedicated to preventing displacement of community residents, braved the driving wind and rain to lead protesters on the march. They started at the Extell luxury condominium construction site, at 227 Cherry St., and ended on the steps of New York City Hall.

The high-rise Extell condominium, slated for completion in 2018, is but one example of rampant luxury development that will accelerate gentrification, cause skyrocketing rents and discriminate against low-income residents in the area, coalition representatives said.

“Twenty percent of the condominium project will be set aside as ‘affordable housing’, but it will be in a separate, smaller building next door,” said David Tieu, a member of the coalition who grew up in Chinatown. “This ‘poor door’ concept is discriminatory against the low-income Chinese, African-American and Latino communities who live in the area.”

Residents also spoke of landlord harassment. Ya Qin Li, a tenant of 8385 Bowery St., said that the building, along with nine others on the same street, was sold to a developer in 2013.

“The developer started to kick us out without saying a word about increasing the rents, and he even took one of the tenants to court,” she said. “The developer wants to take down our buildings and build luxury high-rises. This is not something I can afford.”

The coalition called on the de Blasio administration to repeal the 421A tax abatement policy, which currently provides developers with subsidies, and to adopt the Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Plan.

The community-led plan, which was rejected by the Department of City Planning earlier this year, proposes rezoning Chinatown and the Lower East Side to protect existing public housing and land from developers. It would also limit the height of buildings and guarantee a minimum volume of low-income housing in new developments.

“Our community came together. We created our own rezoning plan to stop the displacement and give us control of our community,” said Sophie DeBenedetto, a coalition representative and member of National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, a workers’ center. More than 10,000 residents, workers and small business owners signed the petition to demand this rezoning plan in 2008, she said. “How can the city refuse to pass it?”

The coalition had organized a similar march on Sept. 25, but received no response from the de Blasio administration. “The mayor’s office sent us a message that a representative would greet us today outside City Hall. But no one came,” said Sarah Ahn, a coalition representative. If the mayor continues to ignore the community, the coalition plans to picket in front of Gracie Mansion, she said.

Among the marchers were residents young and old, all of whom had a personal connection to the area. Alina Shen, 20, a student who lives with her grandmother on the Lower East Side, attested to the changes affecting the neighborhood. “The new art gallery at the corner of Madison Street and Rutgers Street breaks up the community and changes the way people interact,” she said. “I feel it attracts people who are willfully ignorant of the community. My grandmother now feels uncomfortable in her own neighborhood.”

Cheng San, 70, who moved to Chinatown 10 years ago with his family, echoes Shen’s sentiments. “Chinatown is where I feel a sense of community, where I feel at home,” he said. “I want to protect it.”

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