Op/Ed: Let’s Not Miss a Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Get SPURA Right

The Seward Park sites south of Delancey Street. Photo by Vivienne Gucwa.

Editor’s note: The following opinion piece was submitted to The Lo-Down by Jenifer Rajkumar, the Democratic District Leader for the 65th Assembly District and a prospective candidate for City Council in District 1.

We have waited 48 years to develop the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA).  Lower East Siders left their homes so we could develop this public land.  The sacrifices have been enormous, and the potential moving forward is great.  Our City’s elected officials should not miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity to do it right, just because they lack the political will or courage.

When we decide to develop our precious public land here in Lower Manhattan, there is one question that should drive the development every step of the way:  What value does this development add to the community?   Our elected officials should push for the development to benefit those who live and work here.  To that end, they should push for affordable housing, more schools, and ensure that all jobs created by the development pay a fair wage with good benefits.  Our elected officials should further safeguard the democratic process by ensuring that community input shapes the development project at every step in a transparent way.

So far on SPURA, our City elected officials have fallen short in almost all these respects. But it’s not too late yet.  Proposals to develop SPURA are due May 6, 2013. Our elected officials should only approve a proposal that ensures that 100% of all housing units are permanently affordable and that the jobs created by this development will be good jobs that pay fair wages and have real benefits including the right to organize a union.  Furthermore, our City elected officials should demand assurance from the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority that a school will be built on the site before the 2023 deadline.  I will work with community leaders to organize support for such a robust, forward-thinking plan. Alternatively, I will organize against developers who are looking to Seward Park for a bottom line rather than a chance to move the Lower East Side forward.

We have the opportunity with SPURA to be a shining example for development here in Lower Manhattan. Let’s not miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity to do it right.

Jenifer Rajkumar can be reached at Jenifer@JeniferNYC.com or via Facebook.

 

22 comments to Op/Ed: Let’s Not Miss a Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Get SPURA Right

  • LES Yeah1

    This may be superficial but can we entertain the idea of having a new entrance sign for the Williamsburg Bridge built into the plans please? The area at Delancey/Clinton needs to be a focal point so people come to Clinton St, and discover all it has to offer. Most people, even when looking right at it, fail to realize that is actually reads “Williamsburg”. Would love a sign similar to PIKES PLACE in Seattle. Visually it’ll anchor the area. Just my two cents. Agree that this is a once-in-lifetime opp to build something for the community and I hope, design-wise, it lives up to that billing. Let’s do this!

  • Micah

    “Our elected officials should further safeguard the democratic process by ensuring that community input shapes the development project at every step in a transparent way.”

    “Our elected officials should only approve a proposal that ensures that 100% of all housing units are permanently affordable.”

    There were two years of open meetings and deliberations run by the Community Board that resulted in a grand compromise calling for 50% affordable housing. How would it be “safeguarding the democratic process” and “ensuring that community input shapes the development project” for elected officials to ignore that process and insist on 100% permanent affordable housing?

  • TigerBlogger

    Everyone was kicked out of their homes all those years ago and promised affordable housing. And we’re only getting 50%? That just seems unconscionable to me! She’s right–we deserve more and better!

  • david

    Less than 50% are left alive! ; )

  • belowgrand

    Best not to cast a vote for someone so ignorant of the democratic community process that led to the current plan. It is not being imposed by the City, but follows the guidelines developed by the Community Board over 3 years.

  • TigerBlogger

    As reported by the Lo-Down: “Community Board 3′s land use committee met last night to discuss the Seward Park development project.
    As it turns out, there wasn’t much to discuss. A secret task force has
    now met twice to help guide the city’s creation of a Request for
    Proposals (RFP) for the large mixed-use project adjacent to the
    Williamsburg Bridge. Members of the task force were required to sign
    confidentiality agreements, meaning they can’t talk about any issues
    covered in their deliberations.”

  • iceman

    If you take all of your money and give you back 50%. It is Grand bargain for me and you should feel the same way stupid.
    Iceman

  • Marlon Bullet

    Define “affordable”
    I am going to say what a lot of people are thinking. The LES has enough “affordable” housing. It’s called the projects. And that does not work, it never will. In my opinion, even 50% is too high.

    Unless you are going to define, “affordable” to include the middle-class of NYC, I completely disagree. So often these developments follow the 80/20 mix with the 20 reserved for those making minimum wage or receiving public assistance and the 80 reserved for market rate. Completely ignoring many hard-working citizens who scramble to find a tiny, overpriced, 4th floor walk-up studio with a bathroom in the kitchen. Meanwhile, if you work in McDonald’s or if you are on the public assistance rolls, you can live in a brand new, modern apartment in a luxury building right along those who are paying 10 times as much. I have several friends who have managed to win this “lottery” and they do everything they can to make sure they remain at or below the poverty line.

    I’ve recently moved from one of these mixed-income (Cherry St.) properties and I can tell you from experience that anything over 10% just doesn’t work. Ask ANY property manger. I will never live in a mix of more than 10% again. Anyone who has can give you their own stories. If this is how you are going to throw your hat into the political arena of the LES, I advise you to do a little demographic homework. I may not yell, scream and protest but I do VOTE and make political contributions. I understand that it is often tricky navigating a changing neighborhood. I’ve been to a few community meetings and there is NEVER anyone brave enough to support the middle-class of NYC.

    So before you go stomping the ground in support of 100% “affordable” housing, please go take a tour of the highest concentration of “affordable” housing in NYC. And make sure you ride the elevators, at night and alone. Then you can decide what you mean by, “affordable”.

  • david

    Everyone should read the Forward article on power brokers of Grand st. Keeping spura on ice because they didn’t want any more projects next to them.

  • AnonNYC10009

    Jenifer:
    You come off here sounding like a typical politician – saying in generalized terms what you think the public wants to hear, backed with little substance, thought or knowledge, and with a sprinkle of inaccuracies thrown in for good measure.
    First, let’s just be clear, “we” – meaning you and us – have not been waiting 48 years to develop SPURA. You are 30 years old and, until 2010, lived in upstate New York, Washington, D.C. and California. So while others have been waiting 48 years, you have at most been waiting 3 years.
    Beyond that, your laundry list of things you want for the land is grand. You want, and are prepared to fight for, (1) 100% permanent affordable housing, (2) all living wage jobs to develop the property, and (3) a promise of a school on the site by 2023. If only that list were as easy to accomplish as it was for you to write it (do you think these developments simply pay for themselves at no cost to anyone?). While you were at it, you should have also insisted upon (1) a brand new car for everyone who lives in the SPURA development, (2) free FreshDirect delivery for 5 years, and (3) a guaranteed Jets-Giants Super Bowl in 2014.
    If you want to complain about the SPURA plan, that is your right, but don’t present unrealistic demands as if they were an accomplishable alternative that was passed-up due to some shortcoming in the democratic process. I am reminded of the quote from “Back To School” when the business professor asks his students where they are going to build a (fanciful) manufacturing plant and Rodney Dangerfield responds, “how about Fantasyland?” The people of your community are smarter than you give them credit for.

  • Roger Giudicessi

    I agree with Jenifer that we have to get a guarantee that a school will
    be built on the site before 2023. I’d hate to have the land revert to
    the developers in 10 years just because the DOE thinks that there is no
    need for a school. We all know that our classrooms are crazy
    overcrowded and we need as many good schools in this area as we can
    get! Thanks Jenifer for bringing attention to this! We could use you
    in the City Council.

  • Mike Ortiz

    Dear Jenifer,

    Your op/ed adds nothing of value since it reads like a vapid, hackneyed regurgitation of sound bites that any politician thinks will get them elected. It is so generalized (“100% affordable housing”??) it lacks meaning and has the opposite unintended effects of highlighting your naivete and lack of depth in this neighborhood. You might as well have added that you support world peace as well in SPURA. Who doesn’t? Doesn’t mean Santa wish list type editorials will come true.

    I’m not crazy about electeds in this district. But I give them credit for actually having a stake and real history of toiling for issues that have no realistic quick fix answers like 100% affordable housing and jobs for all. Tell us instead how would you pay for the affordable housing development while having to cough up union level wages? Why do we need more schools when the trend has been aging in place and senior needs? How have you waited 48 years for SPURA’s development?

    I think you are way out of your element. Better stick to Battery Park City.

    M.

  • Tanya Vasquez

    Mr. Ortiz,

    I think Jenifer is right on the money with ensuring that we get a school by 2023. Community Board 3 has already proven that there is need for a school that serves both Districts 1 and 2, with both’s student populations growing AND District 2 already severely overcrowded. In fact, the current RFP even requires developers to leave a space for the school. To insist that we actually get it isn’t naive, it’s forward thinking and spot on! Bravo Jenifer!

    Sincerely,

    Tanya Vasquez

  • Edgar68

    Marlon-

    What if 100% of the units were affordable, but the same income bands were used to define affordability as in the present RFP? Then we’d have 20% Senior Housing, 20% housing available to those who make between 60 and 130% of the NY Median Income, and 20% housing available to those who make between 131 and 165% of the Median Income. To me that’s real affordable housing and that’s real help to the middle-class in the LES. If that’s the case and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, I definitely think we should make 100% of the SPURA units affordable. Agree?

    -Edgar

  • LES Mama

    Call me crazy, but if we’re selling our public land to private
    developers, I personally don’t see anything wrong with insisting that
    the jobs created by this development have the right to organize….

  • Lily Craigg

    It’s sad to me that we’re deciding who’s more of a New Yorker by who’s lived here the longest, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

    Jenifer’s right to insist upon 100% affordable housing and here’s why: 40% of the SPURA development, in any of the plans we’re talking about here, is set aside for commercial development. And a lot of the affordable housing is actually set aside for families who make more than the average median income. It’s not like whoever develops SPURA isn’t going to still turn a profit if we insisted that housing units be 100% affordable. And if there still going to make money off developing this public land, then I think we should definitely be INSISTING that the new housing units actually be available to working class families. Ya know, those ones who can never actually afford new apartments in the LES?

    That’s not unrealistic–in fact, it’s what our Margaret Chin told us she was going to fight for:

    “In a September 2009 Downtown Express news report, Chin insisted that the future housing at SPURA should comprise 100 percent moderate- and low-income units.”

    Our community needs people like Jenifer to keep fighting. And there are plans, like the Wong Plan which call for 100% affordable housing in SPURA. Let’s hope they’re submitted and given a fair hearing this May!

    Keep up the good fight, Jenifer!

  • Mike Ortiz

    Disagree – despite what the CB wants, demographic data doesnt show for a need for a new school. That’s why it’s going to be a hole there indefinitely while development happens around it, despite what the RFP asks for, which is a shame because it will be a huge eyesore. SCA reported the numbers just don’t support another school, even with new households created by the development. There will still be other school buildings. Meanwhile, senior services are still being cut, and the programs that had supported seniors for decades in the neighborhood have been shuttered. Demographic trends of NYC (and most of the US) show an aging process that will exceed the need for school space (check Census data and all the trending behind why “micro-units” are being developed. Sorry – again Jenifer likes to make nice soundbites but doesn’t do her homework.

  • Mike Ortiz

    Then she should show everyone how it’s paid for. I would retract my doubts if she actually showed something concrete publicly. And the Wong Plan has been totally discredited for exactly the same thing – a lot of hot air with no real numbers and planning behind it. Every politician, no matter who it is, all start out thumping their chest about 100% affordability, and then when they actually go do the calculations, back away because it’s impossible without MASSIVE government subsidies. We had 100% affordable housing – it’s called NYCHA. And guess what? They cant afford it anymore and selling it to the highest bidder. Call me cynical but 100% affordability is a chimera without much higher taxes to support real affordable rents.

  • Mike Ortiz

    agree with you there

  • AnonNYC10009

    No one is saying one is more of a New Yorker if they have lived here longer. It is just that Jenifer is saying “we” have been waiting 48 years on SPURA when she has only been here for 3 years. An author cannot have credibility without honesty.

  • AnonNYC10009

    Here is what an intelligent, non-politically driven piece on the SPURA project looks like:

    http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2013/03/oped-spura-plan-reflects-true-and-unprecedented-community-process.html

  • sbmumford

    ” Lower East Siders left their homes so we could develop this public land.”
    That’s amusing: Rajkumar almost makes it sound like they left voluntarily, so that their homes and businesses could be razed for the sake of urban renewal!

    It’s ridiculous to think that what the LES needs is more affordable housing. The neighborhood has already been decimated by miles of projects, rendering everything east of Ave D from 14st to the South Street Seapark an architectural wasteland that defies the urban notion of diversity in neighborhoods!

    Far from seeing SPURA an opportunity to add more low-income housing, I think it’s time to start considering how to dismantle some of the existing projects and restore the LES’s original streets with mixed use & mixed income housing. Let the poor live next to the rich and the middle class along streets with different buildings and stores, instead of warehousing them in awful project buildings. let the neighborhood flourish and even generate some tax dollars for the city!