Wyndham Garden Chinatown Poised to Open; 128 Hester Tenants Still in Limbo

The 19 story Wyndham garden Chinatown looms over an empty lot at 128 Hester Street.

According to Wyndham Hotels’ web site, its new 19-story, 106-room property is opening this summer at 93 Bowery.  The Wyndham Gardens Chinatown, the site proclaims, “starts with a structure similar to a giant shard of blue glass that cuts through the Manhattan skyline to create an unforgettable presence in the new Chinatown.”

The residents next door at 128 Hester Street, who fled their apartments three years ago on orders from the Fire Department, no doubt agree the hotel’s presence in the neighborhood has already been unforgettable.  Earlier this week, tenant advocacy organization Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) called a news conference to urge the hotel and its developers to finally compensate eight displaced families for the loss of their homes.   While acknowledging that Wyndham is only the operator (and has not been involved in a long-running legal dispute), AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui expressed hope that the hotel’s impending opening would hasten a resolution.

AAFE Celebrates 38 Years, Honors San Francisco Mayor

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is in the light-colored jacket, in the front row. Photo credit: Asian Americans for Equality.

Dignitaries such as U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Comptroller John Liu, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council member Margaret Chin came to Chinatown last week to help Asian Americans for Equality celebrate its 38th anniversary.  A fundraiser for more than one-thousand supporters was held at the Jing Fong restaurant on Elizabeth Street.  The non-profit organization is focused on affordable housing and advocacy on behalf of immigrant communities.

Judge Orders Owner of Fire-Damaged 289 Grand Street to Make Repairs

289 Grand Street.

A big victory today for the residents of 289 Grand Street, who have been fighting for two years to return home to their apartments after a devastating fire.  A housing court judge ruled in their favor, saying the property owner is compelled to renovate the building, rather than tear it down.

Late this afternoon, the tenants, along with Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), an organization advocating legally on their behalf, and local elected officials called a news conference to celebrate the decision.

Forsyth Plaza Project Delayed Until June of 2014

DOT conceptual plan for Forysth Plaza.

Last March. residents got the chance to tell city officials what they’d like to see done with Forsyth Plaza, the triangle at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. Asian Americans For Equality, the neighborhood advocacy organization, had received a grant from the Department of Transportation’s Public Plaza Program — setting the stage for the renovation of the long-neglected space. At a visioning session, community activists shared their ideas for reclaiming the vacant patch above Forsyth and for improving the popular (and sometimes chaotic) street-side produce market.

Ten months later, city planners came back to Chinatown last night with the beginnings of a plan. In a presentation before Community Board 3’s transportation committee, they updated the Department of Transportation’s progress and showed off the rather vague “conceptual drawing” you see above.

Two Non-Profits at Odds Over Forsyth Produce Market

Forsyth Street Market.

When it comes to the Forsyth Street produce market, conflict is nothing new. But now a new controversy is brewing — as two venerable New York City non-profits tussle for control of the sidewalk running alongside the Manhattan Bridge.

The last flare-up on Forsyth Street occurred over the summer, when the 5th Precinct began a crackdown on fruit and vegetable vendors, citing concerns about sanitation and illegal parking.  Several weeks ago, State Senator Daniel Squadron got all of the stakeholders together — including city agencies, community activists and other elected officials — in hopes of mediating an agreement.

Grand Street Fire Victims Sue Landlord

283-285 Grand Street

A lawsuit was filed this week on behalf of 75 residents left homeless by the devastating fire that ripped through their buildings, 283 and 285 Grand Street, in April of last year.

In a news conference held yesterday at the offices of Asian Americans for Equality,  attorneys working on the case pro-bono announced a civil lawsuit against the building owner, Fair Only Real Estate Corp. The complaint (made available to reporters), alleges that the landlord “directly caused and exacerbated” the fire by “knowingly and intentionally” ignoring “highly dangerous conditions” in the buildings.

Chinatown Activists React to Disappointing Census Results

Last year, City Councilmember Margaret Chin took part in a campaign to increase Census participation in Chinatown.

There’s more reaction this morning to last week’s 2010 Census report, showing New York’s population did not increase nearly as sharply as many city and state officials had predicted.  In Chinatown, the population fell by more than 8%, in spite of an aggressive campaign last year to boost participation.

Asian Politicians Celebrate Gains, Plan for the Future

Sheldon Silver, Jean Quan, Floyd Huen, Margaret Chin, Chris Kui.

Last week, hundreds of supporters came to the Jing Fong Restaurant in Chinatown to help the prominent advocacy and housing organization, Asian Americans for Equality, celebrate its 37th anniversary. Dignitaries such as Rep. Anthony Weiner and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver addressed hundreds of invited guests as they feasted on platters bursting with lobster, whole fish and roast chicken.

Silver presented a special award to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who last year became the first Asian woman to be elected chief executive of a major American city.

During a fundraiser an hour earlier at the historic Nom Wah Tea Parlor, a few blocks away, Quan talked about her groundbreaking and somewhat unexpected victory, which has given many Asian American activists hope for the future. In spite of their large numbers in major urban areas, including New York, there are still relatively few Asians serving in high profile political positions in this country.

For Sheldon Silver, All in a Day’s Work

Sheldon Silver, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Dr. Floyd Hyen (Quan's husband), City Councilmember Margaret Chin, AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui.

Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver has a lot on his plate these days.  This week, Speaker Silver is in the middle of intensive budget negotiations with Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative colleagues. But nevertheless, he managed to make it down from Albany last night for a big event in Chinatown.

Silver presented awards to several honorees, including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, at Asian Americans for Equality’s Lunar New Year celebration, at the Jing Fong restaurant on Elizabeth Street (more on the event later).

Silver did not talk much about the budget negotiations. But, in the presence of many of the neighborhood’s affordable housing activists, he repeated the Assembly’s commitment to renewing and extending rent protection laws.

Residents Begin Planning Forsyth Plaza

Last week, we checked in on a community visioning session for the Forsyth Plaza project. Thanks to a grant from the city’s Public Plaza Program, the desolate triangle adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge is going to get a major face lift in the coming months. Community activists met at the offices of Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) to offer their feedback about the new space. The grant was awarded to the Renaissance Economic Development Corp., an affiliate of AAFE.

Oakland Mayor Honored at City Hall

Photo credit: Office of City Councilmember Margaret Chin.

City Councilmember Margaret Chin along with the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus and Women’s Caucus hosted a reception at City Hall today for Jean Quan, the mayor of Oakland. They presented Quan with a proclamation recognizing “her many achievements and groundbreaking appointment as the first female Chinese-American elected as Mayor of a major U.S. city.”

Earlier today, Quan took part in a news conference at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, hosted by the advocacy and housing organization, Asian Americans for Equality. Tomorrow night, at AAFE’s annual Lunar New Year Banquet, Quan will be one of several honorees being presnted with the 2011 “Dream of Equality Award.”

New Report Looks at Asian Population in Chinatown and Beyond

A newly released report looks at how the Asian American population in neighborhoods across the city, including in Manhattan’s Chinatown, is changing.  According to the analysis of Census data by the the advocacy and housing organization, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), the Asian population in New York City is growing rapidly and dispersing beyond historical ethnic enclaves.

Housing Group Identifies Buildings Being “Intentionally Neglected”

128 Hester Street.

In Albany, the annual battle over New York’s byzantine rent laws is starting to heat up. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver might refuse to extend a tax break benefiting real estate developers unless Republicans agree to strengthen rent control legislation.

Even in the past two years (when Democrats had control of the Senate), rent reform went nowhere. Now that the GOP has retaken the chamber, prospects look bleak.  But many housing advocates are undeterred.  A prominent Chinatown organization, Asian Americans for Equality, has just released a report designed to influence the ongoing debate.

The report, “Demolition through Intentional Neglect: a tactic of predatory landlords to demolish rent-regulated Housing,” analyzed building violations throughout the city. It found that 99 buildings citywide  are “structurally compromised.” Fourteen of those buildings are in Lower Manhattan.

Landlord: $6 Million to Repair Fire Ravaged Building

We were in housing court earlier this morning, following developments in the legal fight between the owner and tenants of 289 Grand Street. An appraisal done by the consulting firm Brown Harris Stevens for the landlord determined it would cost about $6 million to repair the building. The figure includes adding an elevator to the 6-story structure.

The two sides have been at odds since April, when a devastating fire ripped through four buildings on Grand Street.  The tenants and city agencies contend the apartments can be made livable again. But the owner, Wong’s Grand Street Realty, is mounting an “economic infeasibility defense.”  The analysis, made available to the tenants’ lawyers this morning, theorizes it would cost more to repair the building than it’s worth.

The next step: experts working for the tenants will prepare their own estimate of what it would cost to rehab 289 Grand.  The advocacy organization, Asian Americans for Equality, is paying the residents’ legal expenses. AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui says it probably wouldn’t take any more than $1.5 million to make the apartments habitable. He calls the owner’s estimate “totally overblown and distorted.”

The combatants are due back in court at the end of the month.

Grand Street Fire Victims Claim Belongings; Sheldon Silver On the Scene

Photo by Xavier Veal

The photo above may not seem all that remarkable.   Modeling cards, a dvd player, a few other personal possessions are strewn on top of an unmade bed.  This image, however,  was not taken in just any apartment — but inside 289 Grand Street — one of three buildings ravaged by fire last spring and off limits to residents ever since.