Hellen Choong in her apartment at 11 Allen, from which she is fighting eviction.
Hellen Choong settled in Chinatown after immigrating to America in 1991. She’s lived in the neighborhood ever since, and will tell you she has no plans to leave. “I love Chinatown, to be honest. It’s so convenient, no?” she asked recently, sitting in her apartment at 11 Allen Street. “Everything is right there. Even when I come home form work, I can still get food. In Queens or Brooklyn, I would have to start running around. No way, I wouldn’t budge from here.”
But if her landlord wins a dispute currently making its way through Housing Court, she may have no choice. In February 2011, real estate investor Fei Wang purchased 11 Allen, an apartment building near the corner of Canal Street. According to residents, some of whom have lived in the building’s small apartments for more than 20 years, he didn’t wait long to demand a change in the way the building had traditionally operated.
61 Delancey Street.
In this morning’s New York Times, columnist Michael Powell describes an “absolutely smashing real estate play,” a Midtown investment company’s “repositioning strategy” at 61 Delancey Street, a six-story tenement building. According to Madison Capital’s own web site, this strategy involved “releasing vacant retail units and 45 rental apartments and the renovation and releasing of under market residential apartments.”
Tenant Zhi Qin Zheng, who has raised two children at 61 Delancey, tells Powell what this “repositioning” has meant to her:
Madison Capital stopped plastering or fixing leaks and cut the heat. It tried to evict her when she was a few days late with the rent and accused another Chinese mother of two of being a prostitute. It called the police when tenants met in the lobby. It installed cameras in the halls and demanded that tenants remove Lunar New Year signs from their doors. Sitting in a tiny kitchen, with a view across Delancey to one of those silver, faux-industrial-style million-dollar condos with rooftop birch trees, Mrs. Zheng, 58, smiles and waves her hand as if to bat away flies. “It is battles all the time here; lots of people are leaving,” Mrs. Zheng says through an interpreter. “I know my rights, but I am nervous.”
As lawmakers in Albany wrangle over the final details of new legislation to replace the rent regulations that expired June 15, politicians and community leaders are weighing in on the pros and cons.
Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called the agreement “a huge relief for tenants.”
“Working with Gov. Cuomo, we have saved the rent laws and expanded their protections for the first time in nearly two decades,” Silver said in prepared statement. “This is an important victory in our ongoing effort to support working families and ease the affordable housing crisis.”
We also asked local affordable housing advocates for their take on the situation, and compiled their responses.
Chinatown Working Group; April 2011.
Members of the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) will try, once again, tonight to elect new leaders and vote on other key issues. Last month, the community planning organization met but accomplished very little, since they couldn’t muster a quorum. The CWG hopes to elect new co-chiars, replacing Gigi Li and Mae Lee, who have been serving in an interim capacity since last fall.
CAAAV, a neighborhood advocacy organization and CWG member, held a news conference yesterday in Sara D. Roosevelt Park. They announced that representatives from three residential buildings (11 Allen, 197 Madison and 61 Delancey) would be joining the Chinatown Working Group. In April, the CWG passed new rules making it easier for LES/Chinatown buildings to meet membership requirements.