You may have seen the tributes in the past week to Frances Goldin, the legendary Lower East Side community activist who died at the age of 95. Goldin was co-founder of the Cooper Square Committee and the Lower East Side Joint Planning Council. In an obituary, The New York Times called Goldin “an unreconstructed socialist… an advocate for affordable housing and a staunch defender of the poor.”
She was also a key figure in the epic four-decade-long battle for the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). In 2018, the first building to be completed as part of the mixed-income project, 175 Delancey St., was named in her honor.
At a rally in 2009 on Suffolk Street, Goldin did not mince words about the reasons the Seward Park site remained fallow for so many years, saying redevelopment “hasn’t happened because the people who ran the (Grand Street) co-ops… didn’t want to be surrounded by tenants who were darker skinned and spoke Spanish. That is racism. That is ugly. That is anti-humanitarian.”
The community eventually compromised in 2011, agreeing to build 50% affordable housing on the SPURA sites. It wasn’t everything Goldin and other affordable housing activists wanted, but as she said at the time, the deal is “not perfect but better than nothing… Let’s see this thing built for ourselves and our children.”
During a ceremony at The Frances Goldin Senior Apartments two years ago, she said, “I am honored to have my name associated with this beautiful building… (which) will provide quality, accessible housing to 100 of my deserved neighbors. Thank you for this honor!”
On Twitter, City Council member Margaret Chin said, “Rest in power, Frances. She was an unapologetic believer in expanding access to housing and was devoted to causes that united the diverse communities in LES. These causes are not lost. It’s up to us to keep this movement alive.”
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez added, “RIP Frances Goldin. Frances always fought the good fight and her strong sense of community was animated by her principles of fairness and inclusion. The #LES is a better place because of this fighter who refused to be intimidated by the establishment.”