Remembering Frances Goldin, A Fearless Fighter For Affordable Housing

Francis Goldin spoke at a rally on the SPURA site in 2010.

Francis Goldin spoke at a rally on the SPURA site in 2019.

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.”

At Today’s Essex Crossing Grand Opening, 175 Delancey St. Will Be Named For Frances Goldin

LES activist Francis Goldin on the SPURA site in 2010.

LES activist Francis Goldin on the SPURA site in 2010.

In November of last year, residents began moving into the first completed building at Essex Crossing, the project now under construction in the former Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Today, city officials and community leaders will gather at the building, 175 Delancey St., for the its official grand opening. As we first reported last month, the building has been named in honor of Lower East Side activist Frances Goldin.

Goldin, 93, is a lifelong affordable housing crusader, a hero to many in the neighborhood. She was co-founder of the Cooper Square Committee and fought Robert Moses’ urban renewal schemes. For many decades, she also battled for affordable housing on the Seward Park site. When the community finally came together on a compromise plan in 2012 that called for 50% affordable housing on SPURA, Goldin called it, “not perfect but better than nothing.” In endorsing the deal, she said, “Let’s see this thing built for ourselves and our children.”

175 Delancey includes 99 apartments for low-income seniors, a senior center run by Grand Street Settlement, the GrandLo Cafe also operated by the settlement house and a medical center from NYU Langone.

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In the New York Times today, David Santiago, a former Seward Park site tenant, is one of those interviewed. Santiago was just 6 in 1967 when his family was forced from their Delancey Street tenement. He just moved into an apartment in the Essex Crossing building.

We’ll have more after today’s grand opening. In the meantime, check out this video from 2009. Fran Goldin was the first speaker at an annual rally held on the SPURA site to keep pressure on city officials to finally build something. As you can see, she does not mince words.