Op/Ed: Making a Case for Affordable Housing on SPURA

Earlier this year, GOLES and other housing advocates held a rally on SPURA property.

Editor’s note: The following opinion piece was written by Joel Feingold, a community organizer with GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side). It was posted on the Villager web site a short time ago. Feingold sent the article to The Lo-Down, as well:

On Monday, a Community Board 3 committee may vote on guidelines for the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area [SPURA] – the long-derelict blocks on Delancey, Broome, and Grand at the lip of the Williamsburg Bridge.  In shaping the final language of these guidelines, this committee can choose to close the chapter on a forty-three year aberration in the Lower East Side’s history: the notion that a racially integrated working-class district is harmful to society in general and property values in particular.  

GOLES Calls for 70% Affordable Housing on SPURA

Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

A week from Monday, Community Board 3’s SPURA task force is scheduled to vote on a set of planning guidelines for the Seward Park development site.  Late last night, a key player in CB3’s deliberations, GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), sent an email blast to its supporters, urging them to attend the January 24th meeting and, for the first time, laying out publicly a position on the CB3 proposal:


Last month the people of the Lower East Side beat back the City’s proposal to give up to 60% of our land to those who can pay $6000 a month for rent. In the spirit of justice and reconciliation GOLES members propose 70% housing for low, moderate and middle income families. Tell the Community Board and the City that the real Lower East Side – that means our families, the working class backbone of this great neighborhood – won’t relent until the plan is right.

Pratt Reports on Findings from SPURA Workshops

Earlier this fall, neighborhood preservation organization GOLES and the Pratt Center for Community Development conducted three community meetings to learn more about what residents would like to see happen on the Seward Park redevelopment site. Pratt presented its findings to Community Board 3 earlier this month.  After the jump, you can see a summary of the report from Paula Crespo, the Pratt urban planner who facilitated the discussions. You can also see the full Power Point presentation (PDF alert!) here.

LES Tenant Activist Evicted From Apartment

Tenants' Rights Rally

Maizie Torres at 10th Street vigil, April 22nd. Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

This week a Lower East Side tenant activist, Maizie Torres, appears to have lost a long-running battle to stay in her East 10th Street apartment.  Acting on a court order, Torres’ landlord (Center Development Corp.), planned to evict her this morning. Torres is a longtime organizer with the influential housing preservation organization, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES). Over the weekend, GOLES sent out a press release blasting the landlord, prominent affordable housing developer William Hubbard:

Community Coalition Releases “SPURA Matters” Report

The Seward Park site, looking south on Delancey Street. Photo by Vivienne Gucwa.

The Seward Park site, looking south on Delancey Street. Photo by Vivienne Gucwa.

A coalition of community groups and the Pratt Center for Community Development have released a comprehensive report examining what residents would like to see done with the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). The initiative, known as “SPURA Matters,” sought feedback from hundreds of people in late 2008 and early 2009, through several public meetings, a large oral history project and written surveys.

SPURA consists of 5 parcels near the Williamsburg Bridge that were bulldozed by the city 40 years ago. They have remained under-developed ever since due to disagreements in the community about how the sites should be used. For the past several months, Community Board 3 has been trying to formulate a plan all factions in the neighborhood and the city can accept.

The project was spearheaded by GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), the neighborhood housing and preservation organization. But numerous other organizations, including University Settlement, the LES Tenement Museum, St. Mary’s Church and the LES Business Improvement District, were part of the coalition. According to Damaris Reyes, GOLES executive director, there’s a lot of hope in the community that something’s finally going to happen at the SPURA site. The initiative was meant to initiate a conversation and to “help start a community-driven process to put the site back into a broadly productive use.”

The report, prepared by the Pratt Center, took into account the views of 250 people who attended workshops and 300 people who responded to the survey. 60-percent of those who filled out the questionnaire said they wanted to see low and moderate income housing built on SPURA. 32-percent called for a mixture of both market rate and low/moderate income housing. But three-quarters of the respondents said that including market-rate apartments was a “suitable” way to finance affordable housing. One-third indicated the size of the buildings that go up does not matter to them.

There was widespread support for a mixed-use site. While housing was their top priority, respondents wanted to see both small retail businesses and larger businesses like supermarkets and movie theaters. They also expressed a desire for open space (parks), a community center, daycare and health facilities and a cultural center. More generally, residents expressed alarm about the gentrification sweeping the LES – pushing housing costs higher and driving longtime retailers out of business.

TLD Interview: GOLES Executive Director Damaris Reyes

Damaris Reyes, GOLES executive director

Damaris Reyes is the executive director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), an influential neighborhood housing and preservation organization. Recently, we sat down with Reyes for a wide-ranging conversation on topics such as the gentrification of the LES, the redevelopment of the former SPURA site and youth violence. Reyes is the co-recipient of the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal, awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation. In addition to her leadership of GOLES, she is a key member of a Community Board 3 committee drafting a plan for SPURA, the plots of land, mostly south of Delancey Street, that have remained underutilized for 40 years.

TLD: Tell  us how you became executive director of GOLES.

Reyes: I live in the neighborhood. I was born and raised here. I think everybody knows that. I live in public housing. I kind of got introduced to organizing about 13 years ago when there were some efforts to privatize public housing. There were two different bills in the House and Senate. There were some folks who were going around the neighborhood, trying to educate people, trying to counter organize and, really up until that point, I think I was detached. When you come from, and maybe this is not true for everyone, but when you come from an urban, inner city, disenfranchised, marginalized community you think that success is making lots of money and moving out and leaving this rat hole. That’s the way that you think about it. So it was really at that point that – faced with the prospect that I might not have a choice in what might happen – and just listening to people talk about the value of this neighborhood, it just really changed my whole outlook. I sort of felt like I got punched in the stomach, if that makes any sense. Something just woke up. I think, also, ever since I was a kid I really had this really high sense of injustice. It’s just something that you have. That was it. After that I started to get involved. I started to go to meetings, I started to learn more about the neighborhood and learn more about the challenges we were facing. Ultimately I went to work for the local Council member. That was another great educational experience because I got to know all of the players and the issues. Through all that, we sort of carried on the original initiative that I had sort of come into. They were talking about public housing – decided to organize a group of stake-holders to preserve the future of public housing and GOLES was a member of this group, as were other people. I was kind of organizing it. I had all these roles. Well, let’s turn this into a real project. Let’s try to get some resources and we can do some real organizing… I was having a baby and I left the job I was at and like 10 months later, I got a call, ‘do you want to be the organizer?’ And I said ‘huh?’… That’s when I came to work here and that was about 8 years ago. And when my predecessor left I had no idea that I would ever try to run this organization. It was not a goal. But folks kind of convinced me to try it out and I did… And I feel pretty grateful.

TLD: What is GOLES?

Reyes: At the end of the day I would say to folks that GOLES is a grassroots community based organization that focuses on eviction prevention, tenant rights, economic development and community revitalization. Our primary focus is to ensure that people are not displaced and to fight gentrification and ultimately to keep people in their homes and in their community.

TLD: From your perspective, how is gentrification changing the Lower East Side?

Reyes: We are a community that is looking to cater to the needs of – in a variety of ways – through the development of luxury housing, a change in the kinds of services, the diversity of goods and services, restaurant culture, nightlife for folks who are not from this neighborhood, who are affluent or are not necessarily community minded. What’s sad about it is that I think people come here because of our trendy, hipster, diverse culture, race and economics and the very essence of who we are is changing because of them coming. So, that being said, what’s really happening is that the neighborhood is so desirable — it’s like supply and demand. You know, you are a property owner and you know you can get more money for your apartment and your goal as a business person is to raise your profit and revenue, so you’re going to do that. That means there are less opportunities for people like me or the children of people who live here who might want to stay here – so it’s displacing people.