Note: an original version of this story erroneously stated that the Coalition plan would mandate 100% affordable housing in Chinatown and the LES. The proposal does call for 100% affordable housing in specific areas, such as the Seward Park development site. But it also allows developers to receive density bonuses, if the community agrees and at least 60% of the housing is affordable.
The Chinatown Working Group (CWG), a community planning organization, is locked in a seemingly endless debate about how to govern itself. But that hasn’t kept CWG members from developing their own proposals to deal with the thorny issue of affordable housing in Chinatown and beyond.
Back in December, we reported on a new zoning study conducted on behalf of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, a non-profit housing developer and advocacy group. This week, another CWG player, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, took its turn.
First, a bit of context. The coalition is made up of several organizations who opposed Community Board 3’s rezoning of a large swathe of the East Village and the Lower East Side in 2008. Last year, they clashed with Two Bridges and other affordable housing advocates on the Working Group, calling their plans inadequate to protect low-income residents being displaced by gentrification.
Their plan was prepared by Hunter College professor Tom Angotti and Brian Paul, a Hunter fellow. Paul presented a revised version of the proposal to a CWG committee this week — and will do the same before the full Chinatown Working Group this coming Monday.
The proposal calls for the creation of a special zoning district (with several sub-areas) throughout Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The Coalition would attempt to “downzone” large sections of the neighborhood to discourage luxury development, buildings which overwhelm low-rise blocks and real estate speculation.
As you can see in the power point slides posted above, the coalition “demands 100% affordable housing” on certain sites and lists possible locations such as the Seward Park redevelopment area and the neighborhood’s public housing campuses.
The Coalition argues the city’s main tool for creating affordable housing – the inclusionary zoning program – has been a miserable failure. Recently, Paul wrote an article for Gotham Gazette, making the case that the program, which offers financial incentives to developers who provide some affordable housing in their buildings, has actually caused greater displacement of low-income families along the Brooklyn waterfront.
The study states that 1600 new apartments could be built on open space at the Smith Houses — without any kind of public review. The Coalition wants to see a new, robust community review procedure separate from the traditional community board land use process.
It calls for “a new improved model of inclusionary zoning,” allowing private developers to build larger buildings — if they acquire a special permit and agree to set aside at least 60% of their apartments for affordable housing.
Michael Lalan, a coalition leader, called the current method of community review “totally unaccountable” to the working people of the LES. He said last month’s approval by CB3 of Seward Park planning guidelines was evidence of a process that is “very corrupt.”
It’s been a busy week for Coalition. Earlier in the week, Lalan (of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops) led a protest on Avenue D with public housing residents who denounced the New York City Housing Authority for forcing residents to move into smaller apartments. The practice, Lalan alleged, is part of a scheme to warehouse apartments and to eventually privatize the city’s public housing developments. The coalition’s proposal, he said, would protect that from happening.
Given the dysfunction on the Chinatown Working Group it is unlikely the 50 or so members will be able to agree on any zoning proposal anytime soon.
You can see the Coalition’s plan on the Chinatown Working Group’s web site.