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LES Group Calls Margaret Chin “Racist”; She Responds

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NMASS staged a protest in front of 250 Broadway.
NMASS staged a protest in front of 250 Broadway.

A long-running war of words between a LES-based advocacy group and City Council member Margaret Chin is becoming more intense.  Yesterday, a protest took place outside Chin’s office, at 250 Broadway, orchestrated by the organization, National Mobilization Against Sweatshops.  For some time, NMASS has been circulating flyers with the provocative headline, “Meet Your Greedy Racist City Council Member Margaret Chin.”

At issue is a stark difference of opinion concerning the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Plan, which Chin helped push through the City Council last year.  Developers are now preparing proposals for the mixed-use project near the Williamsburg Bridge.  After years of contentious debate, Community Board 3 finally agreed to build 50% market rate and 50% affordable housing on the parcel, as well as a large amount of commercial space.

Here’s the text of the flyer:

…Chin recently led the City to shut out Latinos, African Americans, and other workers and poor families of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. 70% of housing to be built on SPURA will have rents of $2,500-$6,000 a month. This is economic racism. Even though 10,000 residents of LES and Chinatown spoke out and signed petitions demanding 100% low-income housing on SPURA, Chin refused to listen. She in- sulted petition signers, many of whom were Latinos and African Americans, implying that they were too stupid to understand the petitions that they signed.  This is not the first time that Margaret Chin has shut us out, both as City Council Member and previously as deputy director of Asian Americans For Equality (AAFE).  She helped create Bloomberg’s racist East Village rezoning plan, which excluded the Latinos, African Americans and Chinese of our community from protection from luxury high-rise development. This plan has brought a wave of luxury condos and hotels.  She refused to support the People First Re- zoning Plan to limit the building of luxury condos in the area, even though the plan was endorsed by the Chinatown Working Group, a planning group created by the City.  She supported the sale and leasing of NYCHA property— most recently, the City announced plans to build luxury housing on five NYCHA lots in LES this year.  She endorsed both the Lower East Side and Chinatown Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), and the expansion of New York Uni- versity, making it impossible for local busi- nesses to survive. As a result, we have to pay more for goods and services.  Chin has done everything that her rich de- veloper friends want her to. If we let Chin continue with Bloomberg’s agenda, we, our children, and our grandchildren will not have the chance to live in new housing in our own community–just because we are people of color and poor. If Margaret Chin has her way, LES will become the land of the rich.

In response, Chin has released the following open letter:

I want to take this opportunity to combat the false and defamatory statements by “People’s First NYC” and the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS).  The blatant falsehoods that these groups are trying to sell to our community are an insult to residents of the Lower East Side. The members of this community are informed – and proactive – and we will not buy in to divisive, empty rhetoric by People’s First and NMASS.

As your Council Member, I work hard to ensure that the day-to-day operations of my office are transparent, and that I remain accountable to the voters who elected me. Over my term in office, I have worked to develop affordable housing on the Lower East Side; to bring good paying jobs to our community; to address quality of life issues; and fund community based organizations that serve the Black, Latino, and Asian communities in lower Manhattan. I am proud of the relationships I have with our Tenant Associations; our Settlement Houses; and our community activists.

As an Executive Member of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the City Council, I have proven my commitment to advancing policies and campaigns that are important to the City’s Black, Latino and Asian communities. As I member of this Caucus, I have called for an end to the Police Department’s policy of “Stop, Question, and Frisk,” and have stood up against WalMart and their unfair labor practices, which disproportionally affect minorities and women. Last year, I led the organization of a job fair and small business seminar for the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, and I look forward doing so again this year. I also help pass a bill to prohibit employers from not hiring someone just because they are currently unemployed.

As a member of the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, I proudly work alongside my colleague, Council Member Rosie Mendez, to protect and improve public housing in our City. I have secured $800,000 to enhance security in NYCHA developments on the Lower East Side, including security cameras, upgrades to intercoms and layered access. Most recently, I spearheaded a letter that was signed by Manhattan elected officials and sent to Mayor Bloomberg calling on the City to reconsider the timeline of NYCHA’s Infill development plan; to release documents related to this plan to the public; to hold meetings with NYCHA residents; and to incorporate feedback from existing NYCHA residents into any development plan.

As your Council Member, I negotiated the inclusion of over 500 units of affordable housing in Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). These units are guaranteed to be permanently affordable. They will never “age out” and will never revert to market rate rent. Thirty percent of these units will be reserved for families making less than $49,000 a year, and/or individuals and seniors with an income of less than $34,000 a year. The remaining 20 percent of units will go to middle-income and working families, including teachers, construction workers, police and firemen and women. A mixture of affordable housing for low-income and middle-income families at the SPURA site was overwhelmingly supported by Community Board 3 and Lower East Side residents.

It was important to me to create affordable housing for working families who cannot afford outrageous market rate rents. I believe this is an admirable goal, and I hope I can count on your support for building even more affordable housing in our community that serves a variety of residents. By doing this, we can ensure that the Lower East Side remains an economically diverse neighborhood for decades to come.

These groups: People’s First and NMASS, have spread misinformation that NYCHA is seeking to “sell” NYCHA property. No land is being sold as part of the development plan being presented by NYCHA, and furthermore, I do not support the sale of NYCHA property to private developers.

They have said I created the East Village Rezoning Plan, which is flatly untrue. I was not even in office when the Council approved this plan in 2008.

They have said the Lower East Side Business Improvement District and the Chinatown Business Improvement District (BID) hurt local businesses, when in fact,  these BIDs promote and support small businesses in our community.

In the years ahead, as your City Council representative, I will continue to fight for the needs of the Lower East Side and for legislation that directly benefits members of our community, like, providing paid sick time for workers, and ending employment discrimination based on credit.  More importantly, if you ever have a question about where I stand on the issues, I urge you to call my office and ask. I also welcome you to visit me during my open hours at 165 Park Row, every Friday, from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM.

Chin’s letter was accompanied with statements from Nancy Ortiz, tenant president at the Vladeck Houses, and the City Council’s Black, Latino & Asian Caucus. Click on the links to see the text of those letters.

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  1. NMASS’ accusations against Margaret Chin are so outrageous and lack total credibility. Most people recognize this group as an extremist organization with impossible demands.

  2. I do think that there are problems with the SPURA process, but I don’t think it’s fair to accuse Margaret Chin of racism, Using that word flippantly diminishes the power of both the the word and casts doubt on the rest of their message.

  3. Finally someone step to her face, besides margret chin, there are others on the same boat Susan stetzer(check) Gigi li(check) David conn(check) Latinos STANDUP!!!!

  4. No, she’s racist. I attended the meeting where she flat out said “you are being manipulated to sign something you do not understand”, There wasn’t a fifty fifty agreement put in place at the time that meeting was held. Initially they wanted to do an 80/20 spilt of low and high income units. (not to mention they wanted the positioning of the building to not face the projects which the building will be in the middle of). NMASS accusations are not outrageous and do not lack credibility at all, they are fact. I attended the meetings for years, City Council members do not hold meetings with residents to talk about a plan they would “like” to implement, They hold meetings with residents to talk about the plan that is already on the table and are in place to be carried out.

  5. Fight policies you disagree with. Illuminate and protest bad decisions, win people over to your positions, organize for the outcome you want, Policies can be argued and fought over. But smearing with the label “racist” a woman of Chinese Heritage who has been the target of racism all her life? The first Chinese Heritage person to become a Council Member of the District that includes Chinatown? Shitty policy. You lose all credibility.

  6. NMASS was handing out petitions in Chinese and telling people if they signed it they would get an apartment in SPURA. That is manipulative.

  7. NMASS always clamours about the lack of accountability and transparency of those they smear. But look at their website- you cannot find even one name of a Board member or staff person. How about putting their names out there as they foist their vicious and slanderous accusations?

  8. As a displaced former tenant at the SPURA site , i worked on the CB3 land use committee and i can honestly say that without the help and support of Councilwomen Chin we would have never have gotten anything on the Seward Park SPURA site accept parking lots. Thank you councilwomen Chin for all your hard work . Tito Delgado

  9. So your argument is that if the room was full of minorities, her statement is racist. If she was speaking in a room of white people on a different issue, and used the exact statement, would it still be racist?
    A bunch of people can be manipulated to sign something without it being a racist act.

  10. We should all be trying to get on with the business at hand which is the SPURA process an how much of a deal did lower east side really accomplish, we have to keep our eyes on the prize an not forget how long it took to get here an who was around way before Margaret , this isn’t one person issue or label Margaret Chin a racist seems counter productive as well as a set up in motion to take us in another direction away from the needs of the people. As I see it everyone has their own agenda.

  11. The real issue is low income housing in our community. Margaret Chin really doesn’t represent the community. Just because she’s Chinese or woman of color doesn’t mean she represents low income people…she’s in the pocket of developers and Bloomberg. Call her out for what she is…she’s racist against black, latino, and chinese if all she does is serve the developers and the wealthy. her actions speak for herself…why is she attacking community members who speak out against what they see is wrong? Why doesn’t she represent the real needs of the low income/working families in LES and Chinatown? We need her out!

  12. Agreed. I think you are right. Why is Margaret Chin attacking the community and organizations that want to bring the real issues to the table? Instead of encouraging community members to speak out, she wants to shut them out.

  13. People wouldn’t just sign something that don’t understand, especially in the LES/Chinatown. People will sign if they agree. She’s racist regardless of who she’s speaking in front of.

  14. Why should low income housing be the only issue on the LES? Housing project residents are not the only constituency here. The situation is way more complicated. You can rant and rave and slander Margaret Chin but the fact is that your views are only shared by a small portion of residents. You also just have to face facts that Manhattan is becoming more and more expensive. Dramatic change has been going on for some time now on the LES with all the new hotels, lots of new galleries, bars, etc. This will no doubt continue and accelerate. You’re in denial, and no amount of outrageous comments about Ms. Chin will bring about the Socialist paradise you seem to so desire…

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