RIP Ricky Leung, Lower East Side Affordable Housing Activist

1914437_1223509942330_4962128_nIn the past couple of weeks, friends and loved ones have been pausing to remember Ricky Leung, a popular community organizer on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown. Leung lost his battle with cancer March 15 at the age of 41. A wake was held at Wah Wing Sang Funeral Home on Mulberry Street March 28.

Leung grew up in the Two Bridges neighborhood, and was a lifelong affordable housing activist. For several years before moving to Brooklyn, he was president of the Cherry Street Tenant Association. Leung was an architect, as well as a member of Community Board 3 and served on the board of Good Old Lower East Side, among other housing advocacy organizations.  He was an outspoken critic of the Healthcare Chaplaincy’s proposal to build a new facility in the Two Bridges neighborhood. While that project was abandoned, three much larger mega-towers are now in-the-works in the same area.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez put out a statement following Leung’s passing. “Ricky Leung was an architect who understood that when we design buildings or plan neighborhoods, our foremost concern should be people and communities, not money,” said Velazquez. “I remember fondly bringing him to Congress to testify on the importance of the Section 8 program. Ricky will be profoundly missed. The architecture community in New York has lost a talented, creative professional and our City has lost a stalwart voice for affordable housing. I considered Ricky a friend and my thoughts are with all those who knew and loved him.”

In 2008, Leung testified before the House Financial Services Committee on behalf of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT). Here’s part of what he had to say: 

My name is Ricky Leung. I am an architect by profession and a tenant in project-based Section 8 housing; the President of the Cherry Street Tenant Association in the Lower East Side of Manhattan; and the elected Secretary of the NAHT Board… For 30 years, I have grown up in the 488 unit Cherry Street Apartment complex in a Section 8 apartment with my two aging parents, whose stable jobs in the garment industry were largely wiped out after 9/11. Cherry Street has provided a secure home for our family, which I largely support while working as an apprentice architect in Manhattan. Neither my parents nor I would be able to survive long paying full rent in the overheated Manhattan market. The other 487 families in the Cherry Street community are working families, professionals and retirees; old, young, and in between; African American, Caucasian, AsianAmerican and Latino. We are the diverse New York working and middle class, a microcosm of the City and of the nation. As President of the Cherry Street Tenants Association for the past eight years, I have worked to help our community sustain and thrive in the face of increasing threats from a super hot real estate market… In the wake of the traumas inflicted on New York City in 2001, the loss of more than 54,000 affordable housing units is a crisis which we can neither bear nor ignore. The people of our city are still reeling from the after shocks of 9/11. Cherry Street and other subsidized housing developments are home to many of the police, firefighters and health service workers who performed heroically after the 9/11 attacks, as well as many low income and elderly people who simply have no options in the high rental market of New York City.

Leung was married in 2012. He and his wife, Samantha, had a child in 2015. Community Board 3 is planning to honor Leung later this year.