Chinatown, LES, SoHo and NoHo Unite Against the City’s Agenda for Luxury Development [OP-ED]

Posted on: April 26th, 2021 at 5:07 am by

Photo: Eddie Panta

The following editorial was co-written by the Chinatown Working Group and Village Preservation.

The Chinatown Working Group, representing communities of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, stands together with SoHo and NoHo communities to oppose the City’s development agenda and its displacement consequences. The City’s proposed SoHo/NoHo Rezoning and rejection of community-led plans like the Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Plan will cause rampant real-estate speculation and displace existing residents, workers and small businesses.

The City’s development agenda is divisive and discriminatory. In 2008, the City passed the East Village Rezoning to protect the mostly white, middle-class area of the East Village from luxury high-rises, but refused to give the same protection to the adjacent neighborhoods, Chinatown, the Bowery and the other unprotected areas of the Lower East Side which also needed zoning protection. Real estate speculation has skyrocketed in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, driving up rent and real estate taxes, and incentivizing evictions of tenants and small businesses. Recent examples include fancy hotels like the 50 Bowery Hotel along the Bowery corridor and in Chinatown, as well as Extell’s One Manhattan Square tower and four other proposed megatowers in Two Bridges, which would accelerate displacement in the neighborhood. In addition, the City has targeted NYCHA developments with infill and privatization plans to build luxury buildings with market-rate units, which will have negative consequences for NYCHA residents.

The City’s SoHo/NoHo Rezoning plan would hurt all of us, too, as it calls for luxury high-rises and big box stores, and it does not create truly affordable housing. These zoning changes would raise housing prices and other costs of living, working, and doing business in the community for not only the SoHo/NoHo neighborhood, but also for Chinatown and LES, as luxury high-rises would increase real estate speculation in the surrounding area.

Photo: Village Preservation

One egregious example is the City’s proposed upzoning on the southeast corner of the district which is actually in Chinatown–six blocks north and west of Canal and Baxter–from a FAR of 5 to 12, the maximum FAR possible for residential development. For context, that would be akin to having six One Manhattan Square towers standing across the street from the core of Chinatown. Since most of the SoHo/NoHo area is already protected by historic landmark districts, the City’s SoHo/NoHo rezoning targets specifically Chinatown for large-scale luxury development.

Over the years, the communities of Chinatown and the Lower East Side created the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) Rezoning Plan. The plan calls for much-needed protection of Chinatown and the Lower East Side against real estate speculation, as it would impose height caps on new developments, encourage the creation of truly affordable housing, and require any housing development on NYCHA to be 100-percent affordable to the immediate community. Its primary intent is to plan comprehensively and not rezone one neighborhood at the expense of another. Siding with big real estate’s interests, Mayor de Blasio rejected the CWG plan as “too ambitious” while flirting with efforts to divide the plan.

At the same time, Mayor de Blasio cynically tries to brand the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning as one that aims to achieve “racial equality”–equality in displacement, in fact–and label the community members who developed an alternative proposal to allow more truly affordable housing without upzoning as “racists” against “diversity.” The City is promoting interracial division by attempting to pit community members against one another by race and geography, to make people see their neighbors as enemies and weaken the community’s ability to defend itself against displacement.

Photo: Municipal Art Society

But we won’t let the City continue to divide us. Bringing diverse communities together in solidarity against our common threat is deeply needed, especially in this time of increasing hate crimes and polarizing divisions. Therefore, we unite to call for an end to the City’s racist displacement agenda, and for equal protection for SoHo, NoHo, Chinatown and the Lower East Side, namely through height caps, limits on the number of big box stores, the preservation of the light manufacturing district, and the protection of existing and the creation of truly affordable housing. We demand Mayor de Blasio:

  • Stop the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning, and consider the community’s alternative proposal
  • Pass the full Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Plan

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