Hell's Kitchen is Burning

With a ravenous market and a pro-development mayor, West Side tenants say they don't stand a chance

"My rent here is $70 a month," says longtime tenant Melody Brooks, "but sometimes, with leaks that last a year and no heat and hot water in the winter, it's a pain to pay even that." Brooks says some of her neighbors pay even less.

Brooks is part of the Clinton Preservation Local Development Corporation (LDC), a group that for years has planned to develop The Flats into 49 units of primarily low- and moderate-income housing, but which has never been able to win HPD approval. Now, with a hot market looming and the LDC's site control on the land about to expire, some fear that HPD may put The Flats up to bid for a market-rate development "if we don't get our act together," LDC chair John Glynn told a Community Board 4 committee this summer.

In the meanwhile, another group, CARE, has an alternative. It wants to develop both The Flats and an adjacent Eleventh Avenue site, a low-rise building that houses the We Can recycling center. Executive Director Mary D'Elia says CARE would add one story to The Flats and build a 99-unit building at the We Can site. In all, CARE's plan would add 137 low to moderate­income apartments.

Both groups have detailed plans and long local histories--the LDC was formed in opposition to Koch's luxury plan, and CARE formed to manage the low- and moderate-income apartments the city required developer William Zeckendorf to rehab when he built his massive Worldwide Plaza on Eighth Avenue. But political credentials will be key in determining which group, if either, gets to develop along Eleventh Avenue.

CARE is seen as an arm of the powerful McManus Democratic Club, a group founded in 1892 and still considered the most effective political machine in Manhattan. The club's clout soared last year when Jimmy McManus shocked Democrats by endorsing Republican mayor Giuliani's reelection. Says one Clinton insider, "HPD knows that CARE has to be part of the action on the urban renewal site."

McManus himself acknowledged CARE's ties to his club, with a twist: "People say Mary's my stooge," McManus told the Voice. "That's not true. I'm her stooge. She tells me what to do. I only help her get what she needs to accomplish what she wants." McManus added that he secured City Hall's "help on the urban renewal site" by not vocally opposing the mayor's proposal to upzone Eighth Avenue.

The LDC is headed by Glynn, who ran a local housing advocacy office and who is seen "as a nice guy but sort of out of his league." Where Glynn is frequently chided by HPD, D'Elia says she's had preliminary discussions about CARE's plan with HPD high-ups.

Even those who are no fans of the McManus Club say that with luxury towers looming, it's time to get practical. "Look," says one source. "McManus can access money better than anyone. They're friends of Rudy's. And they're not morons. Otherwise, I think we're going to get screwed."

Haskins, who moved to Clinton just one year after the urban renewal area was declared and who has battled at least one menacing landlord, now worries that City Hall itself is the main threat to her community. "The pressure on this neighborhood is so much greater now because this is the last big parcel and we are ever more the last frontier," says Haskins. "Under this administration, it could become a huge assault."

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