As Giant Luxury Towers Loom Over LES and Chinatown, Residents Protest Mayor de Blasio's 'Racist' Zoning Laws

A rendering shows One Manhattan Square looming over the Lower East Side and Chinatown.
A rendering shows One Manhattan Square looming over the Lower East Side and Chinatown.
Extell

A coalition of community groups from the Lower East Side and Chinatown rallied outside of City Hall yesterday calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to resign, three years after the Brooklyn politician came into office on a platform of stopping the type of rapid displacement of low-income communities that defined the city during the Bloomberg administration.

"Fuera de Blasio," the multilingual groups chanted as protesters spoke out against the mayor in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. Key to the coalition’s concerns was the decision by the de Blasio administration to go ahead with rezoning Chinatown and the Lower East Side piecemeal, instead of treating the area as a single large community, one that has already been subject to multiple rezoning efforts since 2008.

The protesters insist that the city adopt a plan developed by the Chinatown Working Group, which would preserve a large swath of affordable housing in the area while opening up some areas for the development of more affordable housing. It would also set height restrictions, and doesn't allow for much market-rate development.

Mayor de Blasio as a two-faced Monopoly Man
Mayor de Blasio as a two-faced Monopoly Man
Voice

In meeting with city officials, however, community groups have been told that this idea is unrealistic.

"The first thing they asked us when we met with them was, 'Are you willing to compromise?' " said Sarah Ahn, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, a group that’s championing the Chinatown Working Group zoning proposal. "We will compromise on certain things, but not on the exclusion of communities. We came together to build consensus with this plan, and to make sure that the entire neighborhood was protected. For the city to come to us now and say only a small part of Chinatown will be protected is so disgusting. We don’t have the time to wait — there’s luxury development going up left and right on the Lower East Side and people are being forced to leave the community."

Several signs at the rally ridiculed One Manhattan Square, a new, 68-story luxury development on the site of a former supermarket as an example of the type of development that is being encouraged in the formerly working-class neighborhoods. Right next to that development, JDS Development Group bought out land from two local nonprofits for just $51 million to build a 77-story condo tower that will feature 150 affordable units and 450 market-rate apartments.

"Almost every candidate for Sheldon Silver’s open assembly seat supported the Chinatown Working Group’s plan," activist David Tieu told the crowd of around a hundred protesters. "But de Blasio and [Councilmember] Margaret Chin, what do they say? No! They tell us it’s too ambitious for Chinese, for African-Americans, for Latinos, to ask for equality. They want to throw out our whole communities' plan and rezone just a small part of Chinatown, excluding the Latino and African-American communities who live outside."

The neighborhoods are also home to a sizable number of NYCHA housing units that have been targeted by the de Blasio administration for "infill," a plan where market-rate and some affordable housing will be built on public housing playgrounds and garages.

"Passing these racist rezoning laws, by protecting only the historical part of Chinatown, de Blasio is dividing us and setting us against each other," said Angel Pizarro, who moved in with his grandmother to NYCHA housing on the Lower East Side after her health declined. 

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Despite living the apartment for eight years, Pizarro is being kicked out of the unit by NYCHA, because he’s only been on the lease for a year, and his grandmother recently passed away. Pizarro, who is Puerto Rican, has little chance of remaining in the neighborhood he grew up in if his housing is taken away.

"Right now my community has no protection from luxury developers coming in and trying to make millions. Private companies are allowed to do as they please because our rezoning hasn’t been passed. We are at the mercy of whomever gives Mayor de Blasio a big enough campaign contribution."


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