On Friday, residents, workers, local business owners, students and concerned community members-including children and elderly-of the Lower East Side and Chinatown rallied at the site of the controversial 80-story luxury tower being built by Extell. Hundreds of community members and supporters protested the building of a luxury building in their backyard and demanding Mayor de Blasio adopt the Chinatown Working Group plan to protect the Chinatown and Lower East Side.
For years, the Lower East Side and Chinatown have been left wide open and vulnerable to luxury towers. Meanwhile the wealthier, white East Village has been afforded protection through a rezoning which capped building height limits. The Chinatown Working Group worked for 7 years on a rezoning plan that preserves existing low-income housing in area, as well as protect the communities from future luxury development. In 2012, 10,000 residents signed petitions in support of this plan. Coalition members and community members are outraged that the Department of City Planning recently turned down this plan.
In recent years, rents have skyrocketed, evictions are rampant, luxury buildings and hotels are replacing long-time affordable homes and businesses, schools are severely underfunded, and the entire community is being pushed out.
Shuifan Cheng, a resident of 85 Bowery, spoke to the realities residents are currently facing in the area- “I have been living in this building for 17 years. My landlord in 2013 bought 11 buildings on Bowery Street. We asked the landlord to come repair the building. Not only did he refuse to repair the building, he started to evict us. Right now, not only the 83-85 Bowery Street tenants are being evicted, the entire Chinatown is facing displacement and eviction. I know people who live on Henry Street and Madison
Street are being displaced. Everywhere, people are being displaced and evicted. The small shops that we go to are closing one after another…This is our community. It is Chinese people’s community, Latinos’ community, Black people’s community. We will not move out.”
Meanwhile, Tanya Castro-Negron, President of the Lands End 2 Resident Association spoke to the loss of funds to the community, particularly the schools. “Back in the early 80’s and 90’s [our] schools … were successful … Our schools were also successful because of the wonderful programs provided for our children that engaged all families, funded by the property taxes that were paid for by private developers. Today we have lost all programs and are on the brink of losing our public schools entirely due to lack of funding. The 421a tax abatement provides a free ride for luxury real estate developers on the backs of the poor communities, stripping and robbing our children of a rewarding education.”
David Tieu, of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side said, “The 80-story Extell tower is the clearest example of why our community needs a rezoning plan now. For almost 7 years, the Lower East Side and Chinatown have united to create the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan to protect its residents, workers, and small businesses from displacement. Thousands of people have been involved and support this plan. This is why we say it is undemocratic and racist that City Planning rejected the plan. We demand that de Blasio do the right thing- stop Extell, end the 421a, and pass the Chinatown Working Group plan now.” Protesters also vowed to return if their demands were not met.
Other speakers at the rally included Jenifer Rajkumar, district leader; Louise Velez, National Mobilization Against Sweatshops; Norma Ramirez, Action by the Lower East Side; and Victor Li, student representative.