Chinatown is Not Equipped to Handle Heat Waves [OP-ED]

Posted on: August 12th, 2019 at 5:04 am by

The heat wave from July 18-21 revealed serious concerns about Chinatown and other under-served communities where city cooling centers were nonexistent or out of reach for many.

Chinatown had three cooling centers listed on the city’s official website. Yet, the most easily accessible one to seniors had a “members only” sign taped prominently to the door. This left two options: the City Hall senior center located at 100 Gold Street, unrealistic considering the distance walking in oppressive heat; or the Chatham Square branch of the New York Public Library (both are closed on Sundays).

This downtown neighborhood is a naturally occurring retirement community, and while the younger generation can escape the heat by going to a movie or the beach, this is not a viable option for seniors who instead seek shade in the local park or sit in bakeries. New York City could, and should, do better or risk fatalities in the next major heatwave.

Last month’s temperature spike also revealed that many older buildings in the area are insufficiently wired to run multiple electrical appliances. Some tenants with air conditioners were unable to run them at peak efficiency or were afraid of tripping fuses. Since most of the tenements dotting Chinatown were built at the turn of last century, the electrical wiring is oftentimes equally ancient. Most were wired for maybe 20amps per apartment; modern apartments should have a minimum of 50amps.

So, while many in government advocate for creating more affordable housing, what is being done to preserve and upgrade the existing stock? The majority of available affordable housing in the city is composed of multi-family homes and tenements owned by mom-and-pop landlords, not the big developers. What tax incentives is the city offering them to upgrade properties without passing partial costs onto the tenants thru the MCI program which was recently amended?

Navigating through the labyrinths of cyber bureaucracy, I came across Housing Rehabilitation loan program on the HPD website, but the language was vague and it offered only loans with up to 3% interest. So if there are other existing programs, one would hope lawmakers would educate landlords, and if there aren’t they should introduce legislation to offer interest free loans to mom-and-pop property owners to help bring their buildings up to grade and preserve affordable units in the process. Until then, tenants suffer the heat sitting in front of a fan or risk a fire by overheating ancient electrical wiring by bypassing the fuses.

The need to build new permanent affordable housing is important but but it is equally important to preserve the existing stock and government needs to do everything it can.

Recent Stories

Good News/Bad News for East River Park [OP-ED]

The following editorial was written by Pat Arnow, a photographer and writer on the Lower East Side who helped found East River Park Action in 2019.  East River Park will remain entirely open and untouched by construction through the end of the year. The latest delay in the massive flood control project – the $1.45 […]

Peppa’s Jerk Chicken Scouts Stanton Street for Expansion

A popular jerk chicken spot in Brooklyn is headed to Hell Square on the Lower East Side. Crown Heights counter-service spot, Peppa’s Jerk Chicken, is currently eyeing 90-96 Stanton Street. The multi-storefront space previously hosted the short-lived Falafix. News of their likely arrival is confirmed by liquor license application materials submitted to Community Board 3 […]

One Week After Reopening, Nathan Straus Playground is Again Locked

Not so fast. One week after the Parks Department unlocked Nathan Straus Playground to the public, it’s again gated. Readers report that the padlocks returned on Tuesday without any communication from the city. As reported, the Lower East Side park, which abuts the Attorney Street cul-de-sac, had been closed without notice for nearly a month […]

Parisi Bakery Building on Elizabeth Street Listed for $5.99M

The NoHo building housing Parisi Bakery is up for sale, and the store may not survive. Robert Parisi – building owner and former head baker of the family business – listed 290 Elizabeth Street on the market. He’s seeking $5.99 million for the seven-unit, mixed-use tenement. Parisi purchased the property in 1983 for $200,000, property […]

Astor Place Hair to Close Permanently Next Month Due to Pandemic

You’ve seen, you’ve read, you’ve heard. News broke over the weekend that Astor Place Hairstylists, a bastion of affordable cuts, is closing down for good. Barring some miracle, the 74-year-old business will be another victim of this dreadful pandemic. Apparently, management informed staff last Friday. Its final day on the namesake block is at the […]