Bowery Boogie

Chinatown, SoHo, and NoHo Stand in Protest Against City’s Proposed Rezoning

Photo: Eddie Panta

Chinatown finds itself caught in a squeeze play with mega-towers set to loom over the Two Bridges neighborhood to its east and the rezoning of SoHo and NoHo to the west. As it turns out, Mayor de Blasio’s 11th-hour rezoning plan for the city’s historic districts will also include large swaths of Chinatown.

Yesterday, a coalition of community groups and tenant rights activists were joined by elected officials and political candidates at a rally-presser in Chinatown to protest displacement.

Chinatown Working Group, TenantsPC, Village Preservation –Broadway Residents Coalition, Soho Alliance, were together joined by candidates outside 183 Centre Street in Chinatown to demonstrate how owners of buildings like these would really be the ones benefiting from what they called a massive upzoning plan.

The SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan, as City Planning officially calls it, would introduce the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program at the expense of taller buildings. In other words, roughly 425 affordable housing units across both neighborhoods, but only if the SoHo historic district and the surrounding area, which now includes parts of Chinatown, were upzoned to include market rate and luxury housing.

When City Council candidate Christopher Marte took the bullhorn, he told the crowd that, “two years ago when the city started its Envision SoHo/NoHo events, 400 residents piled into a public school cafeteria and we knew it was a sham.”

Indeed, as Boogie first reported, “rezoning” wasn’t a word the city was willing to use back then. No, it was about relaxing restrictions” and updating SoHo’s special permit process. But now, two years later, after a convoluted and chaotic “Envisioning” process, the city now seeks a simultaneous upzoning of large swaths of Chinatown as well.

Marte, who has been raising awareness of potential displacement and advocating for a more comprehensive, district-wide rezoning effort that preserves affordable housing and small businesses, forcefully implored any candidate running for city office step aside IF they did not stand with residents and neighbors…

Zishun Ning, spokesperson for the Chinatown Working Group, a local organization that has developed its own community-led rezoning plan, took it further.

”What Mayor de Blasio gives us is social justice in words and racism in deeds,” he noted. “We want protection against real-estate speculation and luxury high-rises.”

Candidate for Manhattan Borough President Lindsay Boylan endorsed the CWG plan, and spoke to her years working for City Planning. Boylan explained that her experience as an urban planner led her to question the city’s proposal, and how she decided to walk the neighborhoods that would be affected to see for herself. This street-level reality was something woefully missing from City Planners during the initial Envisiong process, during which residents were left without final resolution.

Photo: Eddie Panta

Pete Davies from the Broadway Residents Coalition, called the upzoning plan a scheme that favors big retail and over-scaled development. “This is politics and payback, it is not planning” He implored the assembled crowd to say no to the failed MIH program which does not guarantee a single unit of affordable housing. “In fact, the city is incentivizing speculation. And we’re seeing it happen already.”

Photo: Eddie Panta

Other speakers, like State Senator Brad Hoylman, echoed Davies’ warning, as the rezoning effort puts existing affordable housing at risk of demolition or reuse as commercial space. Hoylman explained that we are amidst an affordable housing crisis because the city lost over 425,000 rent-stabilized apartments between 2005 and 2017.

Photo: Eddie Panta

Andrew Berman of Village Preservation, who famously fought back against the Trump SoHo development, said that “Our lame duck Mayor’s real estate fire sale would be a bonanza for his developer/donor friends, and a disaster for the SoHo, NoHo, and Chinatown communities. It would put a target on the back of lower income rent regulated tenants and longtime struggling local businesses, whose buildings would be demolished for huge new condo and office high rises that will contain little or no affordable housing.”

At the conclusion of the rally, Ning asked the crowd to vote for the candidate that really stands with the community.” And then led the group in a chant imploring elected officials to “Just Vote No!” on the rezoning slated to kickstart the city’s land-use review process this month.

Photo: Eddie Panta