Nolita residents rally behind Elizabeth Street Garden amidst lease termination

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Hundreds rally at Elizabeth Street Garden on Sept. 26 after Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) terminates the garden’s lease.
Photo by Dean Moses

Residents took up protest signs and packed into Elizabeth Street Garden in Nolita on Sept. 26 in a push back against an eviction notice.

Executive Director Joseph Reiver sat on a bench under the shade of a tree on Sunday, reflecting on a near decade-long fight to save the garden his father founded. Clasping his hands together, it is clear the fight has taken its toll, leaving him, and the surrounding community as a whole, emotionally exhausted.

However, no matter the fatigue or the heartache, Reiver asserts that he and garden visitors will fight to ensure its greenery can continue to be enjoyed for years to come despite a notice of eviction that tells the staff to be off the land by Oct. 31.

Executive Director Joseph Reiver speaks with demonstrators. Photo by Dean Moses

“They place their bets on us getting tired. And they place their bets on this going on and on and us losing spirit, but we’re not going to lose the spirit. We’re gonna keep fighting for this place because this place is still here and we’re in it and all of that is a testament,” Reiver said.

Well over 100 Lower Manhattanites filed into Elizabeth Street Garden, located between Prince and Spring Streets, in support of their communal greenspace. Already engaged in a legal battle, lawyer for the garden, Norman Seagal, says that this eviction is circumventing the legal process by having the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) terminate the garden’s lease.

“Very simply, the city is attempting to achieve through lease termination, what they have yet been able to achieve through litigation. So very simply, the city, in my opinion, should wait for the judge to render a final decision,” Seagal said.

Hauling signs, garden users railed to “Save the Garden.” Photo by Dean Moses
Executive Director Joseph Reiver looks upon Norman Seagal. Photo by Dean Moses

A forest of humanity holding banners reading “Save our Garden” and “Green space for residents, not big developers” lined the 20,000 square feet space in hopes that their collective voices could raise awareness to prevent the possible destruction.

Advocates at the rally denounced Council Member Margaret Chin for allowing the city to pursue the garden’s closure under what they feel is a guise of affordable housing. 

amNewYork Metro reached out to Chin’s office for comment. A spokesperson stated that New York City is facing an unprecedented housing crisis and the only way to address this issue is by repurposing land.

“During the Rudy Giuliani Administration the late gallery owner got a sweetheart deal to lease this city-owned parcel of land at a steeply discounted price. The site was never opened to the public until the gallery owner caught wind that the city planned to terminate the lease in order to build affordable housing. Fast forward to today, our city is struggling to house residents as our population rapidly expands. This housing shortage allows landlords to drive up rent prices which displaces low-income New Yorkers, especially older adults who are living on a fixed income,” Chin said. “The need for more housing is a pressing issue not just for newcomers, but for New Yorkers who are priced out of their homes entirely.” 

Under the beating sun, those at the rally say they will fight for their space. Photo by Dean Moses

Additionally, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development states that seniors in the Special Little Italy district are the targeted group for this new affordable housing project, since they have been most affected by the real estate crisis. They claim that they have collaborated with the Haven Green Developers and the owner of neighboring affordable housing development Little Italy Restoration Apartments (LIRA) to expand a portion of their courtyard.

“We have worked diligently to strike a balance between the need for low-cost housing for seniors with maintaining New York’s vibrant open spaces, which is why we recently negotiated with the neighboring site to nearly double the planned public space for the community while also creating affordable housing for the seniors who need it most.”

However, Reiver believes the reasoning is invalid. He feels that there does not need to be a choice between green spaces and housing, the option for both exists.

Executive Director Joseph Reiver that green space and affordable housing does not nave to be a choice. Photo by Dean Moses

“The city has been trying for a long time to impose a false choice on us. And I said this yesterday: any administration, any politician that says you can only have affordable housing or a community garden, one or the other, they’re misleading you. That’s not the truth. That’s a false choice. And we need the media to see that as well. New York Times put it, they put it as a false choice. They said: Would you rather have senior affordable housing or a community garden. We can have both. And we can actually have more of both with the alternative plan,” Reiver said.

Much to the chagrin of the garden lovers, Chin argues that the development of a new housing project in the area would greatly benefit businesses, provide affordable housing, and uplift the struggling community. 

Written on signs or bags, those in the area want to keep the greenspace. Photo by Dean Moses

“Haven Green presents the opportunity to build greatly-needed deeply-affordable housing for low-income seniors in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city. This project creates not only 123 new permanently-affordable units, but also ground-floor storefronts for local-scale retail, and the proposed 6,700 square feet of open space will be available to residents and to members of the public in perpetuity. None of these things can be said about the current use of this lot,” Chin said.

Activists of Elizabeth Street Garden are requesting those who wish to see the space survive to pen a letter and/or email local to their local representative and HPD, demanding that their lease termination be rescinded. 

“Save Elizabeth Street Garden.” Photo by Dean Moses
The Elizabeth Street Garden is known for its sculptures. Photo by Dean Moses
Masks also showcase the demands. Photo by Dean Moses