Chin is developers’ doormat, must step down, activists cry

Councilmember Magaret Chin is little more than a doormat for developers, who have been walking all over her — and Council District 1 — protesters charged at last week’s demonstration. Photo by Kari Lindberg
Councilmember Magaret Chin is little more than a doormat for developers, who have been walking all over her — and Council District 1 — protesters charged at last week’s demonstration. Photo by Kari Lindberg

BY KARI LINDBERG | The monthly protest led by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side was held once again on Wed., April 26 — and this time its target was City Councilmember Margaret Chin.

While the group’s previous demonstrations have been held in front of City Hall, the location was now moved across the street, directly in front of the offices of New York City councilmembers at 250 Broadway.

The message of the 40 mostly older Chinatown residents who braved the rain was simple: Chin must immediately step down from office for failing to make decisions representative of the needs of Lower Manhattan’s Council District 1.

The coalition’s and protesters’ calls for Chin to step down underlines their frustration and anger with the decisions the local politician has made during the course of her eight years in office.

Much of this group’s anger with Chin comes from what the community views as her passive acceptance of both former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s and current Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rezoning and housing policies.

During Bloomberg’s tenure, the coalition charges, Chin did not object to the city’s decision in 2008 to enact a protective rezoning for the East Village and part of the Lower East Side. That sweeping, 100-block rezoning plan left out Chinatown and parts of the Lower East Side, leaving those areas vulnerable to luxury development that often leads to rent increases in the surrounding neighborhood. It has also led to the explosion of new supertall towers in the Two Bridges area — though builders say the city had always earmarked that to be an area for bigger development. Community Board 3 also supported the ’08 rezoning plan.

Meanwhile, Chin’s support for de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing initiative was another major misstep, the group charges. M.I.H. allows developers to construct taller buildings in any part of the city, as long as 25 to 30 percent of the project’s units are affordable housing. Yet, while touted as a victory for the construction of more affordable housing, so far it has only seen construction of more out-of-scale luxury buildings, such as Extell’s 80-story 227 Cherry St. in the Two Bridges area, critics charge.

The Chinatown Working Group — a coalition of more than 20 community groups, activists and local residents — created its own rezoning plan in response to de Blasio’s affordable housing plan.  The approach by the C.W.G. calls for height restrictions on new development, strong anti-tenant-harassment laws against landlords, the creation of more affordable housing, and a change in the income requirement for affordable housing to better reflect the average income levels of Chinatown residents.

However, Chin stood by the statement of the Department of City Planning in February 2015 that the C.W.G. rezoning plan was “too vast an undertaking.” Instead, she proposed her own Chinatown rezoning plan that would only cover historic parts of Chinatown, leaving out at-risk areas of the Lower East Side.

Coalition member David Tieu said the protesters’ fundamentally believe that Chin’s actions do not support the needs and desires of the community.

“It’s pretty clear from the past eight years in office, that she doesn’t have the best interest of the community at heart,” Tieu said. “She has helped to pass racist rezoning plans — like the East Village rezoning plan. She rejected the Chinatown rezoning plan, and instead continued to push for a Chinatown-only rezoning, that will exclude the Lower East Side, excluding Latinos and African Americans from having equal protection.”

Older Chinese immigrant residents feel Chin has betrayed the Chinese community, said Chen Xian, a 20-year neighborhood resident,

“She didn’t agree to pass the Chinatown rezoning plan,” Xian exclaimed. “Instead hundreds of Chinatown families have been forcefully evicted. Rents have been rising at such a fast pace, families that weren’t forced out can no longer afford to live here. She never once showed or came out and said she was worried about the number of families being forcefully evicted. She never showed she cared.”

The coalition members — along with the same 40 protesters who always show up — have vowed to be out there protesting again next month.

“We are here to remind them that it’s their job to represent us,” said Fran Benitez, a Lower East Sider who is has been at every one of the protests. “For me, it’s not an option to just sit in my house and not do anything.”

And with the Starrett Corporation’s announcement this past December that it plans to develop a 62-story, 700-foot tower west of 227 Cherry St., at 271-283 South St. bordering Clinton St.it is unlikely the monthly protests will stop anytime soon.

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