BY KARI LINDBERG | With passionate chants of “Racism No More,” “New York City Not For Sale” and “De Blasio, Step Down,” members the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side kicked off their protest outside City Hall last Wednesday.
Around 100 protestors, mainly older Chinese and Latinos, came out alongside activists, wearing signs in English, Spanish and Chinese saying “De Blasio, Step Down” and “Stop Ethnic Racism.” They called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to leave office for failing to protect Asian, African-American and Latino communities from being displaced.
The push to rezone a 100-block area of the East Village and part of the Lower East Side under Mayor Mike Bloomberg in 2008 sparked fears in surrounding communities to the south that development pressure would, as a result, be pushed into their areas. They demanded that Chinatown and the unprotected parts of the Lower East Side also be included in the rezoning. They were rebuffed and, ultimately, proven right — development with new “supertall” skyscrapers is already underway in the Two Bridges area, where Extell is building an 800-foot-tall tower at 227 Cherry St.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, one of its members, Louise Velez, said the rezoning of eight years ago had the effect of “giving protection to the white East Village, and neglecting equal protection to the majority-people-of-color communities within Chinatown and Lower East Side.”
That the coalition called for de Blasio to step down underlines their anger at his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing initiative, a key element of his Affordable Housing Plan passed in March. Under the M.I.H. initiative, developers are allowed to build taller buildings in any part of the city, as long as 20 percent of the housing units are dedicated to affordable housing. But rather than a win for affordable housing, coalition members fear the affordable housing initiative will only lead to further luxury development and gentrification of Chinatown, the Lower East Side and other communities of color.
“I think that the main goal of this rally is to put up our demand that the mayor step down, that’s why we’re doing it at City Hall,” explained Sarah Ahn. “De Blasio is really targeting communities of color. He is actually paving a road for the developers to go in and develop historically Asian, African-American and Latino communities.”
Several protesters, not affiliated with the coalition, came to decry the use of M.I.H. in Inwood, East New York, Harlem and the South Bronx. Ale Murphy, a Dominican Republic native who has lived in Manhattan since 1976, expressed how disheartened she is with the mayor.
“I believed him in his ‘Tale of Two Cities,’” she said. “He completely lied to the whole city. I came here to protest the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing initiative.”
She explained that, in the Latino community, “mandato” means to include everyone.
“They think its a law bringing housing to everyone,” she said, “but instead of guaranteed affordable housing, it’s displacing residents who can’t even afford housing under M.I.H.”
Coalition members’ anger at the mayor is compounded by their sense that de Blasio does not support the Chinatown / L.E.S community because he has not adopted the Chinatown Working Group’s rezoning plan for the vulnerable area. A coalition of community groups and activists dedicated to fighting off development that causes the elimination of affordable housing, the working group’s rezoning plan was the result of an eight-year effort.
Specifically, the C.W.G. scheme calls for imposing height caps on new high-rise development, strengthening anti-tenant harassment laws, requiring the city to create more affordable housing, and adjusting the city’s affordable-housing parameters to be in line with Chinatown and the Lower’s East Side median-income levels.
Earlier this year, Community Board 3, in reviewing the C.W.G.’s rezoning plan, called for a “prioritization” of core Chinatown areas — including the waterfront, New York City Housing Authority properties and the historic Chinatown (a seven-block area around the intersection of Mott and Canal Sts.). However, in response to this “prioritization,” City Councilmember Margaret Chin stated that the rezoning plan was “too ambitious.”
At the coalition’s Oct. 26 City Hall protest, David Tieu shouted to the crowd, “They say, ‘It’s not feasible, it’s too ambitious for Latinos, Chinese, African-Americans, for poor people to ask for equal protection.’ ”
Hua Li, a senior citizen and longtime Chinatown resident, wore a sign around her neck saying, “De Blasio, Step Down” written in Chinese. She accused the mayor of not respecting the rights of non-English-speaking New York residents.
“This protest is important because if this plan is not passed, we will have no protection from higher rents and luxury buildings,” Li shouted, referring to the C.W.G. rezoning. “De Blasio is ignoring the rights of us Chinatown residents. They want to sell us out, this is why we are angry. Look at the Bronx,” she cried. “Everywhere in New York is having this same problem.”
The coalition’s Ahn said a hopefully far larger protest is in the works for next month.
“We are calling out,” she said, “to all communities facing similar displacement resulting from the mayor’s discriminatory housing policies to come together on Dec. 7 to denounce the city’s racist polices and call for the mayor’s resignation.”