Hundreds call for Chinatown rezoning at town hall

District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar helped rally the crowd at Saturday’s town hall meeting against displacement.
District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar helped rally the crowd at Saturday’s town hall meeting against displacement.

BY VILLAGER STAFF  |  A town hall meeting on Saturday drew an outpouring of several hundred concerned residents to Seward Park High School to demand zoning changes to protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side from overdevelopment and displacement.

“It was a huge turnout,” said Diem Boyd, founder of the LES Dwellers. “The community is energized — in large part because Sheldon Silver was found guilty, giving people renewed hope that things can change for the better down here.”

The event was organized by the Coalition to protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, and included workers’ organizations, public housing tenants and many activist groups.

The organizers made a point of inviting Mayor de Blasio to attend, so they could ask him why his administration has rejected a community-led rezoning of the area by the Chinatown Working Group. But the mayor didn’t show, only sending a representative.

The liaison indicated to the crowd that perhaps a compromise could be achieved, but that wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

“You say compromise. By compromise you mean you want to push out all the Chinese, all the Latinos, all the African Americans, all the poor!” shouted one audience member.

Local resident Jacqueline Herran said the community, which desperately needs new zoning protections, hasn’t been treated fairly.

“Since 2008’s when the East Village rezoning plan was approved, which gave protection from displacement to the majority-white, wealthier community just north of us,” she said, “we’ve seen so much more luxury development in the L.E.S. and Chinatown — because we were excluded from protection! We want equal protection. Is that asking for too much?”

Added Norma Ramirez of Action by the Lower East Side, “Twice our community marched to City Hall. We have repeatedly reached out to de Blasio, urging him to adopt our community-led rezoning plan. His absence here today is a slap in the face. Instead of representing the working people who put him in office, he has shown that he, like Sheldon Silver, represents the developers who want to destroy our community.”

Rallying the crowd were Congressmember Nydia Velazquez and District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar.

“I support the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side,” Velazquez said, drawing applause. “The local community must have a voice in decisions that shape our neighborhoods and our day-to-day lives. We must stand against housing discrimination and work to bring under control rising rents in the Lower East Side and throughout our city.”

Rajkumar said, “We stand in solidarity to save our neighborhood. We stand against the displacement of thousands of families on the Lower East Side.”

Since they feel their homes are being threatened by the administration’s inaction, participants at last Saturday’s meeting resolved to take the battle to de Blasio’s home.

“Are we ready to go to Gracie Mansion?” the crowd was asked, to which they responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

They plan to rally at Gracie Mansion on Wed., Dec. 16, at 4 p.m. That same day, the City Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on two new zoning proposals by the de Blasio administration — “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” and “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.”

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