Lower Manhattan groups fight against SoHo and Chinatown rezoning plans

Holding up the words, “No displacement,” protesters demanded that the rezoning in Chinatown and SoHo be stopped and community-based plans be utilized.
Photo by Dean Moses

Over half a dozen Lower Manhattan groups said no to rezoning plans in their communities on Monday.

Rezoning issues have been sending residents into a frenzy for years. Voices resisting what many feel to be nothing more than gentrification expressed their concerns back in early March when hundreds rallied to save the beloved Chinatown dim sum restaurant Jing Fong.

During several protests that called for the famous eatery to be spared, attendees also denounced proposed rezoning by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration which, they claimed, serves big business and would destroy union jobs.

In place of the current plans, locals are calling for the implementation of the Chinatown Working Group plan and the Community Alternative Rezoning Plan for SoHo and NoHo, which protects small businesses and affordable housing, and stops the encroachment of big chain stores.

On Monday, members of the Chinatown Working Group, TenantsPAC, Village Preservation, as well as other community groups and residents assembled outside 183 Centre St. to voice their opposition to rezoning plans that, the city says, would create more affordable housing.

Many residents believe these measures will instead displace longtime community members and leave plenty of leeway room for luxury developments. With the rapid closures of businesses in the area throughout the pandemic, protesters believe that these rezoning plans will cripple locals.

Protesters call Mayor Bill de Blasio two sides of the same coin with former President Donald Trump. Photo by Dean Moses

“What our mayor wants to see is communities divided and pitted against each other so that the top 1% can continue to exploit and displace us to make their profit. We won’t let it work because this is our city. Not the playground for the super-rich,” said Zishun Ning from the Chinatown Working Group, condemning the rezoning plans.

Ning argued that the mayor specifically pinpointed large tower areas along the borders of SoHo and Chinatown to demolish. The plan, Ning charged, would destroy low-income and rent-regulated housing, drive up property values, price out locals, and incentivize landlords to evict tenants so that rent could be raised.  

Manhattan Borough President candidate Lindsey Boylan boasted her background as an urban planner while sharing her research into the NoHo and SoHo rezoning projects. She believes these plans would leave many local residents in an unsustainable environment.

Lindsey Boylan agrees with locals regarding the rezoning plans. Photo by Dean Moses

“I decided to do my own work like a good urban planner would. I took a few laps around the Chinatown Working Group and I realized there is a much better alternative and I want to highlight this plan not just because it actually involves livability, and it revolves around housing—affordable housing, deeply affordable housing—but also because that is how we should build our city moving forward,” Boylan said, adding, “All we have gotten from these failed ideas and plans is displacement and gaslighting. We have to move away from that.”

Demonstrators compared the rezoning to Godzilla’s destruction. Photo by Dean Moses
A large crowd gathered. Photo by Dean Moses

Speakers at the rally called for the mayor to make an immediate halt to these rezoning plans — and vowed to keep up the fight until after the 2021 mayoral elections.

“We know your plan is a sham! If you really cared about affordable housing, if you really cared about a more equitable neighborhood, you would be passing the community alternative plan. You would be passing the Chinatown Working Group plan. Those plans offer real affordable housing while preserving and protecting what makes these neighborhoods great. The long-term residents and small businesses all of whom would be shoved out the door if this plan is passed. So, we are here to say today, not just to the mayor but to all of the elected officials who will eventually be voting on this, you will vote ‘No,’” said Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation.

The rally rang out with chants, “Vote no!”

In response to these claims against the Chinatown, SoHo, and NoHo rezoning project, a representative from the Mayor’s office states that these plans will provide permanent affordable housing on city streets that currently sell at market rate. 

“These claims have been completely and repeatedly debunked. This group has spent months telling anyone who will listen that SoHo is actually a diverse and affordable neighborhood, and it’s just one ULURP hearing away from ruin. But New Yorkers aren’t fooled; they know it’s time for a rezoning plan that finally makes these iconic areas accessible again,” said Mitch Schwartz, the director of rapid response and deputy press secretary for the Mayor’s office. 

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