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Principles for an Alternative
Community-Based Rezoning Plan

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side represents the residents, workers, and small
businesses who make up the majority of the Chinatown and the Lower East Side community. We call for
community planning that is accountable to the people who live and work here- the low-income working
families and the small businesses of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The Lower East Side, historically
an immigrant community is now composed of: 44 percent Asian, 28 percent Latino, and 7 percent African-
American. The median household income of residents in this area is $24,000 while 33 percent are below
poverty level.

In the face of this economic crisis, despite the critical need to protect vulnerable low-income communities of
color the City has not only failed to meet these needs but has accelerated the destruction and displacement of this community. Since the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning plan has passed, permits for luxury
condominiums and hotels in the Chinatown and the Lower East Side community have multiplied. Rents have
skyrocketed for residents and small businesses. Dozens of buildings of long-time residents have been evicted
by city agencies. Rent-stabilized apartments, Mitchell-Lama, and Section 8 are under threat, while local
politicians promote the idea that vacant NYCHA land in the LES will be sold to private developers.

The Chinatown and Lower East Side community needs a plan that will serve and be accountable to the needs
of this predominantly low-income community of color, not a plan that will further divide and displace its
members. This planning initiative will include the area south of Houston from the East River to Bowery; east
of Avenue D from Houston to 14th Street; and east from Centre Street from Spring to Park Row. This
community plan is based on the following principles:

  1. Protect the homes, workplaces, and businesses of the people who currently reside and work here; and not
    a plan driven by tourism and for the benefit of developers.
  2. Includes and gives equal protections to the members of the Chinatown and Lower East Side community as
    one with common interests; not divisive, exclusionary, nor discriminatory.
  3. Provides for the building of low-income housing and preserves the stock of rent-stabilized, Mitchell Lama,
    Section 8, and NYCHA housing in which the majority of current residents reside, particularly prohibiting the
    privatization and sale of NYCHA housing.
  4. Preserves and protects the ethnic small businesses that serve our community, by prohibiting key money
    practices, providing for rent regulations for small businesses.
  5. Provides for mandatory, on-site low-income housing for every new residential construction.
  6. Defines affordable housing according to what is affordable to the low-income working families that live
    and work in the community.
  7. Limits luxury high-rise development.

We invite everyone in the community who share our common interests in putting the needs of people first to
join us in developing plans for the future of our community.

Excerpts From the Chinatown and the
Lower East Side Community Plan

Hunter College, Department of Urban Affairs & Planning

During the 2008-2009 academic year, Hunter College’s Department of Urban Affairs and
Planning engaged in a studio project with the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower
East Side (“the Coalition”). This project resulted in two reports—Part I: Background Conditions
and Part II: Strategic Choices. In this second part, the studio team summarizes key issues facing
the Chinatown/Lower East Side Community (CTLES) and offers potential strategies for their
resolution.

The studio focused on such issues as housing, economic development, zoning, environment and
infrastructure, and community investment. Below are excerpts of the studio’s description of
some of these key issues and its recommendations.

1. Housing
Given heightened development pressures with the recent East Village/Lower East Side rezoning
and NYCHA’s budget woes, the low-income working class residents within Chinatown and the
Lower East Side require policy prescriptions that will aim to ensure their tenure will remain in
light of the vast changes affecting their communities.

The following is a map of the study area which illustrates the current development potential of
each parcel within Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Blue parcels indicate no potential for asof-
right increases in development density. All other parcels illustrate some potential for
increased development as-of-right; the darker colored parcels have more available FAR. In all,
75% of the parcels in the CT/LES area are currently built to less than the available FAR,
representing more than 20 million square feet of development potential given existing zoning.

Hunter College Studio recommendations include:

  • [T]he Coalition can focus on cataloging existing rent stabilized buildings in an effort to
    guarantee all buildings which fit the rent stabilized criteria are registered with DHCR.
    Using the existing listing of rent stabilized buildings provided by DHCR as a basis, this
    effort would result in an accurate inventory and even more valuable, provide recourse
    for addressing buildings which fit the rent regulated criteria but are not currently on the
    list. Having a verified listing of such building will also ensure any future policies directed
    towards rent stabilized buildings will encompass all eligible properties.
  • As a supplement to the recently upheld tenant harassment law, which provides renters
    with legal recourse in the case of threats or intimidation, the city should implement a
    system to allow renters to withhold rent should essential repairs not be made. This will
    also allow renters to challenge unlawful harassment. One example of such a system is
    that managed by the City of Los Angeles, which provides residents living in buildings that
    are not compliant with existing building codes the opportunity to place their monthly
    rent into an escrow account.

2. Economic Development
In the past several decades, real estate developers and investors have seen Chinatown and
Lower East Side (CTLES) as a potential area for luxury hotels and condominiums and for highend
trendy businesses. This is effectively pushing out long-term residents and local and ethnicowned
businesses to make way for those who can pay higher rents.
Hunter College Studio recommendations include:
• Commercial rent control or rent stabilization is a more controversial, but potentially
more effective, idea for stemming displacement of small, local ethnic businesses. New
York City had a form of commercial rent control that started in the 1940s as part of the
wartime price controls.

3. Zoning
[T]o prevent the threat of out-of-scale development from taking place in the CT/LES study area
a rezoning proposal should be promulgated to address the height factor zoning districts that
remain in Community Board 3 that were not rezoned as part of the EV/LES rezoning. The zoning
map below shows the CT/LES study area that was excluded from the EV/LES rezoning outlined
in red.

Hunter College Studio recommendations include:

  • NYCHA has been operating under severe financial constraints for years. There is
    speculation that they may privatize their developments, or portions thereof, in order to
    raise revenue. . . . While many recognize that NYCHA needs to raise revenue to
    effectively maintain and manage the public housing development they are in charge
    of . . . any remaining floor area or development opportunities that stem from NYCHA
    properties should be used to develop either more public housing or some sort of
    affordable housing. We believe that a mechanism should be provided to allow NYCHA to
    profit from those development rights in a manner that continues to protect the status of
    existing public housing on NYCHA sites and ensures that any development resulting
    from sale of such unused rights results in future construction of low income and
    affordable housing.
  • As it stands the average CT/LES resident could not afford affordable housing units that
    are affordable to households earning 80% the Area Median Income. Modifying the
    Inclusionary Housing regulations so that the Area Median Income is reflective of the
    local median income rather than that of the Metropolitan Statistical Area would serve to
    ensure that more of the local CT/LES residents could afford lower-income housing units
    produced through the Inclusionary Housing program than current standards allow.