Volume 20, Number 44 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 27 - November 2, 2010
Downtown groups hoping for financial support turn to the L.M.D.C.
BY Aline Reynolds
Affordable housing, health hazards and the East River waterfront were the topics du jour at a public forum held last Wednesday by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The event was initiated to solicit feedback concerning the allocation of $158 million in funds available to various Lower Manhattan groups.
Dozens of neighborhood organization leaders, elected officials and youths showed up at the meeting, held at 250 Broadway, to testify on what they believed to be critical needs in the community.
Several of the speakers represented Asian Americans for Equality, an affordable housing and community service organization that annually serves more than 30,000 seniors and low-income working families in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
Chinatown is the second densest community citywide, according to Christopher Kui, executive director of A.A.F.E, prompting a critical need for affordable housing.
“The lack of affordable housing options, coupled with a growing population in an extremely dense neighborhood, has forced tenants to live in overcrowded conditions where a single unit can be shared with as many as four households,” Kui said.
With previous support from the L.M.D.C., A.A.F.E. was able to preserve more than 100 units of low-income housing for its constituents. It hopes to receive an additional $50 million in L.M.D.C. grant money to restore another 400 Lower Manhattan units.
Predatory tactics of landlords, such as intentional neglect, are “evolving faster than housing advocates are able to counter them,” said Richard Lee, legislative advocate for A.A.F.E.
“It is funds like this that allow A.A.F.E. to continue helping the most vulnerable members of our community and ensure that the Lower East Side and Chinatown continue to be a home to low-income and working families and individuals,” Lee said.
Officials from A.A.F.E. also requested a $10 million rehabilitation fund to retrofit the older housing stock.
“The buildings are prime candidates for enormous energy savings, as most of the building stock are 100 years old and run on inefficient fuel oil burning boilers, as opposed to cleaner gas,” said Thomas Yu, director of housing development for A.A.F.E. “The buildings have leaky insulation and windows and outdated plumbing fixtures that need to be replaced.”
Such upgrades, Yu argued, would help avert deadly fires and structural decay. “In the past two years, we have seen several buildings in Lower Manhattan go up in flames or vacated due to structural integrity issues that were all preventable,” he said. The fire on Grand Street last spring, for example, left some 200 people homeless and killed an elderly tenant.
“A simple electrical upgrade would have saved thousands and thousands more [dollars] in subsequent damages, not to mention lives,” he said.
Chinatown youth Diana Huynh also testified on behalf of the organization. “[A.A.F.E.] helped us find food, shelter, clothing, and to replace our documents, such as passports and banking cards,” she said. “Without A.A.F.E.’s housing assistance, I would have had to leave school and move out of the state in order to stay with family.”
Harvey Epstein, a project director at the Urban Justice Center, a legal services and advocacy organization, urged the L.M.D.C. to expand on its original $16 million grant to nonprofits that used the money to convert Lower Manhattan developments into permanent affordable housing units. “Now, more must be done,” Epstein said, to create hundreds of additional affordable housing units on city-owned property below Houston Street.
Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin reiterated the need for more low-income housing.
“We need programs to retain [the] currently affordable housing units in our district and develop additional ones to enable us to enhance and preserve the demographic diversity of this area prized by our residents,” Menin said.
Others testified for funding for Downtown infrastructure. Robert LaValva, president of the New Amsterdam Public Market Association, asked the L.M.D.C. to help restore the early 20th-century buildings of the historic Fulton Street Fish Market in the South Street Seaport. “These buildings are the only remaining waterfront structures of the South Street Seaport historic district, which was preserved to remind New Yorkers of this city’s maritime origins,” he said.
The buildings are vacant, LaValva said, because they’re in poor physical condition. If they are not attended to, he said, “We will eventually lose an important legacy and resource; whereas by preserving and reusing them we will create a unique and compelling destination that will serve as a vibrant economic engine for Lower Manhattan.”
Jim Shields testified on behalf of God’s Love We Deliver, a nonprofit in Lower Manhattan that provides food to those afflicted with H.I.V., cancer and other serious illnesses. The group is scouting for funds for a capital project in Lower Manhattan, having outgrown its facility in Hudson Square.
“Our presence in Lower Manhattan is pivotal, not only four our clients in the area, to whom we provided 21,588 meals last year, but also for the volunteers and corporate groups that frequent our kitchen and bring recognition, revitalization and solidarity to the community of Lower Manhattan,” Shields said.
Shields said G.L.W.D. is “fiercely committed” to staying Downtown, provided the organization receives financial support.
The U.J.C. also spoke on behalf of 9/11 residents and workers in Lower Manhattan.
“We at the Urban Justice Center propose that the $212.5 million be allocated to programs and areas like preventative healthcare services, outreach, legal services, affordable housing development and small business development,” said Epstein.
Isabelle Silverman, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, recommended that a $15 to $20 million grant be established for buildings below Houston Street to convert to cleaner fuel. Currently, 160 of them are burning “sludge” – number six or number four heating oil.
“It’s so important for the quality of life, health of all the people living down here,” said Silverman.
Several community members testified in support of the Lower Manhattan waterfront in addition to the city’s comprehensive waterfront plan.
Dominic Pisciotta, chair of Community Board 3, argued that her district, which runs southward from 14th street to the Brooklyn Bridge, lacks crucial waterfront amenities. “Access to and development of the waterfront is considered as a necessity. Many of our residents simply do not have the means to travel to other areas for the use of public space on the waterfront.”
Specifically, C.B. 3 is requesting financial support for the demolition of the shed area of Pier 42, which, she indicated, is obstructing its recreational use. “Pier 42 has been approved as a beach area for passive enjoyment of the waterfront by all ages of the community, but funding is lacking to demolish the shed area of the pier,” Pisciotta said. “This demolition would be possible with L.M.D.C. funds.”
Carolina Salguero, founder and director of PortSide NewYork, also encouraged the L.M.D.C. to allocate funding to rebuilding Pier 42, an example of a “fallow, untapped asset that could propel Lower Manhattan and the city forward.”
The Lower Manhattan waterfront, she continued, is “a connector to our various communities and is central to the city’s emerging identity as a waterfront city.”
A.J. Pietrantone, executive director of Friends of Hudson River Park, a nonprofit advocacy group, is seeking funds for the completion the Tribeca segment of the park, between Laight and North Moore Streets. The F.H.R.P. has already applied for a $5 million grant from the L.M.D.C.’s community and cultural enhancement funds for the project.
Pietrantone voiced his support for refurbishments to the East Side waterfront at the public forum, which he said will expand the area’s tax base and encourage economic development in the area. “We encourage the L.M.D.C. to look at these lessons learned on the West side and give a higher consideration to completing these and other waterfront and open space projects in the Battery and East River and completion of the designated Harbor District,” he said. “By doing so, not only can the residents take advantage of desperately needed amenities in this rebuilding zone, but you will achieve the added value in terms of both economic development and expanding tax base they provide in addition to the enhancement of quality of life.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron also spoke on behalf of the East River waterfront, which he deems an iconic project. Rebuilding the Lower Manhattan waterfront, he said, is “incredibly important to a community that doesn’t have waterfront access in the same way you do in other parts of the city.”
Squadron is advocating for the creation of a central “harbor” park that would connect Governors Island with the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts.
“Unlike Central or Prospect Park, each of which serve one borough, this would uniquely serve multiple boroughs and link through the harbor,” Squadron said. “If you were to invest around $50 million, about half as much as in the Performing Arts Center, you could get very close to delivering on the promise.”
Councilmember Margaret Chin also alluded to the underdeveloped East River esplanade.
“We want the East Side to look as good as the West Side, and L.M.D.C. funding can help facilitate that,” said Chin.