Volume 16 • Issue 41 | March 12 - 18, 2004


Reason for hope at I.P.N.

If you want to sum up in three words what prevents Tribeca from becoming an exclusive neighborhood only for the rich, it’s easy: Independence Plaza North. While there is nothing wrong with the luxury lofts that surround the middle-income housing complex – in fact they indicate a neighborhood that continues to strengthen – maintaining a mix of incomes is also vital to the neighborhood.

The agreement between Laurence Gluck, the new owner of I.P.N., and the tenants announced on Monday and expected to be signed any day now looks as if it will preserve the neighborhood’s affordable housing for the foreseeable future. Tenant leaders, their attorneys and Gluck should be commended for negotiating a good-faith deal. City Council Speaker Gifford Miller also deserves praise. Tenant leaders credit his proposed bill for putting pressure on Gluck to negotiate.

Gluck, as he is legally permitted to do, is taking the complex out of the Mitchell-Lama middle income rent protection program. But under the tenant agreement, most of the 3,000 or so residents will be eligible for federal sticky vouchers. This group, perhaps as many as two-thirds of the residents, will only have to pay 30 percent of their income on rent. Those tenants who make too much to qualify for the vouchers will get rent increases in line with the rent stabilization guidelines.

There are several strong components that protect tenants in the agreement. Children, blood relatives, and registered domestic partners living in the apartments will be able to keep the rent protections after their loved ones die. Rent protections will continue even after rents go over $2,000 – unlike in rent stabilization.

There are some concerns. The long-term future of sticky vouchers is uncertain. Also, Gluck or a future owner will have a financial incentive to pressure non-voucher tenants to leave since the landlord will get market rents once that happens. Perhaps such pressure is not a legitimate fear right now, but it is important to make sure that no landlord succumbs to the financial incentives to push people out.

A few weeks ago, it looked like many people would be forced to leave Tribeca because of the rents. That danger seems to have passed – good news for all who care about the neighborhood.

Clearing the air Downtown, post-9/11

What to make of the recent news regarding the environmental effects caused by the destruction of the World Trade Center two and a half years ago? There continues to be little concrete evidence to suggest that the people living near the W.T.C. are at heightened health risks because of 9/11 – certainly reason for some comfort. But there continues to be justifiable concern and confusion about the long-term health risks.

This week a health study of 205 asthmatic children was released and revealed that asthma-related visits to a Chinatown heath clinic were up significantly in the year after the attack, indicating possible links to Sept. 11 long after the W.T.C. fires had stopped spewing dangerous chemicals into the air. On the other hand, Dr. Michel Cohen, a respected pediatrician whose office treats about 4,000 patients – many of the children who live closest to the W.T.C. site in Tribeca and Battery Park City — tells us he noticed no increase in asthma in 2001 and 2002. He notes that in Harlem, many miles away from the site, there was also an increase in asthma-related visits over the same time period.

There is cause for concern about asthma and about the Environmental Protection Agency cleanup program. Without commenting on the merits of the case, the federal lawsuit filed against the agency also this week is likely to have a positive effect. The E.P.A. has only admitted to generic mistakes responding to the environmental disaster and has never outlined what precisely they were. The suit may uncover previously unreleased documents. The lawsuit, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s new E.P.A. panel, and despite its flaws, the Health Department’s ongoing 9/11 survey are all important vehicles to provide Downtowners with the information we need to assess the health impact of 9/11 and to act where necessary.

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