Volume 17 • Issue 33 •Jan. 7 - 13, 2005


Revive Seward Park’s affordable housing opportunity

A little under a year ago, the city unveiled a new plan for the long-dormant, remaining Seward Park Urban Renewal Area sites just south of the Williamsburg Bridge. This plan called for building a mix of 400,000 sq. ft. of affordable housing and 400,000 sq. ft. of commercial space.

Five sites remain from 1967, when the area, at the time occupied mainly by low-income tenement housing, was designated a slum-clearance project and razed. The displaced tenants were assured they would get new affordable units when the area was rebuilt. However, the property has only been partially redeveloped with housing, with parking lots covering much of what remains.

Affordable housing advocates generally called the plan put forward by the city last year a good first step, though some asked that it also include apartments for ultra-low-income individuals. Many residents of the Grand St. Co-ops objected to the plan, feeling the neighborhood already has plenty of low-income housing.

We are told the community response — read community opposition — is what caused the city’s Economic Development Corporation and Department of Housing Preservation and Development to scrap the proposal.

At this point, the decades of inertia is simply disheartening. Clearly, strings are being pulled and chits cashed in behind the scenes to assure no affordable housing is built in this location. As they are now, the remaining Seward Park renewal sites are a bleak no-man’s land. They certainly don’t offer any commercial amenities, something Grand St. co-opers and low-income residents alike could use more of.

About five years ago, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said some progress on the sites might occur once Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani left office. While we got another Republican mayor in Michael Bloomberg, he has vowed to push an active program to create new affordable housing. The Seward Park area, as the largest undeveloped city-owned property south of 96th St., and with a covenant for affordable housing, seems a logical place to go. In short, what’s holding things up now?

It seems the only way any project that meets the various constituencies’ needs can be achieved is if all sides sit down together and try to hash out a compromise solution. Those parties include Silver, Councilmember Alan Gerson and the Grand St. co-ops board of directors, on one side, and, on the other, people like Councilmember Margarita Lopez and affordable-housing advocates like the Seward Park Area Renewal Coalition. Community Board 3, of course, would have to be involved. We recall when the city announced its plan last November, the officials said there would be ongoing task force meetings to hone the plan to something that could achieve community consensus. It seems, because of the strident opposition, those task force meetings never occurred.

Yet, it’s only through that sort of process that anything will get done on those sites. Otherwise, what will be left is shopper parking for the Lower East Side Business Improvement District, which to us does not seem the best use of these properties. The next time around, the process — instead of being thwarted at the outset — must be allowed to move forward and develop.

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