Friday, September 19, 2008

THE BIG ISSUES IN NEW YORK CITY: GENTRIFICATION, OVER-DEVELOPMENT AND THE HOUSING CRISIS.

UP FRONT News August 19, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/UPFRONTNewsdiscussionforum
http://www.tomsupfrontnews.blogspot.com/

THE BIG ISSUES IN NEW YORK CITY: GENTRIFICATION, OVER-DEVELOPMENT AND THE HOUSING CRISIS. THE LOWER EAST SIDE IS GROUND ZERO AND STATEN ISLAND'S STAPLETON IS GROUND ONE. WE ARE ALL,IN THIS TOGETHER AND IT IS TIME FOR THE INNER-DIRECTED LOWER EAST SIDE TO REACH OUT.

By Tom Weiss

While gentrification and over-development are worsening the housing crisis and afflicting working class communities throughout New York City, Ground Zero may be the real estate goldmine known as Lower Manhattan. Made up of communities including the Lower East Side, the Greenwich Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and Tribeca, affordable housing in those communities, except for those surviving in rent-protected apartments (and lofts), is a thing of the past. What New Yorkers get under the Michael Bloomberg/Christine regime is what we least need, luxury housing! When I lived in a loft in Tribeca from 1977 until I was displaced in 1993 by one of the most avaricious, politically connected (and Orthodox) landlords (Thomas Berger) since the Old Testament, that neighborhood was working class in character. Thanks to a wave of over-development and gentrification, and the perfidies of the totally Mike McKee and Chuck Delaney-co-opted Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants, many loft tenants lost our homes. Tribeca has been Robert de Niro-ized and is now one of the richest neighborhoods in the world. People like poetry mogul and elitist-leftist Bob Holman are among those who occupy the Tribeca luxury lofts, the eastern urban equivalent to Beverly Hills. And as far as I am aware there is no Section 8 in Soho. The Lower East Side/East Village/Chinatown areas have for years been a focal point in the developer/tenant wars. Although twenty years ago the focus was on the homeless living in Tompkins Square Park, the police riot against the homeless, squatters and others in that community reverberated far beyond the homeless and made front page news for days. Loopholes (thank you Mike McKee) in rent protection laws have opened the way for greedy landlords like the Ekonomakis family to bully rent protected tenants such as those facing "owner occupancy" eviction at 47 East 3rd St. Huge real estate conglomerates such as the Bush/oil mogul-connected Carlyle Group are buying up properties there. NYU, the higher education equivalent of Russia under Vladimir Putin, is hoping to convert at least some of the neighborhood into a sort of captive nation. A corollary of over-development and gentrification - which are aided and abetted by politicians such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, et. al. -, is rampant bar proliferation of which Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side is perhaps the most conspicuous example. In a classic attempt at conquering by dividing, Bloomberg & Co. have designed a rezoning plan which provides some protection to the Lower East Side and the East Village at the expense of Chinatown. One of the battlegrounds of all this has been Manhattan Community Board 3. I have attended and testified at a number of CB3 meetings. Rhetorically speaking it is certainly class war. Among the more eloquent and convincing voices against gentrification, over-development and bar proliferation is musician/activist Rebecca Moore, who lives in the heart of the LES. There are plenty of others who speak out at Community Board meetings, legislative hearings, rallies, etc. They include John Penley, Rob Hollander, Monte Schapiro (constantly facing down his landlord Ben Shaoul) and Lower East Side music legend David Peel - who has offended some in the neighborhood with his musical use of the term "yuppie" (even applying it to older people) in connection with slimy stuff floating on swamp surfaces. There are perhaps, on a percentage basis, more activists on the Lower East Side than any other neighborhood in New York, "liberal" or otherwise. And yet the steadily gentrifying neighborhood is losing the battle. All one needs to do is walk through the once low rise-bordered streets of the Lower East Side, and its main thoroughfare East Houston Street and to check out the glass houses from which residents should not throw stones. The Lower East Side is starting to look like White Plains, a center of sterile corporate architecture. As far as I am able to determine, one of the political and organizational essentials that the talent-laden Lower East Side is not good at is reaching out and doing mutual support with other communities. In certain ways the Lower East Side is too inner-directed. As far as I am concerned, people like the recurrently protesting Rebecca Moore (who led a protest against the Varvatos elitist priced boutique, which replaced the displaced and deceased CBGB's) and others should be heard in other affected neighborhoods. I am not aware of much in the way of reaching out by just about any Lower East Side activist to other communities. Tenants rights activists in for example Brooklyn and Queens are much better at that. That may explain why perhaps the two most tenant rights-oriented members of the New York City Council are Tony Avella from Queens and Charles Barron from Brooklyn. (And if Avella is elected mayor in 2009 as he hopes and if Barron is elected Borough President of Brooklyn as he plans, there will be changes.) I live in the very gentrification and over-development-threatened ethnically diverse working class community of Stapleton on the North Shore of Staten Island, an area very much in the crosshairs of the developer-predators. Bloomberg, the machine Democratic City Councilman Michael McMahon, and moneymen and women are hoping to transform downtown Staten Island, which includes Stapleton and its real estate-undeveloped "Homeport", very near my home, into another Lower Manhattan-style "green" luxury district. It's nothing other than Soho-ization and economic ethnic cleansing. Staten Island Community Board 1, like all the CB's, has its voices of dissent but is run by the Bloomberg/Quinn/McMahon machine. Democratic City Council candidates (to replace the mercifully term-limited McMahon, who wants to be a congressman) Rev. Tony Baker and activist Debi Rose have had little to say on the gentrification/over-development issue. I am, however glad to report that Rev. Demetrius Carolina, the very influential Pastor of the First Central Baptist Church in Stapleton, of which I am a member, ex-pressed his concern about "gentrification" in a recent sermon. Rev. Carolina is a regular reader of UP FRONT News. Two members of his church are also members of Staten Island Community Board 1 and, at least as far as I am aware, have been essentially silent on that issue. Indeed one of those members became enraged at me a few months ago at a "peace" event at FCBC because I said something critical about Bloomberg, a savvy politician who has personally reached out to Rev. Carolina.

I've gone to a lot of LES protests, etc. including some recent ones in support of the 47 East 3rd St. tenants. I am glad that the president of the 47 East 3rd St. tenants association, recognizing that they have been victimized by a legislative loophole, has replied positively to my e-mail urging that we work together to get the New York State legislature to pass a law closing the "owner occupancy" loophole. And, while we're at it, we need to pass a law along the lines of the Mike McKee-murdered Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act, which would require any landlord or landlady seeking a rent increase for any reason to open his or her books to prove need. To do all that and to save neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side and Stapleton from real estate extinction, we will all have to work together. Some cliches have relevance, such as the one which reminds us that if we don't hang together we will surely hang separately.
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