The Coalition to Protect Chinatown/LES packed Tuesday's CB3 meeting with people and signs. Speaker after speaker denounced luxury development and the exclusion of Chinatown from the rezoning plan. They called for truly affordable housing not tied by inclusionary zoning to luxury overdevelopment and the gentrification and displacement it brings.
After they left many CB members, feeling under attack, reacted defensively, blaming the community for getting involved too late. Closing ranks and blaming the victim is unfortunate and I was disheartened by it. They could instead have reacted positively to the community and constructively by considering the one ameliorative step the board can take even at this late moment: reject the Chrystie Street Alternative Inclusionary Upzoning.
The DCP plan for Chrystie Street downzones as-of-right luxury there. The Alternative, still promoted by a few on the Community Board, upzones as-of-right luxury on Chrystie Street. Both plans provide virtually the same amount of affordable housing.
This one is a no-brainer to me. The DCP plan will bring less gentrification, less harm, to Chinatown than the Alternative plan.
The largest reserve of affordable housing, the cheapest affordable housing to create and the most affordable affordable housing to live in is the affordable housing low-income people are living in right now, much of it right here in the LES and Chinatown. Acquiring new affordable housing by gentrifying neighborhoods and displacing people already living in the most affordable housing, loses far more than could be gained, does more harm than good and defeats its own purpose.
On-site inclusionary zoning with tax breaks should give us 1 affordable unit for every 4 units of luxury. The dilemma of inclusionary zoning is this: large luxury developments gentrify their surroundings, raising real estate values, driving out local businesses, displacing communities. So the question for any responsible urban planner is:
Where should the luxury be located so that it does the least harm?
I heard the Coalition to Protect Chinatown/LES attending Tuesday's Community Board meeting say clearly: not here. Small businesses and low-income residents cannot withstand luxury gentrification. Chinatown residents don't want to be displaced. They don't want to be the lambs sacrificed to the idol of affordable housing that is not affordable to them.
And who among us wants to see Chinatown become a theme park for tourists or yet another upscale nightclub destination?
The DCP plan provides inclusionary zoning on Houston, Delancey, part of Pitt, D and Chrystie -- more than the CB asked for. Why ask for even more upzoning on Chrystie? Why ask only Chinatown to bear the brunt of what would be the most extreme piece of as-of-right upzoning in the entire plan? Why Chinatown?
The Coalition to Protect Chinatown called the plan racist. That's not a word I use, but I don't see how CB members can fend off that charge if they continue to support this alternative that singles out Chinatown alone for the most luxury density in the plan. Maybe the alternative got in play because the residents of Chinatown hadn't come forward before. That's unfortunate, but speculating on why they haven't been part of the process until now would be to invite bitter recriminations from both sides. There's nothing to be gained there. What matters is that they have come forward now. Let's listen and rethink.
The DCP plan is less harmful and doesn't single out Chinatown for extra luxury. The DCP plan is closer to CB Chair McWater's original zoning conception. Let's stick with it.