Friday, January 30, 2009

Something urgent from CAAAV

The Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence

We Need YOUR Help to Send Out 100 Letters in 100 Hours!

Dear friends and supporters,

Many of you have been supporting the residents of 81 Bowery, who were evicted by the City's Department of Buildings on November 13, 2008 for safety violations the landlord failed to correct. Since then, four more buildings in Chinatown have been vacated leaving more than 100 residents homeless.

In these harsh economic times and cold weather, the City should not be forcing people out of their long-time homes. There are other alternatives the City can adopt that will require landlords to fix the violations while at the same time ensuring that residents can remain in their homes safely.

The Department of Buildings has not agreed to a meeting with the displaced tenants and CAAAV. We need YOUR support to hold DOB Commissioner LiMandri accountable by meeting with us. No longer should they be allowed to hide behind closed doors and bureaucracy.

We hope you support the Alternatives to Mass Evictions (AME) Campaign.
Our demands are simple:

1) For the displaced tenants to be able to return home immediately

2) In the future, for DOB to put in place a policy of having landlords correct violations instead of evicting whole buildings in the name of safety, leaving people homeless.

Here is how you can support:

Send a letter to DOB. We are doing a push to send 100 letters to DOB in 100 hours via fax and email beginning 9am on February 2nd until 1pm on February 6th. The more the merrier! We appreciate letters sent on organizational letterhead and as individuals. Below and attached is a sample letter. Please cc Helena once this is done so we can keep track!

Come out with your members to actions. We will be doing actions at DOB and in Chinatown in the coming months. If you are interested, let Helena know.

Spread the word! We cannot allow this to happen to anyone else. And we need all the support you can give in order for DOB to change their practices. As this campaign goes on, there will be periodic updates, and we hope you will talk to others about this campaign and all other efforts to fight gentrification and displacement in New York City!

For more information, contact Helena Wong at or (212) 473-6485.


FAX to: (212) 566-3785
Email to:
Subject: Housing Justice for Chinatown Tenants

February ___, 2009

Robert LiMandri
Department of Buildings
280 Broadway, 7th floor
New York, NY 10007

Dear Commissioner LiMandri:

I am writing in support of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and the approximately 100 long-term Chinatown residents – from 81 Bowery, 32 Market Street, 15 Catherine Street, and 103 East Broadway (a FDNY vacate that was assisted by DOB) – who are left homeless because of vacate orders issued by your agency between November 13 and December 16, 2008.

In all four buildings the issue was secondary egress, which is a hazardous violation that should be corrected by their landlords immediately. I do not question that secondary egress is a fire hazard and that your agency has an obligation to ensure all tenants' safety. However, there is a more viable policy the Department of Buildings can and should adopt to address safety violations that do not lead to forcing people out of their homes during the coldest months of the year with no notice whatsoever. For example, the DOB can require that landlords hire fire guards at their own cost while they correct the violations. These vacate orders penalize residents who are paying rent, when the DOB ought to hold the landlords responsible for not complying with the law. The landlords allowed these violations to exist for years, putting tenants' lives in danger. The DOB should work to ensure that tenant safety issues are addressed in ways that protect tenants and ensure they live in safe and habitable homes. By issuing vacate orders that penalize the tenants, the DOB is in fact condoning these landlords to continue to violate the laws of the City.

It is in times of economic crisis that the DOB should take even more care to ensure that no one is forced out of their homes, yet current cuts to social services essentially guarantee that residents' need for these services will exceed what can be provided, adding more strain on scarce and valuable resources.

I urge that you meet with CAAAV to discuss the following:

1) The DOB allow all residents from 81 Bowery, 15 Catherine Street, and 32 Market Street to return to their homes immediately.

2) The DOB require the landlord to hire fire guards at all buildings until the landlord has corrected the violations.

3) The DOB should not approve any new Certificate of Occupancy applications for these three buildings that do not allow for current residents to return to their homes.

4) The DOB puts into place a policy that allows for landlords to fix violations at the landlord's expense, rather than issuing vacate orders that penalize tenants and make them homeless.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Politics as usual

In the wake of Chinatown's deadly accident that took the lives of two small children, State Senator Danny Squadron's press conference on the reopening of Park Row was postponed.

However, never one to miss an opportunity regardless how callous, Borough President Scott Stringer jumped in, taking political advantage of local tragedy to promote his "comprehensive traffic safety plan" that he apparently threw together the night before.

He presented the plan, needless to say, without first consulting the Chinatown community, the community that has been living and dealing for years with the most dangerous crossings in Manhattan. I guess there's no time to consult with the community when the press you've called are waiting for you with pens ready.

Yet Stringer did apparently have time to consult with Transportation Alternatives (quoted in his press release and mentioned in his speech), which just happens to be the only citizens' group in favor of the Chatham Square redesign, the redesign that all of Chinatown, including CBs 1,2 & 3 have rejected. Remember Stringer ran on a platform of community empowerment?

You'd think Transportation Alternatives would have asked Stringer, "What does the community think of your plan?" before signing on. A little more community sensitivity, TA.

Danny Squadron, the newly elected state senator who had planned the press conference before the accident occurred, and several Chinatown organizational spokespersons from CCBA, CCRC and former AAFE director Margaret Chin among others, managed to make the best of a sad and difficult moment. There was plenty of criticism for the Department of Transportation (a mayoral agency) and Squadron mentioned the continuing problem of the city's refusal to reopen Park Row.

Will the city return Park Row to the discussion? Does the city care what happens in Chinatown?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Park Row press conference

Press Conference on reopening Park Row
Friday, Jan. 23, 12:15
Park Row at Worth Street

Our new state senator Danny Squadron is holding this press conference on the city's unwillingness to reopen Park Row, a crucial route connecting Chinatown to downtown. Please attend if you can.

The closing of Park Row following 9/11 has been a problem for Chinatown ever since, impeding traffic, slowing business and endangering pedestrians trying to negotiate the tortuous traffic detours.

Park Row was closed in order to protect Police Headquarters at 1 Police Plaza from terrorist attack. The transfer of this putative terrorist target away from the immediate vicinity of one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city -- in the world -- does not seem to be a concern for this administration.

Rather, the neighborhood remains under attack by the city administration itself, as residents are evicted from their homes by the Department of Buildings following years of neglect by landlords and city agencies whose responsibility it was to have ensured proper living conditions. Soon the city plans to dig up Chatham Square in a traffic-rerouting construction mayhem, spread over years, that will bury yet more Chinatown businesses in the midst of this recession when businesses will be most vulnerable.

The city's priorities are clear. They do not include the residents and businesses of Chinatown.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Public Notice: Chatham Square Task Force Meetings

The public is encouraged to attend these meetings on Chatham Square’s reconstruction. The Task Force was set up by CB3 to address community concerns over Chatham Square’s reconstruction. Your input is essential to this process.

CB3’s own traffic engineer, Brian Ketchum will be present to answer questions and to review the City’s plans to tell us what works and what does not work so far.

Wednesday, January 21st at 6:30pm
Confucius Plaza Community Room, 33 Bowery

Wednesday, February 18th at 6:30pm
Confucius Plaza Community Room, 33 Bowery

Monday, February 23rd at 6:30pm
Public School 124, 40 Division Street

Sunday, January 18, 2009

M8 hits the news

Local activism can make a difference -- the campaign to save the M8 bus was featured in both copy and photos in the Times and Post and in the copy of AMNY. It ain' over 'til it's over.

The successes of elsewhere

Upright Citizens Brigade, presenting improvised comedy, will replace Pioneer Cinema at Two Boots. UCB cultivates new talent, providing experience and training as well as entertainment. It's applying for a beer & wine license.

In a neighborhood losing its performance spaces, UCB will serve the EV by preserving the Pioneer space as a theater. Entertainment thrives in a depression economy, especially affordable entertainment, and UCB shows, when not free, are only $5. Comedy, by nature subversive when not merely infantile, may hope to match a strand in the older East Village crazy fabric.

UCB has theaters in Los Angeles and in Chelsea (of all places); it is not a local outgrowth of the East Village. Its college-age singles inclinations, endorsed by the beer&wine license, may seem to have little relation to the kind of radical, experimental, countercultural, marginal theater most associated with the East Village. A bellwether of a new direction, a non local make-over, it's Comedy Central encamping in EV grounds once daunting with difference, fast turning harmlessly homogenous. UCB is setting up here in part because its audience is here.

Pioneer was closer to the historical local character. The neighborhood marginal alternative movie theater is an important element of EV's past and present, from the Charles in the 1960s to Cinema Classics until recently on 11th. Pioneer was a serious and significant contributor to that history.

Rents remain high here as EV arts struggle to stay where they are. I don't know how UCB will meld into the East Village arts scene, but its arrival signals a shift from a local, unique homegrown arts economy to economic dependence on the successes of elsewhere.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chinatown report

The Chatham Redesign Task Force met Monday, focusing on the many weaknesses of the city's plan. The whole redesign twists tortuously around a tiny piece of state park (the few feet of the memorial arch) in the middle of the square for no other reason than the city thinks it would take too long for the state to move it. The city can't wait: they've got to reroute traffic for the upcoming Brooklyn Bridge repair project.

In other words, this is a rush job dressed up as planning, and Chinatown pays.

Chatham Square is a mess as it is; the redesign will create another mess. SNAFU. Re-opening Park Row, which would solve everything, does not seem to be on the table.

The Chinatown Working Group
, on a happier note, continues with a remarkably open process that has already attracted twenty-five local organizations as members. They are looking for more participation. All the local electeds attend, though not allowed membership. To give a sense of CWG scope, here's a list of the teams they've created:

Historical and Cultural Preservation
(28 volunteers)
Affordability [housing] (24 volunteers)
Zoning (22 volunteers)
Economic Development/Revitalization (21 volunteers)
Immigrant Affairs/Services (13 volunteers)
Parking, Transportation & Circulation (11 volunteers)
Education & Schools (7 volunteers)
Parks, Open Space & Recreation (7 volunteers)
Security/Park Row (3 volunteers)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

BID can't take "no" for an answer

Last night the well-heeled LES Business Improvement District -- the development interest, rarely visible -- presented itself at last before the unwashed community. CB3's Economic Development and Planning Committee filled with black suits, more well-dressed tailoring than I've seen at the CB since ... well, I've never seen anyone well-dressed at the CB, a scarce virtue I appreciate.

The BID wants the rezoning south of Houston -- the part of the rezoning that protects the LES from more hotels -- revised. Instead of the new 4 FAR, they want 6.

That's a 50% increase, friends. 6 FAR, by the way, was the FAR under the old zoning. They are proposing a roll back.

Six months ago a Chinatown group was roundly criticized and soundly excoriated for having entered the process late in the game. Now, when the three-year-plus process is finally over and done, sealed and celebrated, the BID requests, not a small alteration of detail, but a full 50% more commercial bulk.

The BID says that the additional 50% bulk won't be visible from the street because commercial buildings can use a bit more backyard space than residential buildings (in fact, however, additional backyard space can add only 10% additional FAR) and the new zoning will cap all heights at 80 feet. An 80-foot 6 FAR building, says the BID, looks just like an 80-foot 4 FAR building.

That's true, except a typical 4 FAR building doesn't rise beyond 60 feet. The existing tenements there are 5-6 story 3-4 FAR buildings. Offering 6 FAR is an invitation to roof-top additions at least, if not wholesale redevelopment, all dependent on residential evictions for commercial conversion throughout the entire neighborhood. Their proposal is worse than the old zoning in which the selling of air rights protected many old buildings. Under the BID plan, all buildings would be equally vulnerable to conversion and redevelopment.

In their proposed package the BID offers to forgo hotel development and to press the city to include special anti-harassment measures to protect current residents from eviction.

They know that Board members want anti-harassment measures and want protection against hotel development. But those members expressed healthy skepticism: anti-harassment measures are a thumb in the dyke against the flood of commercial pressure. Far from easing the pressure, they are a weak reactive, with the burden of effort entirely on the victim. Besides, City Planning has a history of picking apart proposal packages, accepting changes it likes and tossing the rest. The BID's package, edited by DCP, would give us 6 FAR, hotels everywhere and no harassment protection.

No one asked, so no one told, just what kind of commercial development the BID wants if not hotels. It was pointed out that New York developers have made an art of building hotels to take advantage of added commercial bulk, later converting them to residences, where the money is.

Tax the fat cats!

SEIU, the health care workers union, is launching a
tax reform program

called Fair Share, featuring a progressive tax on wealth:
Details of their tax plan here:

Without tax reform, the city is looking at deep service cuts that will hit working people hard and will scarcely, if at all, be felt at the top. "Tightening the belt" sounds egalitarian, but it always seems to turn out to mean 'squeezing the have-nots.' As we've learned from the bail-out, fat cats don't wear belts, they have suspenders.

So don't think it selfish to ask, while the city is losing revenue, that your bus line be saved. With a tax reform plan, there's no need for you to have to give up public services, because the only reason for you to sacrifice would be that the proprietors of wealth in the city won't.

MTA Hearing on rate hikes and service cuts
Wed. Jan. 14, 6pm
1335 6th Avenue,
Hilton Hotel Trianon Ballroom

talking points
on the upcoming hearing, take a look at the Straphangers Campaign's site.

If you haven't signed the petition to save the M8 bus:
(If you have better ideas on raising revenue than the ones mentioned in the petition, or just don't like the ones suggested, there's space for comments on the petition -- so please sign and please give us your ideas. What's important is getting the largest possible collection of signatures in support of saving the bus line.)