Is it possible to stop the process of gentrification?
In an interview with Professor Kenneth Guest of Baruch College, we asked him the following questions:
As he described, gentrification is not a natural progression. How can Chinatown combat this seemingly inevitable process?
What Has Been Done So Far
One major victory that has come from this fight against gentrification has been the new alliances across all types of immigrants. In town hall meetings and even on the streets, residents of different backgrounds (Chinese, Latino, Black) have organized together to resist gentrification and the demolition of public housing. For example, this past summer, the New York City Housing Authority released a proposal that allowed private companies to lease land in Lower Manhattan to build new, market-rate developments to combat budget deficits but following a public outcry from residents in Chinatown and surrounding areas, the city put the lease on hold.
Numerous groups and organizations have also sprung from the shadows to actively resist gentrification. One such organization is the Asian Americans For Equality (AAFE). In 1988, the AAFE acquired a $1 million grant from the New York State Department of Social Services and used this money to acquire two vacant city-owned buildings in Chinatown that they turned into a 59-unit rental project for low-income households known as the Equality Houses. Since then, the AAFE has expanded its housing development activities by adding nine other buildings.
Propose a New Zoning Plan
The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side has created their own proposed rezoning plan that caters less to the land developers and more to the current residents’ values and visions for the community. The purpose of the plan is to focus on three things:
- regulating the construction of new buildings in the neighborhood
- protecting and preserving existing housing
- protecting the small, ethnic businesses of the neighborhood
In this plan, the neighborhoods of Chinatown and the Lower East Side are divided into four subareas. Subareas A and B focus on Chinatown and where many of its residents live.
Subarea A- East River Superblocks
Because this area of affordable housing is home to thousands of people in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Any new development in this area will directly threaten housing and the residents so the proposed rezoning plan requires that the local community be actively involved in the plans of construction through a public review process on any new development.
Subarea B- Core of Chinatown
This area in particular has been threatened by speculative development. Therefore, this plan calls for contextual rezoning where buildings that are developed are only allowed to rise to a certain height attributed to the context of the neighborhood. Since most buildings are not more than six stories high, developers that propose taller buildings must submit plans to community review and incorporate a certain percentage of affordable housing at neighborhood median income levels. In addition, chain stores and banks are allowed to develop only through the obtainment of a special permit.
Government Intervention and Support
Deregulation of rental housing, tenant harassment, and unsafe living arrangements, all spurred by gentrification, threaten the neighborhood of Chinatown. To solve these problems, the city must play a part. In the same way that the city can encourage gentrification through its policies, it can also discourage it. Here are some solutions:
- strengthen rent regulations to provide a stable amount of affordable housing
- crackdown on landlords that harass tenants
- close inspection and repair of the buildings in Chinatown
- “Good Landlord, Good Neighbor” incentive program: cost-effective way to encourage affordable housing by rewarding owners of small buildings that agree to rent units at below-market prices
If there’s a will there’s a way!!!
“Asian Americans for Equality.” Asian Americans for Equality. National Housing Institute, n.d. Web. 11 May 2014.
Chen, Michelle. “New York City’s Epic Turf War.” In These Times 10 2013: 10,12,4. ProQuest. Web. 11 May 2014 .
“Confronting the Housing Squeeze: Challenges Facing Immigrant Tenants, and What New York Can Do.” Pratt Center, n.d. Web. 11 May 2014.
Livtak, Ed. “Housing Group Identifies Buildings Being “Intentionally Neglected”.” The LoDown News from the Lower East Side. N.p., 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 11 May 2014.
“PROPOSAL FOR A CHINATOWN/LOWER EAST SIDE SPECIAL ZONING DISTRICT.” Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, n.d. Web. 11 May 2014.