When New York City officials announced that the city was going to demolish Elizabeth Street Garden in SoHo to build low-income housing for older tenants, supporters of the darling green space scrambled to find another site for the building.
Garden supporters have suggested a vacant lot nearly a mile down Hudson Street. Margaret Chin, the city council member who represents the neighborhood, and other officials listened – but in an unexpected way.
The city has agreed to build 100 new apartments on the Hudson Street lot recommended by lawyers. But in a move that has shocked many local residents, the city still plans to destroy the garden and build 123 apartments for the older residents in its place.
The details are hidden in a contentious rezoning plan for SoHo and NoHo that city council approved on Wednesday. The plan could pave the way for more commercial and residential development, including low-rental housing that Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration says will help integrate an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood that has long resisted new affordable housing. .
But some local officials and activists say the rezoning plan contains empty promises and loopholes that will allow developers to avoid making affordable units.
Ms. Chin rejected their criticism. “They will never be happy, but we need more affordable housing,” she said in an interview last week, adding that she had negotiated the deal alongside Council Chairman Corey Johnson and the new city councilor Erik Bottcher, who is also a Democrat. âAt the moment it is very expensive to find accommodation in SoHo. So if we can create more affordable housing, we create more opportunities to take advantage of this neighborhood.
Supporters of the garden said the city has created a false choice between affordable housing and green spaces. The garden is on land leased from the city. It has become a symbol of the locals ‘struggle against rezoning, which many say will change the character of a neighborhood that has grown from an artists’ enclave to an upscale shopping district. The rezoning will clutter the skyline with more luxury skyscrapers, many residents say.
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Supporters saw the end come in October when the group that runs the garden received an eviction notice from the city. The death in May of Allan Reiver, the founder of the garden, also dampened hopes that the garden would be saved.
But the city has yet to attempt to remove the limestone lion statues, granite balustrades and rose beds that characterize the space, and legal action continues, arguing that the city violated its laws of zoning and did not adequately consider the potential negative environmental impact of its redevelopment. plan for the garden.
“They don’t have to destroy the iconic Elizabeth Street Garden to build affordable housing for the elderly,” said Norman Siegel, a well-known civil rights lawyer and former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents the non-profit association that manages the garden.
Mr Siegel said the city’s decision to build on the vacant Hudson Street lot owned by the Department of Environmental Protection shows authorities could have found other sites to develop.
âIt looks like the city is taking our position that affordable housing can be built in other places,â he said.
Ms. Chin said she was looking to lean on all possible sites. The agreement that gives the final approval for housing on the garden site, which will be called Green paradise, and the lot belonging to the environmental agency also includes plans to transform a New York Police Department parking lot into affordable housing.
Haven Green has long been blocked by the garden debate and the overall rezoning of Soho and NoHo. Some local residents are eagerly awaiting its construction alongside the new affordable housing planned for Hudson Street.
âI would love to see the neighborhood more diverse,â said Kathleen Webster, 68, who lives near the garden. âThe opposition pushed the leaders to improve the affordable housing plan. Now we have to move on. “
Ms. Chin started asking the city to end its monthly lease with the garden in 2012 so that the developers could start construction; the eviction notice was not issued until October of this year.
The pressure increased as the end of Ms. Chin’s tenure as a board member approached. Under term limits, she will step down at the end of the month. The mayor is also stepping down and creating affordable housing as part of his promise to tackle inequality is a priority.
“No jurisdiction in history has built more affordable housing than this, and we have done so using every tool at our disposal,” said Mitch Schwartz, spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a press release. âThis includes developing 100% affordable projects on city-owned land. “
Mr de Blasio argued that his rezoning plans will ensure affordable housing so that more black and latino residents can live in some of the city’s whitest and wealthiest neighborhoods.
Last month, for example, lawmakers passed a development plan for Brooklyn’s affluent Gowanus neighborhood, which provides for around 8,000 housing units of which around 3,000 are considered “affordable.” SoHo’s rezoning plan would add 3,200 apartments over the next 10 years and include approximately 900 subsidized units in an area that had fewer than 8,000 residents at the 2010 census.
Developers will need to reserve about 20% of new homes for New Yorkers earning about $ 42,000 for a family of three, or provide units for mixed income brackets, with 25% of apartments going to three-person households earning about $ 64,000 per year and another 10. percent of units going to those earning $ 42,000.
The rezoning of the wealthier parts of the city is expected to continue under Eric Adams, who supported the Gowanus and SoHo plans while opposing some rezoning in Brooklyn. âWe have to look at these sacred cows like SoHo and other parts of town where we have used these methods to keep groups out,â Adams said in October on âThe Ezra Klein Showâ.
Still, several grassroots community groups insist these new rezoning plans will exceed the prices of longtime residents and fuel real estate speculation.
âIf they really cared about affordable housing, why not stop the SoHo plan and preserve the existing units? Asked Zishun Ning, an organizer of the Chinatown Task Force, who would like to see more community participation in the decision-making process.
âIt is very obvious that lawmakers are not considering other points of view. Mr. Ning said. “They only listen to developers who want to build high and build luxury.”