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Articles:
From One Tenant to the Whole City:
the Story of the Bowery Tenants
Youth Against Displacement
Together Against the Mega-Towers
Lower East Side Organized Neighbors
Stop Lower East Side & Chinatown Displacement: A Webcomic
Youth Against Displacement

From One Tenant to the Whole City:

the Story of the Bowery Tenants

Youth Against Displacement

 

 

On August 31, 2018, the community of Chinatown and the

Lower East Side celebrated as tenants of 85 Bowery

returned home. It had been seven months since all the

families of the building—from ninety-year-old seniors to

newborn babies—were evicted by City agencies due to a

broken staircase. There was no return date on the City’s

vacate order.

 

It was speculated that the tenants’ anger and fighting spirit

would soon fizzle out in their long wait in the hotel and the

City would just relocate them into crappy housing units far

from their already dying neighborhood. After all, evictions

are part of Mayor de Blasio's broader displacement agenda.

 

The Mayor and the City have been assisting profit-driven landlords and developers to displace working-class communities and turn residential buildings into hotels and luxury towers. Cynicism is contaminating the anti-displacement movement, as people often feel hopeless in fighting de Blasio’s displacement agenda. This leads to people settling crumbs because they think any struggle is a losing fight. Therefore, the Bowery tenants’ return home comes as a stunning achievement against such an atmosphere. But it would be a mistake to consider this a one-time success.

 

The Bowery tenants’ struggle started with an eviction notice for one family. In 2015, the new landlord, Joseph Betesh, who had recently bought 83-85 Bowery along with 11 buildings along the historic street, sued the family of Shu Qing Wang, who lives in 83. He claimed that the building wasn’t rent-stabilized. Shu Qing was told by her nonprofit lawyer that there was no case. She should take $10,000 buy-out from the landlord and leave. But Shu Qing refused, and was determined to fight to the end.

 

But she knew she could not face the landlord alone. Shu Qing came to Chinese Staff and Workers Association (CSWA) for help. They encouraged her to be the unifier of her building and to explain to her neighbors the common threat they all faced. At that time, the landlord had begun, one by one, to stop renewing leases for all the other families in the two buildings of 83 and 85 Bowery. Shu Qing tirelessly went to knock on every family’s door to convince them to come together because clearly, the landlord would use the same tactics against Shu Qing neighbors that he had tried on her. Together they formed a tenant association.

 

With the assistance of CSWA and the support of the community, the tenant association responded to the challenge through a collective effort. The tenants pulled together money to retain a lawyer and experts, who provided proof that the buildings qualified as rent-stabilized, and that the buildings could be fixed without the tenants moving out. They also got a housing court order mandating the landlord fix the building, as in an effort to force the tenants to abandon the building, Betesh had neglected critical repairs. The landlord moved the legal fight to the State Supreme Court, and this time, all the families were sued. But this only brought the tenants closer.

 

The City did nothing when the landlord did not follow the court order to repair the buildings. Worse, it informed the tenants that there were no existing violations in the buildings. Letting the building condition deteriorate, the City suddenly issued a vacate order to 85 Bowery during an inspection on January 18.

 

It was a shock to come home from school and work and not be allowed home. But the tenants were not surprised that this tactic was finally being used against them. For years, the community has fought for the Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Plan, a protective measure covering Chinatown and the Lower East Side that sets height limits on any new development as a way to curtail the developers’ profit motive. To avoid having to fight evictions building by building, the rezoning plan defends the whole neighborhood against displacement. The Bowery tenants have been in the forefront to push for the passage of the plan, and witnessed the de Blasio administration reject the plan as “too ambitious.” They understand clearly that the City is not on their side, and were not caught off guard when, at the behest of the landlord, the City decided to suddenly evict them.

 

Since the January eviction, the tenants and supporters have staged

a series of actions, including two outdoor hunger strikes, to demand

Mayor de Blasio take responsibility and stop displacement. However,

apart from the empty promise to oversee the repairs, the City did

nothing but endlessly push back the tenants’ return date. The tenants

were constantly met with disregard from the Mayor, even to the point

of refusing to let them set up a port-a-potty during their hunger strike

in front of City Hall. The reason? “This is not a block party.”

 

His blatant disrespect and neglect resonated with communities

across the city. They shared stories of these all-too-common evictions

 happening under the self-portrayed “progressive” Mayor, and were

encouraged by how the tenants were able to stick together and

persist despite the enormous hardship the City had put on them.

 

To the tenants of 85 Bowery, theirs is the same struggle as all who face displacement, and if the tenants were able to win this time, it would send a strong and encouraging message to the citywide anti-displacement fight.

 

In the end, despite the City’s blockade, the tenants were able to reach a very favorable agreement with the landlord, which includes: rent-stabilization for both buildings; compensation for their legal fees, loss of rooms, and property damage; no rent increase from the repairs; and most importantly, a guaranteed deadline of return: August 31.

 

August 31 was a joyful day. It was a happy ending of a journey that started with one family, one building, one community, and ultimately brought us together as one city. As the tenants were marching with the lion dance from their hotel to 85 Bowery, accompanied by the cheers of supporters from across the five boroughs, one thing was clear: this is a show of force of a united community, and the joy belongs to everyone who has come out in support. The strength of a unified community shatters the myth that the forces of displacement are unstoppable. That when we come together and realize we have a common goal to protect our community against the City’s agenda—an agenda that over-develops neighborhoods out of existence—we can win. This one fight might have ended successfully, but the citywide anti-displacement struggle continues. And it continues victoriously.

 

 Call to action: Join us for a celebratory dinner on Friday October 19 at Jing Fong Restaurant. For more details, visit https://www.facebook.com/protectchinatownandles/

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"The strength of a unified community shatters the myth that the forces of displacement are unstoppable."

Photo by Francisca Benitez

 

Together Against the Mega-Towers

Lower East Side Organized Neighbors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four new luxury megatowers are proposed to be built on the Lower East Side waterfront. Each will be between 60 - 100 stories tall, and will be constructed on just two square blocks of land, right across the street from public housing in the area known as Two Bridges. The towers will host thousands of new market-rate units that will cause rents in Chinatown and the LES to skyrocket, and accelerate the Mayor’s plans to privatize public housing and land for luxury development.

 

Over the past year, the Chinatown and LES community has come together to stop these towers from being built. We have exposed Mayor de Blasio and council member Chin for negligently and willfully breaking the law in order to usher in these developments, whose investors have given them campaign donations.

 

The Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan would have prevented the crisis our community now faces. The plan would have imposed height restrictions in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, discouraging luxury development across the board. Both Mayor de Blasio and Council member Chin rejected it in 2015, saying it was “too ambitious” despite the fact that thousands have marched to City Hall demanding its passage.

 

Even without the rezoning, the megatowers that may come to the Lower East Side are still illegal under Zoning Resolution Article VII, Chapter VIII. It states that new developments cannot be built in that area if they will interfere with the neighborhood’s character, restrict air and light access and privacy, create detrimental building bulk, or cause increased traffic congestion. It is obvious that these four megatowers are in complete violation of the zoning. And yet in a public town hall in 2017, de Blasio said there was nothing he could do. He called the towers a “done deal,” signaling his disregard for the law in the face of development.

 

Our council member sides with the Mayor over the community.

Chin’s text amendment would require the buildings go through

a ULURP process (the City’s land-use approval procedure). This

process is a sham. Chin has already admitted that nowhere in the

ULURP is there an opportunity to stop the towers. It only enables

her to extract a handful of “affordable housing” units from the

developers. However Chin’s history of negotiating with

developers for a ULURP is notorious. She used the same

procedure to greenlight the NYU expansion despite strong

community opposition. Her text amendment simply provides a

veneer of “community engagement” while she works hand in

hand with the Mayor to displace the community.

 

The only way to stop the towers is by the community coming together to demand that the City:

 

  1. Stop violating the law: enforce Zoning Resolution Article 7, Chapter 8 now!

  2. Pass the Chinatown Working Group in full

 

 Call to action: We encourage everyone--residents, workers, and small businesses--to come out to the next public hearing on these developments on Wednesday Oct. 17 at 11AM at 120 Broadway to speak out against these towers and submit written comments to the Department of City Planning. The time of the hearing has yet to be announced. We also encourage everyone to make a donation to Lower East Side Organized Neighbors--if the City approves these towers, our community intends to sue. For more information and to donate, visit www.leson-nyc.org and gofundme.com/leson

 

 

 

 

An interactive comic on the history of the fight and solutions to stop displacement can be viewed HERE

Photo by Francisca Benitez
Image by MAS 
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