A choice between parking and affordable housing

| July 18, 2014

The fighting looked over, but New York councilwoman Margaret Chin may have restarted a decades-long debate. She’s calling for the conversion of a parking garage to affordable housing after the site was removed from the Essex Crossing mixed use development.

Artist rendering of essex and delancey development

In a neighborhood hard pressed for both parking and affordable housing, which should take precedence?

More widely known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), Essex Crossing has been in the making since 1965, when the city acquired five vacant lots near Delancey and Grand Streets in the Lower East Side neighborhood. The lots were originally included with a larger federal program involving the demolition of several tenements meant for low-income housing. Some of that land was developed, but the lots purchased in 1965 remained vacant. Community groups delayed construction for years as they fought over how to keep the proposed development affordable.

When the Bloomberg administration reopened the discussion, it added a handful of city-owned sites to expand the project; the garage, located on Ludlow south of Rivington Street, was one of the additions.

It was dropped from the plan early during the process, however, to avoid icing a hot conversation about lost parking: Even with the garage nixed from the plans, the neighborhood would lose 500 parking spots to the new development, which, after negotiations, will involve nine sites. Under the proposal, 250,000 square feet of land will be earmarked for office, retail, and open space uses. The remainder will be reserved for 1,000 housing units, half of which will be affordable.

Chin wants to up that total by another 90 affordable apartments, which is what the council’s land-use division estimates the land where the garage now sits could accommodate. Recalling plans for the development in 2012, when the garage site was still included, Chin, who represents the area, said, “We were very disappointed they took that off the table.”

“It’s an area where we see a lot of luxury condos going up,” she continued. “That would be a terrific site to build affordable housing for seniors, for working families.

Although Chin could have objected to the garage’s exclusion earlier, introducing her appeal now may have much to do with the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a staunch advocate of affordable housing.

The community board, however, hasn’t yet voiced a position on Chin’s recommendation, but Linda Jones, who chairs the board’s land-use committee, said, “I know Margaret is looking for sites and I hope we find some, but that’s probably not the best site since you’d have to develop the perfectly good parking garage.”

At least one member of the public vowed to the press, “I will chain myself to this garage,” though it was not immediately clear how the teacher from Long Island was affiliated with either the neighborhood or the garage. Such strong passions may be reignited if Chin’s appeal gains political traction.

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Category: Municipal, Parking management

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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