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Press conference opposing the Chinatown BID


PRESS CONFERENCE Monday Sept. 16th 2013

At  Lin Sing Association  47-49 Mott St. 2nd floor

Monday Sept. 16th        4:pm

Announcement of the Petition Drive to Stop the Chinatown B.I.D. (Business improvement District)

Chinatown property owners are mailing out petitions to

“Dissolve the Chinatown Business Improvement District”

The Property Tax Payer’s Association has begun mailing over two

thousand petitions to dissolve the Chinatown B.I.D.

Petitions are being sent to property owners within the Chinatown B.I.D.

boundaries . Petitions began mailing on Monday Sept. 9th 2013

The petition is in response to continued disapproval of the Chinatown

B.I.D. by small property owners and small businesses currently

subjected to the B.I.D. tax. In April of 2012 The Chinatown B.I.D. illegally

charged Chinatown property owners fees in advance of their formation.

Property owners contend that Chinatown streets continue to be

unsanitary, dirty and smelly despite the B.I.D.’s promises of a clean


Property Tax Payers Association (PTP) is a coalition of Chinatown property owners petitioning to overturn the Chinatown BID. We want a clean Chinatown without the additional BID taxes.

The Chinatown Business Improvement District law was passed on September 21, 2011 and went into effect on January 31, 2012. However, the interim BID board voted to charge property owners for the BID beginning on October 1, 2011–four months before the BID was even in effect.  In April 2012, the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund (AALDEF), on behalf of PTP successfully demanded that the retroactive fee for those months be refunded to property owners—representing approximately $400,000 in stolen fees.  The petition complies with New York General Municipal Law Article 19-A, §980-o.

Flopping around and getting nowhere

Matt Yglesias posted on homelessness today:

Of course along with giving housing to the homeless you also have to act on the supply-side. Obviously I’m a big fan of upzonings and increased density. But Alan Durning has pointed out that along with encouraging more construction, we need to think about re-legalizing flophouses and boarding houses and other forms of ultra-small ultra-cheap housing that can serve vulnerable populations.

New York is still fixated on the full-sized family model of affordable housing. It doesn’t match the local need for recent single immigrants looking to acrue savings from a low wage. This politically correct but uncritical model is also keyed into market rate development, so little of it is created and when it is, it’s mostly too expensive for the low-inicome savers in the recent immigrant population. So it’s just not the solution for Chinatown. AAFE has built a lot of senior housing, much of it outside Chinatown, which doesn’t augment the Chinatown consumption economy or the cultural character of Chinatown or provide for recent immigrants. It simply doesn’t address the urgent need of the larger Chinatown community. The city is even further behind the curve with voluntary inclusionary housing which has little incentive. New York is probably the one location in the nation where mandatory inclusionary housing would not drive developers away. And yet New York coddles its real estate industry unnecessarily.

Why aren’t the Chinatown Working Group and its members discussing and advocating micropartments and SRO’s through social service construction?


There are two sides debating in the Chinatown Working Group. Some want to see more tourists in Chinatown to support business. Developers, financiers, some business owners, the Business Improvement District, for example, sit on this side and arts purveyors as well. On the other side stand the labor and tenant adovocates who want business to serve the local residents. You might ask, why not have both, local services and toursim?

If only the sustainable market forces were balanced. But they’re not. Gentrification is an opportunistic tide that, once it gains an entry, will flood the locality resistlessly. To use urban planning to help the juggernaut of monopolistic market forces is unnecessary. The empowered need no help.

In any economy, there are vulnerable sectors even among the most sustainable. Local services are actually highly sustainable since local residents have consistent, reliable purchasing needs. You see those needs reflected in the streets of Chinatown. As long as the community remains, the local services will be sustainable.

Although they are highly sustainable, local services are also highly vulnerable to attack from giant outside capital which has more resources, government connections and mobility. Ironically, the least vulnerable — giant capital, developers, big businesses, chain stores — are also the least reliable because they are mobile and least tied to the locality. Like a corporation that protects itself in bad times by laying off labor, giant corporations are most capable of protecting themselves at the expense of the locality, whereas small local servers depend on the locals.

Tourism is closely tied to development and big capital — high prices and upscale values that can be marketed to upscale spending. Local services, especially in Chinatown, depend on low prices and high volume. If giant capital gains a foothold, commercial rents will rise, replacing local services, and  gentrification will displace the community, killing the viability of any remaining local services. It’s a snowball effect.

This is not to say there shouldn’t be tourism in Chinatown. There’s always been tourism in Chinatown back all the way to the 19th century. But here’s the paradox of tourism: people come to Chinatown not to see a spectacle staged for them but to experience Chinatown as it is, a lively working community, culturally distinct from the rest of New York because it serves its own.  Cater too much to the tourist, and you lose the Chinatown that tourists come for. You’d then have to market Chinatown as a brand, constantly hoping that that brand doesn’t go out of fashion. Chinatown business becomes the slave of an outside community that it has no control over, and it turns a community with businesses in it into a business with no community in it.

In planning, as everywhere, there are empowered sectors that need no help, and disempowered groups that need support. Were it not for the 1% predators, the 99% disempowered would be fully sustainable. That’s why planning should always keep as its goal protecting the disempowered and avoiding giving ground to giant capital.

Tax breaking

The city and state give tax breaks to developers for affordable housing. No tax breaks are given to small landlords whose rolls are filled with affordable rents. After all, those units are already affordable, so there’s nothing to be gained by supporting them with tax-payer money. That’s one way to look at it.

Another way: the tax breaks are not really about affordable housing at all. It’s about development. And the small landlords, after all, are the long-term target prey of the developers.

Tax breaks require including only a small portion of affordable housing in a development. The rest is market-rate, which raises city revenue by drawing  wealthy residents who support the luxury economy. Market rate development also raises the real estate values and real estate taxes of the small properties surrounding them. So these tax breaks are in part subsidized by the small landlords who get no break, who have the least resources, who don’t have the capital to develop and who are the prey of the large developers whom the small landlords are subsidizing.

It’s not just that the city doesn’t care to support small landlords who are the target prey of large developers. The city is actually fighting against the small landlords and serving them up to the developers.

Why care about the small landlords in Chinatown? If they sell to developers, there will be no Chinatown to speak of. And tax breaks will break Chinatown.

CAAAV Demands Affordable Housing at Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Town Hall

A notice from CAAAV:

On June 26, CAAAV members participated in the Rezoning Town Hall held in M.S. 131. Chinatown residents and community members shared their concerns about rapid gentrification and lack of affordable housing to the Chinatown Working Group. Discussions also included the rising costs of small businesses, preserving important community landmarks and prioritizing Chinatown residents over profit. The next town hall will be in August.


(cross-posted at Save the Lower East Side)

Matt Yglesias comments on US cities leading in construction spending. New York is not only way ahead, it’s an outrider way ahead (though not quite at a Pareto distribution — construction is expensive here, so that may be why there’s no Pareto), and it’s not correlated (pace Yglesias) with population; LA is next most populous, Chicago, then Houston, all on a Pareto distribution, but LA is low on construction; Dallas is constructing more than Houston even though Dallas doesn’t have much more than half Houston’s population size. In fact Dallas is about one seventh the size of NYC, but it’s constructing at the absolute rate of 60% of NYC’s.

In any case, NYC is booming. Given the high cost of construction in NYC, this boom means developers see huge money in development. How much of that do you think is affordable housing?

It also means that developers are not worried about diluting the luxury market. Why? Do they expect high-renters/owners to abandon older housing stock to move into new? Or locations further from the center into closer? Either of those would be good news for low-income neighborhoods — less displacement pressure on them. But if developers simply expect more high-paying population in the city, then no one benefits but the developers.

AALDEF releases new data on Chinatown land use

From AALDEF (Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund):

June 21, 2013 – The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is releasing land use data on New York City’s Chinatown, as a preview of its forthcoming three-city study of Chinatowns and surrounding areas in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.


“We have assembled data on the make-up of small businesses and properties in Chinatown that will enable us to document the effects of gentrification on Asian immigrants, who have been fighting for their community for decades,” said Bethany Li, staff attorney at AALDEF.


AALDEF, in collaboration with community partners, academic institutions, and hundreds of volunteers, spent a year recording block by block and lot by lot the existing land uses in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia Chinatowns and surrounding immigrant areas. Today’s initial release of land use data, combined with detailed analysis of Census data from the 1980s, provides a snapshot of the existing uses of New York’s Chinatown and describes its startling transformation in the past three decades.


New York’s Chinatown has served as the gateway for thousands of immigrants from Asia and is home to a thriving network of low-income residents and small businesses. However, property values in Lower Manhattan have increased substantially, and gentrification is threatening the neighborhoods’ historical and cultural significance. According to Census data, the overall population in New York’s Chinatown decreased 7% between 1990 and 2010 (from 125,574 to 116,722 people) due largely to the increase of non-family households and a decrease in family households — a significant indicator of gentrification. As a result, many Asian immigrants face the prospect of displacement.


For example, AALDEF’s study indicates that an overwhelming majority of commercial use in New York’s Chinatown consists of small businesses (94%), approximately 12% of which is classified as “high-end.” However, our survey shows that the most significant cluster of “high-end” businesses is in the area between Houston and Delancey Streets, where students and young professionals have displaced immigrant families in the past decade. “High-end” stores also dot the landscape along Allen and Orchard Streets heading towards more traditional parts of Chinatown.


“Gentrification threatens to transform these previously neglected neighborhoods into tourist centers and destroy the places where Asian immigrants have lived and worked for decades,” said Li. “We hope this data can be used to support organizing and planning efforts that help retain resources for New York’s Chinatown for current and future immigrants.”


This data was collected with the assistance of AALDEF’s community partners including Chinese Progressive Association and Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center in Boston, Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association in New York, and Asian Americans United in Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania’s City and Urban Studies Department provided technical assistance on mapping and data analysis.


Download Chinatown: Then and Now >

Contact: Ujala Sehgal 212.966.5932 x.217

Bethany Li 212.966.5932 x.213