Volume 73, Number 5 | June 2 - 8, 2004

Letters to the Editor

I am fighting for housing — for real

To The Editor:
I write in response to the Harvey Epstein’s letter in last week’s Villager (“Marlow needs to walk the walk,” May 19). I fully agree with Harvey’s point that the lack of affordable housing in New York is a crisis in need of well-articulated solutions. I hope Harvey recognizes that my Villager talking point (“Losing affordable housing means losing Democrats,” May 12) contained only excerpts from a larger speech I gave on the challenges presented by Manhattan’s out-of-control cost of living. I would have loved to have talked more about how to specifically address the city’s housing crisis, but time constraints precluded me from doing so.

I must, however, take issue with Harvey’s suggestion that I should “get engaged with this [affordable housing] process in a positive way.” To the contrary, I have made a genuine effort to be as active and influential on the issue as I reasonably can. In addition to my other life responsibilities — including holding a full-time job, serving as president of the Village Independent Democrats and serving as a member of Community Board 2 (not to mention planning a September wedding!) — I have dedicated a great deal of time toward preserving and creating more affordable housing.

Over the past few years, I have served as legal counsel to several tenants associations, including the Independence Plaza North Tenants Association, as part of their efforts to save their affordable housing. I also conceived, researched and authored the original version of the currently pending City Council bill aimed at discouraging buyouts from the Mitchell-Lama housing program (Intro 5: the “Withdrawal of City-supervised Mitchell-Lama Developments From the Mitchell-Lama Program”), a novel bill that played an important role in saving the housing of over 5,000 tenants at Independence Plaza.

In the neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen South and in West Chelsea, in which I do not live but nonetheless consider part of my larger “community,” I have worked hard as a member of the West Side Coalition to fight the West Side stadium project as well as the mayor’s plans to turn the area into a central business district (“CBD”) akin to Midtown or Downtown Manhattan. I have spoken at numerous community meetings and on WBAI radio to help mobilize genuine efforts to stop Bloomberg’s destructive plan. I even put together a Web site — SaveTheWestSide.com — to gather petition signatures against the Stadium/CBD plan. I may not have solved the city’s affordable housing shortage problem (not yet anyway!), but I have rolled up my sleeves and done my share of real work on the issue.

I understand Harvey’s frustration that too many people who talk about tenants’ rights and affordable housing are simply paying lip service to the idea. I, however, am not one of those people. Ironically, the group Harvey suggests I (and The Villager’s readers) get involved with — the HKHY Alliance — is just the sort of group he seems to be cautioning against: an Astroturf (i.e., fake grassroots) organization that is supported, directed and financed by political “leaders” who consistently fail to back up their strong pro-community preservation/affordable housing rhetoric with nearly the same level of tangible action. It is unfortunate that people like Harvey, who (taking him at his word) are committed to the fight for affordable housing, are being misled into supporting a group that only pretends to share the same interests.

The city’s shortage of affordable housing has long since reached a crisis point. In order to most effectively confront this problem, people like Harvey and myself need to work together, to support each other’s efforts, and to disregard those political leaders who believe press conferences are a substitute for real progress and fake community groups made up mostly of their own paid political staff are a substitute for true, grassroots efforts. I hope Harvey agrees.

Chad Marlow

HKHY plan too similar to mayor’s

To The Editor:
Chad Marlow’s talking point, “Losing affordable housing means losing Democrats” (May 12), suggests a connection between affordable housing, low- and middle-income workers and demographics partial to the Democratic Party. He has a point. Tenants’ rights are increasingly undermined by a shrinking constituency of rent-regulated tenants, weakened tenant protections and an increasing arrogance of Democratic elected officials willing to shill for developers and landlords. What’s left with many officials is mere pandering for local consumption.

As one who is neither Democrat nor Republican, I’m more concerned about difficulties residents of whatever affiliation face in continuing to live in Manhattan, as well as the city’s policy of planned obsolescence of the manufacturing sector. Turning large swaths of Manhattan over to luxury high-rises destroys sustainable communities and creates secondary displacement pressures that exacerbate the housing crisis. Reserving a small part of those high-rises for the less wealthy is a zero-sum game with an overall loss of affordable housing, loss of community and loss of neighborhood-oriented storefront retail — and frequently only aids organizations that shill for developers.

If the Democratic Party did the right thing for their constituents, then residents would not have elected the likes of Giuliani or Bloomberg. But even those like Christine Quinn, who once had promise, become absorbed by ambition and are now part of the problem. To many of her former supporters, she’s now no better than Peter Vallone or Antonio Pagan, pandering towards the economic Right.

Harvey Epstein’s “positive” approach of “residential development, open community space and low-rise development” (“Marlow needs to walk the walk,” letter, May 19) is belied by the plans put forth by the Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance, which are very similar to the mayor’s West Side plans. Although they claim to oppose the stadium (except when Quinn is running interference, containing the opposition, to protect Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s mayoral ambitions), this group deceives the public by not admitting their plan also calls for a Central Business District on the West Side. Perhaps Epstein ought to reread what they have endorsed: the same amount of office space as the city proposes. That they might have recently made minor modifications in their plan is an admission of what they are really supporting — but they can’t undo the damage when this group has already agreed to the city’s development quota. Make no mistake, their plan for “affordable housing” goes hand in hand with 30-to-40-story skyscrapers. When Chelsea and Clinton become filled with high-rises, what area will be next?

Perhaps the Hudson Yards Alliance should also own up to its $50,000 grant from Deutsche Bank, which has a deal (along with three other banks) with the Bloomberg administration to finance many of these neighborhood-killing towers. The Alliance was created by and is controlled by Councilmember Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Community Board 4, not the broader community, which is rejecting their agenda. When the Alliance support Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff’s plan, claim to oppose the stadium and fail to reveal their agenda, trouble brews. Perhaps Epstein truly believes they are supporting sustainable development, but the evidence showing otherwise is too compelling.

John Fisher
Fisher is a member, Clinton Special District Coalition
N.Y.U. just doesn’t get it

To The Editor:
I am disheartened that once again New York University is not only in opposition to landmarking an outstanding piece of architecture and an important piece of Greenwich Village history, but also is proposing to diminish its potency through insensitive development.

Only a few years back, John Sexton, then president of N.Y.U. Law School, pushed through plans for a mammoth new building that destroyed the Poe House, Judson House and the integrity of McKim Mead & White’s masterpiece, Judson Church. Now we have two fake facades, one of which is not on its original site and one of the nation’s finest pieces of ecclesiastical architecture visually marred. Do I even have to mention the new Kimmel Student Center? Its very presence speaks volumes about N.Y.U.’s utter insensitivity to the historic fabric of the Greenwich Village community and its failures in planning and architecture.

Silver Towers is one of our city’s finest pieces of modern residential architecture from the middle of the 20th century. The question is, will N.Y.U. perpetrate another crime against architecture, history and the Greenwich Village community, or will it wake up and start developing the cultural refinement that a truly great university needs?

John Jurayj
Jurayj is co-chairperson, Modern Architecture Working Group, and board member, Historic Districts Council

Good letter, by the way

To The Editor:
I’m writing in response to my own letter to the editor, entitled “How about a disabled discount?” (May 19). My original letter was in reference to The Villager article of May 12, “Chelsea Rec Center finally opens its doors.” As a disabled resident of Chelsea, I was dismayed to find out that there is no discount on membership for the disabled, even though we, like many seniors, are on a limited income. I have been informed by Christine Quinn’s office that the city has proposed a dubious 20 percent discount off the regular $75 membership fee for the disabled and low-income residents of Chelsea. Even this inadequate discount has contingencies and would only be offered to a select few. Apparently, it’s O.K. to use the taxes of disabled and low-income residents of Chelsea to build the Rec Center, but our incomes are not taken into consideration when it comes to membership fees. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe should see to it that the disabled and low-income residents of Chelsea receive the same discount as seniors, not the unfair, inadequate travesty they are proposing. I do want to make it clear that I am glad there is a discount for seniors and children; I only want the same compassionate treatment for myself and others in difficult circumstances. 

Seena Liff

Center needs better security

To The Editor:
I am writing on behalf of all concerned members of the Asser Levy Recreation Center.

We are extremely fearful for our personal safety.

Over the years there have been, on multiple occasions, assaults at Asser Levy without remedial action taken by Parks Department hierarchy.

We have previously written to Kevin Jeffreys and Adrian Benepe, of Parks, Patti Harris, of the Mayor’s Office, and Councilmember Eva Moskowitz on a number of occasions expressing our concerns; but Parks has not acted.

It is our information and belief the new gym on 26th St. not only has a PEP officer assigned but entry is restricted, requiring passage through a turnstile after showing your identification card at the reception desk. Is the safety of their members more important than the safety of the members at Asser Levy?

We know Parks is aware of the problems, since Chris Cloudin has spoken to the staff and advised them not to talk to the media if they make inquiry into conditions existing at Asser Levy.

What will it take for us to achieve the security flowing from the assignment of a PEP officer — a catastrophe or murder?

Jean Felix Patrick Colimon

Nuts to you, Wilson!

To The Editor:
Re “Squirrels: Destroying my plants and quality of life” (notebook, by Wilson, April 28):

Gee, I’m really sorry that some humans don’t appreciate my antics: running up and down trees with my playmates and eating all those flowers and fruits. But I can’t recall when I was welcomed in the supermarket to do my shopping; I have to eat something, no?

I also hear their annoyance with cats: how they kill all those birds, fight among themselves and even with dogs on occasion. Well, we might be able to take care of this problem — just send them to the pound and no more problem!

Now for the dogs. Gosh, they pee on the sidewalk and on buildings (or maybe trees), and horrors, they leave piles on the street that their people think it’s not their responsibility to pick up. Those poor dogs are blamed for everything.

Best yet, let’s tackle those two-legged animals called humans. They support all kinds of bad things — like eating my four-legged farm friends, not even considering the horrendous suffering involved in raising them by the billions every year or what they are doing to destroy our environment.

All in all, I’m glad I’m a pesky squirrel and not a “bothered” human.

Frances Richman

Secret squirrel fact

To The Editor:
Re “Squirrels: Destroying my plants and quality of life” (notebook, by Wilson, April 28):

The fuss over squirrels is foolish. Your readers should look to the “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book” (1947 edition, p. 446), which tells us that: “squirrel meat is similar to rabbit but more delicate in flavor. A medium-sized squirrel makes about two servings.” Enjoy.

Harold Keller

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