Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Public Notice 1: SPURA
By Jerome Chou


an aerial view of the SPURA lots; the wide street running east-west is Delancey

Last month, Community Board 3 approved a set of guidelines for the future development of ten sites along Delancey and Essex Streets, part of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA. The guidelines cover many aspects of proposed development (e.g. the fate of the Essex Street Market, the potential for a new school) but the central debate has been over the affordability of the approximately 1000 new rental apartments that are expected to be built.

The words “mixed-income” appear several times in the guidelines, as in this sentence: “The mixed-income character of the neighborhood must be reflected in the development plan for the sites.” In the past, city officials, developers, and local residents have been unable to agree upon what exactly this kind of directive should mean, which is one reason why the sites have remained undeveloped for 43 years.

The guidelines propose what is being called the “50-50 plan”: 50% of the new units (or about 500 units) will be offered at market rate and 50% will be offered for other income levels, including 30% for people making up to $40,000 a year for a family of four.  Graphic designer Manuel Miranda and I looked at the details of the proposal, and compared them to data on the income levels of existing residents. Manuel’s graphic below, imagined as a kind of community bulletin or “Public Notice,” shows that while the guidelines do propose a mixed-income development, the lion’s share of new apartments—the market rate units—will be affordable only to a tiny fraction of the current residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

It’s easy to look at the vast parking lots along Delancey and imagine that they are a blank slate for development. In fact, as the many people who’ve worked to create the guidelines have discovered, there are many constraints on what can be built there. In the coming months, Open City will address how these constraints have influenced the SPURA guidelines. Hopefully, these posts will add to the ongoing discussion about what the city’s goals should be for new development in these and other rapidly changing neighborhoods.

infographic by Manuel Miranda


1 – The low-income category includes 10% of units proposed for “low-income seniors.”

2 – Rents are based on 2BR apartments for a family of four. The rent figures are taken from a powerpoint presentation given by city officials at a SPURA community meeting Oct 20, 2010.  A copy of this presentation is available on the Community Board website (the guidelines themselves along with many other meeting minutes and other materials are also available):

3 – Federal guidelines recommend that no one pay more than 30% of their income for rent. Using these guidelines, a household should be earning $240,000 to afford a $6,000/month apartment.

4 – All data on household incomes in Chinatown and the LES come from an extremely useful website produced by the Center for Urban Pedagogy that shows what households earn and the rents they can afford in a given area in NYC:

3 Responses to Public Notice 1: SPURA

  1. Neil F. says:

    One way to read this is that the Lower East Side-Chinatown has plenty of affordable housing, and adding a little “market rate” housing won’t change the predominant income mix. This actually isn’t a crazy thought, since most of the low income residents likely live in public housing, and aren’t in danger of eviction.
    The need for affordable housing is more acute if you look at the city as a whole, it would be great to see a graphic that did that.

  2. Justin says:

    I still don’t see how anyone can view living in Manhattan, the economic center of capitalism’s biggest proponent, as a right and not a privileged. As someone who makes $29,000 a year, I feel justified in saying Market Rates should stand and if you want cheaper housing, move your ass to Brooklyn.

  3. Pingback: Urban Omnibus » Open City: Blogging Urban Change – Jerome Chou

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
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Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

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