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.