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Frances 1“A renewal effort has to be conceived as a process of building on the inherent social and economic values of the community.  Neglecting these values through programs of massive clearance and redevelopment can disrupt an entire community.”

These words could easily have been written by South Bronx activist Yolanda Garcia. In the early 1990s, she founded an organization known as We Stay/Nos Quedamos, and led a movement of residents who wanted to remain in their neighborhood despite the City’s plan to redevelop it with low-density, mixed-income housing.  They created an alternative plan for affordable housing development at Melrose Commons that is still being implemented today.

However, the words above are actually the opening statement of the Cooper Square Alternate Plan, written in 1961 by a group of activists from the Lower East Side, including Frances Goldin.  Known as the Cooper Square Committee, they opposed Robert Moses’ urban renewal plan to demolish and redevelop more than 2,500 housing units in their neighborhood.

On July 13, the Municipal Art Society celebrates the kindred spirits of these two community activists by presenting the annual Yolanda Garcia Community Planner (YGCP) Award to Ms. Goldin.  MAS created the YGCP award in 2006 to honor the memory of Ms. Garcia, who passed away in 2005.  Selected from an open nomination process by a panel of judges consisting of former honorees and leaders in the community planning field, the awardee must have no formal training in planning, and must have demonstrated his or her ability to overcome the many obstacles to grassroots planning and bring neighborhood need and vision into New York City’s planning process.

Ms. Goldin came to the Lower East Side from Queens in 1944 as a newlywed of 20.  Shortly after her arrival, she went to a local group known as the 1st Ave. Tenant and Consumer Council to research her rent history because she thought her $75/month rent was too high.  She became active with this group, and thus began a lifetime as a coFrances 3mmunity organizer.

In 1959, Robert Moses proposed a massive urban renewal plan for the Lower East Side that would have displaced 2,400 tenants, 450 single-room occupants, 4000 homeless beds, and over 500 businesses.  He intended to create 2,900 units of middle-income housing, which would have been out of financial reach of 93 percent of residents.

The Cooper Square Committee formed in response to this plan, and organized to create their own vision for the neighborhood’s future.  “It was very easy to organize the group because people were directly affected,” said Goldin, who added that they coordinated over 100 community meetings in a year.  The resulting Cooper Square Alternate Plan included public housing, Mitchell-Lama co-ops, other cooperative housing, resettlement and rehabilitation facilities, and artist housing.  The group based the proposal on two main principles: 1) the people who live on the site should be the beneficiaries, not the victims, of the plan; and 2) no tenant should be relocated outside the community.  The City approved a modified version of it in 1970.

In his book New York for Sale, Tom Angotti writes, “The Cooper Square Alternate Plan would have died an early death if it weren’t for the radical and often militant organizing behind it.”  Goldin was heavily involved in the actions opposing rent hikes and supporting an affordable and diverse Lower East Side.  For example, at one point the group erected teepees on Houston Street and slept outside to protest rising rents.  “You have to have the professional and the media, but unless you have the troops, you have nothing,” she said.

Frances 5Delays plagued implementation of the Cooper Square Alternate Plan initially, but in the 1970s and 80s, the Committee was active in maintaining and creating affordable housing.  Some of their early projects included renovation of over 320 apartment units, construction of the 146-unit low-income Thelma Burdick Houses, and renovation of the Cube Building to house formerly homeless families.  Today, the Cooper Square Committee owns 23 buildings, and maintains their affordability in perpetuity in the rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side through the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association.

The Cooper Square Alternate Plan is widely considered to be the first community-based plan created in New York City.  Goldin and her “comrades in struggle” (as she refers to her neighbors) set an example that has influenced countless activists and advocacy planners who followed.  Though she recently celebrated her 85th birthday, age has not dampened her activist spirit.  She continues to work with the Cooper Square Committee, and to manage Frances Goldin Literary Agency, which represents authors of literary fiction and political non-fiction, including Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich, and Mumia Abu Jamal.  Her agency’s website states that Goldin, “considers herself very lucky to have no dichotomy between her radical politics and her working life.”  Most importantly, she continues to inspire other activists, and encourages others to become, “the spark that lights the flame.”

Ms. Goldin will accept the $1,500 award at the Municipal Art Society’s annual meeting on July 13.  For more information on the Cooper Square Alternate Plan, visit Planning for All New Yorkers, an Atlas of Community-based Plans.

Photos courtesy Joyce Ravitz and Sally Goldin.


The Maysels Cinema in Harlem will be screening  “Rezoning Harlem” this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  This documentary film explores the recently-approved rezoning of 125th Street. Directed by students in Hunter College’s graduate planning program, it follows the opposition to the City’s plan through their struggle to advocate for affordable housing, and against the displacement of viable local businesses and the loss of a one of the world’s most famed African-American neighborhoods.

Maysels presents the film along with three panel discussions:

– Wednesday’s “Community Night Forum” features Monique Indigo Washington of  the Coalition to Save Harlem (pictured above), and Michael Henry Adams, an historian, preservationist, and author of “Harlem: Lost and Found.”

-Thursday’s “Next Steps: Making Community-Based Planning a Reality” features Eve Baron, Director of the Municipal Art Society Planning Center; City Council Member Tony Avella; and Mercedes Narciso, formerly of the Pratt Center for Community Development.

Friday’s “Housing Issues Workshop” features Julius Tajidin.

All three screenings begin at 7:30 pm at the Maysels Cinema, 343 Malcolm X Blvd / Lenox Ave (Between 127th and 128th Streets).  The directors, Natasha Florentino & Tamara Gubernat, will be present for each event.

In the Inbox today, a message from City Council Speaker Quinn on the Council’s ongoing efforts to end vacancy decontrol and return regulation of NYC’s housing policy to the Council:

“The New York City Council has approved and sent to the State Legislature two home rule messages in support of measures under consideration in Albany that will preserve affordable housing by:

  • Eliminating the vacancy decontrol provision of the State’s rent-regulation system under which apartments are no longer subject to rent regulations upon vacancy if the rent for those apartments is $2,000 a month or more; and
  • Repealing the “Urstadt Law” and returning control over our City’s housing policy to where it belongs – in the hands of the City Council.

The State Assembly passed these measures, A.2005, and A.1688, respectively, back in February.  The votes by the City Council add an important voice in support of these reforms.  Both bills must still be approved in the State Senate and signed by the Governor if they are to become law.

We need you to add your voice to those supporting these important reforms.  Contact your state elected officials by telephone, fax or e-mail and urge them to support an end to vacancy decontrol and the repeal of the infamous Urstadt Law.

To learn who your state representatives are, please check the following links:

To stay informed on steps that are being taken locally to preserve affordable housing, you can check the City Council’s website.  You can also visit the Tenants and Neighbors’ website for upcoming activities in support of affordable housing.”

In the Inbox today, a note from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn about a public hearing taking place on Monday:

“On Monday, March 16, 2009, at 10 a.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, the Council will hold a hearing on a package of legislation designed to preserve and protect our City’s affordable housing supply, including:

* two bills extending the rent-stabilization and rent-control laws; and

* two resolutions calling on Albany to end vacancy decontrol and repeal the state’s Urstadt law, returning control over rent regulations to the City Council.

By participating in this hearing and speaking out on the need to strengthen rent protections, you can help us send a clear message to Albany that control over rental housing must be returned to our City’s leaders.”

For more information on the hearing, visit the Council website.

Last week, the Department of City Planning announced a new zoning text amendment that, if passed, would update the city’s inclusionary housing program.  Established in 1987 in the city’s highest-density districts, and expanded in 2005 to both medium- and high-density areas, the inclusionary zoning provides developers with a floor area bonus in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable housing, either on-site or within the community district.  DCP estimates that the program has created or preserved 1,770 units of affordable housing since 2005, most of which are units available to households earning less than 80% of the area median income (AMI).

The most significant change proposed in the text amendment is the addition of a permanently affordable home ownership option.  Currently, all affordable units created through inclusionary zoning are rental.  The amendment would dictate a restricted sale price, making inclusionary ownership units available to households making 80% AMI.  It would also cap appreciation of these units at a level affordable to those making 125% AMI.

DCP has created a presentation outlining these and other proposed changes here. The amendment is currently under review by community boards and borough presidents, and DCP will hold a public hearing after April 27.

Pressure is mounting to halt the national tide of foreclosures. New York’s housing advocates are working at the frontlines to keep people in their homes and to ensure that solutions currently being generated at the city and state level respond to New York’s unique housing and neighborhood needs.

A Municipal Art Society Planning Center panel discussion moderated by Eva Hanhardt of the Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment late last year, tapped the insights of Audrey Waysee, Center for New York City Neighborhoods; Josh Zinner, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project; Mark Winston-Griffith, Drum Major Institute; Patricia Kerr, Neighborhood Housing Services, Jamaica; and Ingrid Gould Ellen, Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, to confront the question:  How do we stabilize neighborhoods experiencing high rates of foreclosure?

Check out a summary and video clips on MAS’s website.

Last month, Housing Here and Now sponsored a rally to repeal vacancy decontrol.  (Community-Based Planning Task Force member organization East Harlem Preservation was there, and snapped the photo at left, among others).

Vacancy decontrol is the loophole in the rent laws that allows landlords to take apartments out of rent regulation and convert them to market rent when the legal regulated rent reaches $2,000 a month and the apartment becomes vacant. Because of vacancy decontrol, New York loses thousands of affordable apartments every year.

Now that the State Senate has a new Democratic majority, Housing Here and Now and other advocates are scheduling meetings with Senators to push for a repeal of the vacancy decontrol law.  In preparation for these meetings, they are holding a training session tomorrow night focused on housing justice and legislative advocacy.

When: Tuesday, January 13th, 6pm-8:30pm

Where: Grace Church, 86 4th ave (a little south of 11th street) New York, NY

For more info & to RSVP:, 646-202-3962

Spanish translation provided. Childcare provided. Wheelchair accessible.

That seems to be the theory floating around on the blogs this week.  Public Place is a site on the shores of the Gowanus Canal, for which the City chose Hudson Companies’ Gowanus Green proposal.  According to Curbed, the original plan called for 774 units of mixed-income housing, with 615 apartments for low- and middle-income families, including 120 units of low-income senior housing; 25,000 square feet of cultural space; 38,000 square feet of ground-floor retail; and nearly 100,000 square feet of public open space located along the canal.  Since that announcement, the size of the project has doubled (from 774 units of housing to up to 1,500) because an adjacent property owner decided to add to the development.  Although this project, with a development team including Task Force member organization Fifth Avenue Committee, would bring much-needed affordable housing to the area, it has been controversial because of the extreme environmental issues on the site.

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) held a public scoping hearing on the site yesterday at 5:30 pm, very close to the holidays and with very little publicity.  While the hearing information was on the HPD website, interested members of the public were only likely to find it if they were already looking for the scoping documents.  Perhaps because HPD, not City Planning, is the lead agency on this project, hearing information was not available on DCP’s page.

As our readers know, we always try to stay on top of such meetings so we can get the word out to you.  Yet we learned of this hearing at the same time as most constituents, through an email sent Friday by a community group known as Gowanus CORD.  Curbed has a quick recap of the meeting and says, “Ironically, the way the city handled the ‘scoping’ hearing–which is held to determine how the environmental impact statement will be conducted–may have ended up creating extra opposition.”

Perhaps next time the City will make its hearing information more accessible.


Tomorrow (Tuesday, December 9), affordable housing advocates from all over the city, including Tenants and Neighbors and Housing Here and Now will hold a rally to repeal vacancy decontrol.

Vacancy decontrol is the loophole in the rent laws that allows landlords to take apartments out of rent regulation and convert them to market rent when the legal regulated rent reaches $2,000 a month and the apartment becomes vacant. Because of vacancy decontrol, New York is losing thousands of affordable apartments every year.

Check out Housing Here and Now’s Talking Points about vacancy decontrol and the rally. It not only explains the severity of the problem, but also explains the goal of the rally: “Last year, the Assembly voted to repeal vacancy decontrol. This year, we need both the Assembly and Senate to pass this bill. Now that the Senate has turned Democrat we think we can win, and push the Legislature to repeal vacancy decontrol.”

The rally will be held at the Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street at Central Park West. Spanish interpretation and childcare will be provided.

Last month, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) announced that it has selected private developers to purchase property and construct or renovate 1,000 units of affordable housing on four public housing sites in the South Bronx. This is part of an ongoing partnership between NYCHA and the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to make use of “underutilized” spaces on City-owned property. This program is highly praised, as it creates affordable housing and generates income for NYCHA, which is currently operating at a serious budget deficit.

However, as Chris Narducci explores in City Limits magazine, because the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) controls all city housing authorities including NYCHA, developers building on NYCHA property can side-step ULURP, the local public review procedure. While HUD does require a minimal public review procedure, Narducci writes, “The concern is that without the strictures of the New York City-specific ULURP, the input and oversight that community members have is not enough to provide them with needed information or influence.”

Read the full article here.

Since 2000, The Community-Based Planning Task Force has been leading the effort to create a more meaningful role for communities in New York City’s planning and decision-making processes.

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