By Alec Pruchnicki
As the process to build the affordable and low-income housing called Haven Green on Elizabeth Street continues, Community Board 2 has held several public hearings. At the most recent one, I noticed something new. Virtually every speaker who supported keeping the Elizabeth Street Garden intact started with a phrase like “I support affordable housing, but…” before giving reasons why it should not be built on this site. None of these speakers admit to others or to themselves what really gets affordable housing built in Manhattan. Affordable housing requires sacrifice, and not just an empty phrase that will accomplish nothing.
Councilwoman Chin spent years of contentious negotiations and budget fights to get the massive SPURA site on the east end of Delancey street built, but she didn’t stop there. She spent more time, including a last-minute deal in the middle of the night and even a Democratic primary challenge, to get additional housing on Elizabeth Street. The city was even willing to sacrifice a third of the site for open garden space, rather than about 60 additional apartments, in a futile attempt to placate garden supporters who wouldn’t budge an inch.
Residents of the Two Bridges neighborhood might have to sacrifice the nature of their area to some level of gentrification in the form of thousands of market rate and luxury apartments in order to get 700 units of affordable housing. New York City Housing Authority residents, in order to get badly needed additional money for their aging, underfunded buildings, might have to sacrifice open lawns, parking lots, and maybe even playgrounds. The neighborhood south of the 14th Street tech center might have to sacrifice neighborhood preservation to get new condos—and the affordable housing they will bring—in their area. The entire city would have to sacrifice height restrictions to comply with Mayor DeBlasio’s effort to increase housing by relaxing height zoning.
Although garden supporters are not willing to sacrifice their site, there are sacrifices they will impose on others. Half of the Haven Green apartments are to go to residents of Little Italy who presumably want to stay in their area. They must sacrifice their neighborhood and move a mile away to Hudson Street, which is significantly different from Little Italy. They must also sacrifice the time it would take to build something there instead of Haven Green, which could be up in a few years.
I think that affordable housing in the far West Village, including the Hudson Street site, is needed and should be done. But would residents of that area living in luxury condos or townhouses be willing to have a massive (maybe 25-30 stories) high-rise of racially integrated affordable and low-income housing built within a block of their homes in one of the whitest and richest neighborhoods in Manhattan? It only takes one person with enough money, of which there are plenty, to hire a lawyer and stop the whole project in its tracks. Or would they all be willing to change the nature of their neighborhood so that the gentry of Little Italy can have their beautiful little garden?
When we change our position to “I support affordable housing and this is what we, including myself, should sacrifice,” then we can actually get it built, starting with Haven Green. Build housing on Elizabeth Street already.