[NYtenants-online] Sunday Rally to Support LES Tenants--Oppose Eminent Domain Abuse

Tenant tenant@tenant.net
Sun, 28 Apr 2002 10:20:46 -0400


NYtenants Online/TenantNet                                4/28/02
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IN THIS ISSUE ...

1. Today's rally opposes dislocation of LES tenants and abuses of Eminent 
Domain
2. Supporters of 99 Orchard Street
3. MORE IS AT STAKE than just the tenants of 99 Orchard Street.
    Eminent Domain abuse has the potential to disrupt tenants and 
neighborhoods on a
    scale not seen since Robert Moses evicted 500,000 tenants. 
(Tenant/Inquilino)
4. Immigrants Museum vs. Locals: Lower East Side divided (Daily News)
5. Museum Plan Hits Too Close to Home (LA Times)

NOTE: we would have gotten this notice out sooner, but we had computer trouble

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RALLY TODAY AT NOON

On April 21, Sunday, at 12 noon, there will be a demonstration by the 
supporters of 99 Orchard Street in front of 99 Orchard Street. The owners, 
Lou Holtzman and Peter Liang thank the 1,500 concerned residents who have 
signed petitions supporting their cause and asking the EMPIRE STATE 
DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION to not go through with its plans to condemn 99 
Orchard Street. Please ask your friends to come support Lou, Peter, the 
residents of 99 Orchard Street and the employees of Congee Village 
Restaurant in their effort to save their homes and business.

WHEN:  Sunday, April 21 at 12 Noon
WHERE: at 99 Orchard Street, Manhattan

Rally endorsed/sponsored by: 99 Orchard Street Coalition, New York Chinese 
Businessmen's Association, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, 
Lower East Side Business Improvement District, USA Chinese Women's 
Association, Flushing Chinese Business Association, Chinese Charnber of 
Commerce, Metropolitan Council on Housing, TenantNet

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THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS ARE OPPOSING THIS ABUSE OF EMINENT 
DOMAIN:

Marvin Wasserman (Disability Rights Activist & former Pres. 504 Democratic 
Club)
Harry Wider, Disability Rights Activist
Community Board 3
New York Chinese Businessmen’s Association
Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association
Honorable Sheldon Silver, Speaker, New York State Assembly
Honorable Thomas Duane, New York State Senator
Honorable Alan Gerson, New York City Councilman
Andrew Flamm, Lower East Side Business Improvement District
Li Ping Yu, General Manager, Oceanic International
Edward Klein, Owner, Kleins of Monticello
Carol M. Matorin, Attorney, Law Officers of Hall, Dickler, et al
Sol Einhorn, Owner, Bridge Merchandise
Victor Luke, Owner, Loho Studios
DJ Honda, Owner, DJ Honda Fashions
Alex Zhang, General Manager, 28 Plumbing Supply
Kei-Ping Chen, General Manager, Wholesome Realty
Pou Chu Wong, Owner, 118 Lucky Restaurant
Chen Bin, General Manager, Forsythe Construction
Peter Wong, President, Creative Signs & Awnings
Cheing May Loi, Director, J& S Construction
Sam Lau, Owner, Indoor-Outdoor Flooring
Chiu Lim, President, Int. Photo & Frame
Bea Salwyn, Owner, Salwyn Inc.
Edward Luke, Owner, Loho Studios
R. Setenbrino, Owner, Moda Moda Fashions
Avi Nar, Owner, Cougar Fashions Ltd.
Mark Miller, Owner, Miller Gallery
USA Chinese Women Association
HoySun Ning Yung Benevolent Association
Lin Sing Association
Chinese Chamber of Commerce
Lee’s Association of America
Chew Lun Association
Moy Shee Family Association
Flushing Chinese Business Association

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EMINENT DOMAIN ABUSE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO DISRUPT TENANTS AND NEIGHBORHOODS 
on a
scale not seen since Robert Moses evicted 500,000 tenants.
Tenant/Inquilino

If you're a New York City tenant, chances are you've had problems with your 
landlord and, from time to time you might wish for him or her to disappear. 
Strangely though, there are times you might wish to support your landlord's 
right to own and operate his property. You know about the anti-tenant DHCR 
and Housing Court, the fix-is-in-the-bag RGB and periodic renewals of the 
rent laws, but other forces are likely to be just as dangerous to your 
housing and quality of life.

Tenants need to start understanding how development, gentrification, real 
estate tax abatements, city bond financing,  transportation infrastructure, 
among other issues, can destabilize residential neighborhoods, forcing out 
small businesses and long-time residents. It may not matter if rent 
regulation is still on the books because such forces result in both primary 
and seconday displacement, and are often disguised by schemes to 
"revitalize" or "restore" neighborhood through tourism, arts, sports and 
economic development.

One such tool is Eminent Domain. In the last few years, the favorite tool 
of Robert Moses (who displaced 500,000 tenants) has been making a comeback 
and is being abused as never before. Most people think Eminent Domain is 
when when private property is seized by government agencies to be used for 
public uses such as roads, schools and airports, but "public use" is being 
twisted into a strained version of "public interest" opening up the 
floodgates to almost anything and being handed over to other private 
owners. It's Robin Hood in reverse!

In Harlem, William Minnich is fighting the Empire State Development 
Corporation's attempt to take his family furniture factory away so proposed 
Home Depot can have a parking lot. Last year developer Douglas Durst asked 
Governor Pataki to condemn property adjoining his 6th Avenue and 42nd 
Street parcel (the owner refused to sell until after September 11th), 
simply so he could build a larger skyscraper. The Village of Port Chester 
is seeking Bill Brody's lumber yard in order to hand it over to a 
well-connected Stop 'n Shop developer. In New Rochelle, 34 homes, 29 
businesses and two churches could be displaced to make room for an Ikea 
superstore. And in Manhattan, the New York Times seeks to displace local 
businesses so it can build its new skyscraper to promote its yuppified 
vision of Manhattan.

Perhaps the most bizarre instance of Eminent Domain is where the Lower East 
Side Tenement Museum seeks to acquire a building owned by long-time 
resident Lou Holtzman to expand the Museum. The problem is that Holtzman 
has 15 tenants who would be displaced by the move. And while the Museum has 
done good work in preserving the immigrant experience, it's move (like many 
arts groups that naively bite at developer's carrots), would hurt the very 
neighborhood whose values it seeks to extol.

Even more egregious is a plan proposed by Senator Charles Schumer and 
backed by City Hall to condemn large swaths of private property on 
Manhattan's West Side (24th to 42nd Streets, 9th Avenue to the Hudson), 
assemble the booty and hand it over to private developers (read "campaign 
contributors") for a new Central Business District or "CBD" -- the result 
would be skyscrapers going to the river and acres of office space for which 
there is no need. In the process it would destroy a low-rise mixed-use 
neighborhood providing valuable industrial infrastructure to Manhattan. 
Rudy's West Side Stadium is only a small part of this scheme, but the 
Olympics and a specious claim of the need to expand the Jacob Javits 
Convention Center are being used as "warm puppies" to attract support.

Such massive development plans would destroy what's left of Chelsea and 
Clinton, sharply increase traffic, increase commercial rents (forcing 
neighborhood stores out to be replaced by noisy nightclubs and the Gap), 
and step up residential landlord pressures to harass or buy-out tenants.

Taking property -- usually at a lower-than-market price and often without 
adequate notice -- leads to uncertainty of land use, community 
destabilization and leaves tenants at risk. It may benefit developers and 
some wealthy suburbanites now seeing Manhattan as an urban Disneyland, but 
for those who put down roots, pay taxes and keep this town viable, it's 
likely they will be forced out. It does not help, of course, that the NYC 
Department of City Planning, Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields 
and many NYC Community Boards have forgone their planning function and 
operate as simple rubber-stamps for developer displacement schemes.

Eminent Domain is a tool that in some limited cases is useful to the larger 
city's interests. But in today's current climate, city and state 
governments are distorting it into a weapon and progressively taking larger 
potshots at New York City's neighborhoods. Development can be a very good 
thing when the agenda is about sustainable communities, not the developer's 
pocketbook.

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IMMIGRANTS MUSEUM VS. LOCALS
LOWER EAST SIDE DIVIDED
as preservationists battle old-timers
By BRIAN KATES
Daily News, April 28, 2002

Lou Holtzman sat with his wife Mimi on the stoop of his renovated tenement 
building at 99 Orchard St. the other day. The steps, the door, even the 
windows of the building were plastered with signs:

"The Museum Will Not Take My Home" and "Eminent Domain Abuse."

A tourist, climbing the steep stairs of the lower East Side Tenement Museum 
next door at 97 Orchard St. stopped to absorb the message. The museum 
guide, an earnest young out-of-work actor, shook his head. "It's a pretty 
nasty dispute," he said.

More like a lower East Side blood feud.

The museum — devoted to celebrating 19th and early 20th century immigration 
and "the dreams that motivate today's immigrants" — is determined to expand 
into Holtzman's building, which shares a common wall.

Holtzman is equally determined not to let it happen.

After he rejected a $1.35 million offer for his property, museum founder 
and CEO Ruth Abram sought to have the state's Empire State Development 
Corp. condemn it "for the public good" under the laws of eminent domain."

The agency, which held hearings in January, is expected to render a 
decision early next month.

The high-stakes battle is riddled with irony.

It pits the museum against Holtzman — whose immigrant East-ern European 
Jewish ancestors moved into 99 Orchard St. in 1910 — and his partner, Peter 
Liang, the Hong Kong-born owner of the Congee Village Chinese restaurant at 
98 Allen St.

The restaurant, directly behind Holtzman's building, recently expanded into 
its basement at a reported cost of $2 million. The move provided jobs for 
about a dozen immigrant workers.

The dispute has galvanized the neighborhood's political power base and 
divided Orchard St. shopkeepers and tenants into pro-museum and 
pro-Holtzman factions. As one resident put it, "It's the immigrant museum 
vs. the immigrants, the newcomers vs. the old-timers."

Each side has a lot at stake.

The 14-year-old museum — a federal landmark billed as the oldest 
structurally unaltered tenement in the city — has re-created the apartments 
of actual tenants who lived at 97 Orchard between 1863 and 1935.

It gets 90,000 visitors a year, including many school children, and wants 
to grow to serve 200,000 — the projected spillover from Ellis Island and 
the Statue of Liberty.

Acquiring 99 Orchard would allow the museum to install a wheelchair-access 
elevator, expand exhibit space and put its reception center and lucrative 
gift shop, which is now down the block, under one roof.

Access for the handicapped is essential to cementing the museum's 
relationship with the National Park Service and the key to getting vastly 
increased government funding, which last year totaled nearly $404,000.

As museum attendance grows, so does its revenues — and Abram's salary, 
which jumped to $103,000 last year from $70,000 in 1998, according to 
museum tax filings.

For his part, Holtzman says, "I want to be the first in four generations of 
my family to make money out of this building."

For 32 years he had a recording studio in the building. He recently closed 
that and renovated the apartments for his family and 15 tenants. He says he 
invested about $1 million and gets a hefty $1,700 a month for each 
325-square-foot apartment.

Local entrepreneur Liang says Congee Village's business has skyrocketed 
since he expanded it into Holtzman's cellar.

Condemnation would put about 20 immigrant workers out of a job at a time 
when the Asian American Foundation estimates about 1,000 Chinese New 
Yorkers were left unemployed by the World Trade Center attack.

Congee Village manager Eric Li lost his former job at the Windows on the 
World restaurant in the Trade Center after Sept. 11, and it took him five 
months to find this one.

"Everybody is really scared," said Li, who came to the U.S. 20 years ago 
and is now a citizen. "Restaurant jobs are really hard to find now, 
especially downtown and especially for immigrants."

Both sides are taking the dispute personally.

Holtzman refers to Abram as a "nouveau tenement phony" who is trying to 
"rob me of my family's immigrant dream and put at least a dozen hardworking 
Chinese immigrants out of work."

He has his own Web site replete with strident anti-Abram rhetoric and a 
photo album of his Orchard St. ancestors.

Abram disputes Holtzman's four-generation attachment to the building and 
brandishes city records revealing that 99 Orchard St. was at times vacant 
and reported abandoned.

Abram says, "I can understand why Lou is upset." But, she says, "The 
tenants will be handsomely compensated" if they are kicked out.

By law, compensation is set by a judge after an independent audit. As a 
commercial tenant, however, Congee Village is not legally entitled to 
compensation.

In such a legal action, each side trundles out a raft of charges and 
counter-charges. They present conflicting inspection reports and bales of 
inconclusive Buildings Department paperwork.

Abram says Holtzman's renovations and the expansion of the Congee Village 
were "done illegally" and caused "cracks and irreparable damage" to the 
museum.

But no legal action has been taken. Holtzman, whose building is now owned 
by 98 Allen St. Realty in a partnership with Liang, was issued a 
certificate of occupancy and the Congee Village expansion went forward.

The museum proffers letters from 95 "supporters of acquisition of 99 
Orchard St." Many are from out-of-state preservationists and museum 
officials from as far away as England. Some of those who sent letters told 
the Daily News they did not know the museum's expansion would involve 
taking over someone else's property.

Many of the museum's local supporters cited its contribution to cultural 
development of the area. Others want to stop the tide of gentrification on 
the lower East Side.

The Rev. Edgar Hopper of historic St. Augustine's Episcopal Church on 
Madison St. wrote: "The owners of 99 Orchard St. are bringing in wealthy 
people from outside the neighborhood to pay astronomical rents. They 
further marginalize this neighborhood's immigrant residents, creating 
another facility that most of us can't own or operate."

But neighborhood business associations and Community Board 3 oppose using 
the condemnation to ex-pand the museum, saying it is a matter that should 
be resolved in court. Local politicians concur, including Assembly Speaker 
Sheldon Silver and state Sens. Marty O'Connor and Tom Duane.

Duane said, "I strongly insist that we do not remove from the market needed 
housing units, even for the most worthy of causes."

Silver wrote to the Empire State Development Corp.: "As important as the 
museum's contribution is to our neighborhood, so too is it imperative that 
we protect the rights of tenants and landowners when they are threatened."

A majority ruling of the nine-member development board will decide the 
issue, but agency attorney Joe Petrillo makes it appear the decision 
already has been made.

"We see the [museum's] expansion as a worthwhile public objective," he 
said. "Economics is not the driving force. This is a civic project."

Holtzman says, "My building, which has been in my family for generations, 
is home to real people leading real lives in a real lower East Side. My 
friend Peter Liang's restaurant is not nostalgia. It is not historic. This 
is real life."

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MUSEUM PLAN HITS TOO CLOSE TO HOME
Space-hungry N.Y. tenement exhibit seeks to evict tenement neighbors.
"The irony just smacks you in the face," opponent says.
By JOSH GETLIN
Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/la-041802museum.story

NEW YORK -- They were once joined at the hip in the heart of New York's 
Lower East Side, two identical brick tenements offering cheap, dimly lit 
apartments to waves of immigrants from all over the world.

But they came to play different roles in the community: One was turned into 
a museum celebrating the area's immigrant history. The other is home to 15 
families, as well as a popular Chinese restaurant on the ground floor.

And now, in a move that has some shaking their heads, the museum is 
attempting to evict the people who live and work next door--many of them 
immigrants--so it can expand and accommodate more tourists.

"The irony just smacks you in the face," said Martha Danziger, a community 
leader who opposes the Lower East Side Tenement Museum's bid to take over 
the adjacent building. "They want to create a virtual tenement museum in a 
neighborhood that already has tenements."

Built in 1863, the twin walk-ups at 97 and 99 Orchard St. were fixtures in 
a neighborhood that welcomed Irish, German, Jewish, Italian, Puerto Rican 
and Chinese families. Yet now, as booming property values transform the 
area, the feud between the buildings' owners highlights a battle over the 
community's future--and its place in America's immigrant memory.

This is a street where living history collides with living people.

Opened in 1988, the Tenement Museum is a national landmark that has 
restored turn-of-the-century immigrant apartments to their original 
conditions and draws 90,000 visitors each year. Ruth Abram, the founder, 
says she wants to welcome 200,000 tourists and can only do this by 
acquiring the building next door. She has asked state officials to seize 
the property through eminent domain if a deal cannot be worked out.

But Lou Holzman, whose family members have been living at 99 Orchard St. 
since 1910, has no intention of selling the building. Neither does his 
business partner, Peter Liang, who runs the Congee Village restaurant and 
employs more than 50 Chinese and Latino immigrant workers. Both say the use 
of eminent domain to help a small museum would be absurd.

"It's easy to sympathize with the two sides, so the question is, which view 
of the Lower East Side do you embrace?" said sociologist Christopher Mele, 
author of "Selling the Lower East Side." "Is this area a gold mine of 
immigrant history that should be preserved? Or is it a living, breathing 
place filled with new and older immigrants who should be protected?"

Eminent Domain Decision Nears

Tensions are rising on both sides as the Empire State Development Corp., 
New York state's economic development agency, nears a decision--expected 
this week--on whether to proceed with the eminent domain. And the dispute 
is playing out against a steady drumbeat of gentrification that is rapidly 
changing the community from a crime-infested slum into an edgy but vibrant 
melting pot of bars, boutiques and restaurants.

The Lower East Side is a study in contrast. While it continues to pack 
waves of new immigrants, mainly Chinese, into tenements, the once-rundown 
buildings of the nearby Bowery are being turned into million-dollar co-ops. 
The average rent at 99 Orchard St. is $1,600 for a 350-square-foot 
apartment--a price that is high but hardly atypical, given Manhattan's 
tight rental housing market.

Bordered on the north by 14th Street, on the south by Fulton and Franklin 
streets and running west from Broadway to the East River, the neighborhood 
is growing economically, despite the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist 
attacks.

While Latino groups push for more affordable housing and criticize the 
trend toward higher-priced apartments, young Orthodox Jewish couples have 
begun moving back into the aging, high-rise units that were once occupied 
by their grandparents. On a recent afternoon, the sidewalk shops and 
restaurants near Orchard Street were filled with the aromas of garlic 
kosher pickles, fresh-baked empanadas and pungent Chinese congee.

"This is one of America's most symbolic neighborhoods," said historian 
Suzanne Wasserman, associate director of the Gotham Center at City 
University of New York. "It's constantly reinventing itself, and many 
groups see it as sacred because so many people can trace their roots back 
to this community. Everybody wants a piece of the Lower East Side."

The community is no stranger to controversy. As immigrants poured in during 
the late 19th century, it became America's prototype of a big-city slum. 
Journalist Jacob Riis wrote his powerful newspaper expose "How the Other 
Half Lives" after visiting the squalid area in 1890. Ever since then, 
activists have been drawn to a neighborhood that was the first glimpse of 
America for millions of people who got off the boat at Ellis Island.

Abram said her overriding goal is to promote tolerance for the different 
kinds of people who have lived on Orchard Street--and to use history as a 
tool to better understand the present.

Building Offers Guided Tours

The narrow, six-story building offers guided tours of meticulously restored 
apartments that were occupied by poor immigrant families dating from 1897. 
The museum also sponsors film festivals, walking tours and community forums 
on social issues, including the problems of Garment District workers on the 
Lower East Side and America's historical perceptions of poverty.

"We want people to understand how hard it must have been to come to America 
and live in such small apartments," Abram said. "But I worry that a lot of 
the people who come away moved by the experience of Jewish and Italian 
families leave the museum and then look down on the Chinese and Hispanic 
people who live in the same neighborhood today."

It is this very attitude, however, that infuriates her opponents.

"Here's a museum that wants to promote the history of immigration and 
educate people," Holzman said. "But it proposes to do this evicting tenants 
and throwing 50 immigrants out of work. It makes no sense."

Many New Yorkers fled the Lower East Side in the 1960s and '70s, when the 
area was filthy and dangerous. Yet Holzman is proud that he stayed because 
his family has roots here.

Holzman once ran a jazz and rock recording studio in the building, but he 
recently formed a partnership with Liang to renovate the property. The 
six-story tenement's living quarters, which had been closed for years, 
reopened last fall.

As the owners spruced up 99 Orchard St., Abram was feeling growing pains 
next door. She said she badly needed additional space--in part to build an 
elevator so disabled visitors could enjoy the museum--and had been 
attempting for some time to buy Holzman's building. But he had no interest 
in selling.

A nasty feud erupted two years ago, when Abram charged that the renovation 
next door had structurally damaged the foundation of the Tenement Museum. 
She sought help from political allies wherever she could find them.

"The state responded, and we were just so relieved," Abram said, noting 
that the Empire State Development Corp. agreed to consider taking Holzman's 
building through eminent domain.

Although it is highly unusual for a private entity to request such action, 
it is not unheard of.

Once initiated, eminent domain proceedings are rarely overturned, and 
Holzman's main challenge would be over the price to be paid for his 
property. Although the museum once offered to buy his building for $1.3 
million, he said the full value of a newly renovated 99 Orchard St. is 
between $7 million and $10 million.

'A Matter of Public Need'

Whatever the final price, Abram said, the condemnation is "a matter of 
public need," no different than previous seizures of land for public 
purposes such as freeways and large commercial projects.

Unfortunately, she added, state law had prevented her from speaking 
publicly about the eminent domain proposal until it was announced in 
December. And by then new tenants had moved into Holzman's building. If the 
building is condemned, Abram said, tenants will be helped to find new 
homes; they will also be compensated for moving expenses.

"It was so unfair for this to happen to the people who just got here," said 
Suzy Lease, 25, a waitress who moved in last fall.

Many observers wish that the two sides could have worked out some kind of 
accommodation. While Abram insists she must have 99 Orchard St., others ask 
why the museum couldn't have looked for tenement property elsewhere.

"In almost any other neighborhood, this would be a simple real estate 
dispute," said Hasia Diner, a New York University history professor and 
author of "Lower East Side Memories." "But there is so much communal memory 
in this area. It's become a collision over sacred space."
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