Council Member Chin, the author (photo: Charles Eshelman)
No one said it would be easy.
When voters overwhelmingly elected Mayor de Blasio almost three years ago, New Yorkers chose an elected official who pledged to tackle the tough issues plaguing us — including a promise to create 80,000 units of new affordable housing for a city in desperate need.
Almost three years later, Mayor de Blasio — in partnership with many of my City Council colleagues — is making steady progress towards that goal. In March, after a substantial amount of public review, I joined an overwhelming majority of Council members to approve a sweeping change in zoning law that promises to accelerate the creation of affordable housing where none would otherwise be built.
Identifying sites for affordable housing in a city as crowded as ours can be a monumental challenge. Communities must be consulted about changes coming to their neighborhoods. It is they, after all, who bear the brunt of nearly constant construction and other serious quality of life issues affecting a city in the midst of an unprecedented building boom.
But in almost every case, the question before us must not be if, but how affordable housing is to be created.
We are not living in ordinary times. People who have lived in their neighborhoods for decades, whether it be in Battery Park City or Little Italy in my Council district or elsewhere, are facing the reality of losing their homes.
Some have already received a letter from their landlord informing them of a double-digit rent increase. Others, including too many of our seniors, are desperately searching for any space available in a city that seemingly has none.
It is true that our city needs more open space for residents of all ages. But this crisis demands that we make tough decisions to accommodate the pressing needs of all New Yorkers.
That is why I am proud of the public process that led to the inclusion of at least 5,000 square feet of publicly-accessible space at a new affordable senior housing project on Elizabeth and Mott streets in Little Italy in my Council District.
When it is built, this permanent open space will be the result of the advocacy of a group of passionate neighbors fighting for more places for New Yorkers to play, relax, and enjoy the natural world around us. These neighbors, along with the local Community Board, have spoken in a clear voice, and I hear them.
I also hear the pleas of our seniors for housing that is safe, age-friendly, and above all, affordable. Their voices matter, and must be taken into consideration.
The decision to pursue this 100 percent affordable housing project has not been an easy one. But in my heart, I know that this is the correct decision. Because for me, leadership isn’t about always doing what is popular, but what is right.
By pursuing this project in the heart of Little Italy — a place steeped in history that welcomed my newly-arrived immigrant family a half-century ago — I am fulfilling my promise to those who elected me to preserve what makes this tiny slice of our city great, and to ensure that the people who made it great can afford to stay there.
Margaret S. Chin is the City Council member representing Lower Manhattan. On Twitter @CM_MargaretChin.