East Harlem Locals and Activists Protest Luxury Tower Development Plan

Originally published on August 28, 2014

On Thursday evening, August 28th, approximately 80 East Harlem community members and activists gathered on the sidewalk of E. 118th Street and Pleasant Avenue to protest the recent plans of Blumenfeld Development Group and Forest City Ratner Companies to develop luxury towers atop the East River Plaza Mall.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson East Harlem locals gather on 118th Street and Pleasant Avenue to protest the recent development plans to build luxury towers atop East River Plaza.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
East Harlem locals gather on 118th Street and Pleasant Avenue to protest the recent development plans to build luxury towers atop East River Plaza.

The assembly of locals and activists raised concerns that the development will drive out most of “El Barrio” friends and neighbors, displacing poor people and exclusively attracting the upper-middle class to the Pleasant Avenue neighborhood. The demonstrators, who led the protest with the slogan, “El Barrio Unite,” believe the luxury towers will interrupt the community’s class-structure, economic development, quality of life, and preservation of East Harlem. 

Demonstrators lined up along the sidewalk on Pleasant Avenue to stop Blumenfeld Development Group and Forest City Ratner Companies from continuing their plan to “segregate the neighborhood for economic growth,” says Roger Hernandez, a member of the East Harlem N.E.R.V.E. community housing group, “This is exclusionary displacement because it has to do with money.”

Hernandez, a native of East Harlem, believes the evening’s protests illustrate how the 50 story luxury towers are not an “anti-development piece based on race, the color of your skin,” but rather, “economic development.”

Blumenfeld Development Group and Forest City Ratner Companies first announced their proposal to build the 1,000 unit residential towers atop the East River Plaza mall in East Harlem to local community members at a East Harlem community meeting on Wednesday, July 9. At this initial meeting, the developers proposed a 75-25 percent split of market rate and affordable apartments for East Harlem residents who earn 30-60% of the area median income, more than the standard 80-20 housing market ratio.

However, East Harlem locals demand a 50-50 percent split of market rate and affordable apartments in order to accommodate the pre-dominantly low-income residents. Lorraine Knox from Community Voices Heard says, “We want 50-50 or nothing. It’s not right, unless it’s 50-50.”

In a joint statement released by BDG and Forest City Ratner on Thursday evening, the developers stated that a significant number of affordable housing units in East Harlem will expire in the next fives years and this proposal, “which includes 275 affordable units,” will create more affordable housing options in the community.

There is “an acute need for more diverse housing options to fill that looming void. We are addressing this need by making a huge investment in East Harlem that will use the retail center to create new housing where it otherwise would not exist,” according to the developers’ statement. There were no BDG or Forest City Ratner representatives in attendance at the Thursday evening “El Barrio Unite” protest.

Although the luxury tower development plan is still in the preliminary stages, N.E.R.V.E., Inc. General Manager and community protest leader, Robert Anazagasti, cried out, “We are going to win this fight…It’s up to us to say no más, no más, no más!”

Photo // Charlotte Gibson Robert Anazagasti calls on the community of East Harlem to fight back against developers.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Robert Anazagasti calls on the community of East Harlem to fight back against developers.

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