SPURA On! Housing Fight Brewing on 50-Year-Old Lower East Side Site

Is there such a thing as too much affordable housing? In contemporary New York, just maybe.

In the postwar years, New York City cleared miles of land for redevelopment, demolishing tenemants and building public housing and other projects. Some of these developments stalled out like a busted subway, among them the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. A six-acre swath just south of the Williamsburg Bridge, SPURA was to have been turned into yet another tract low-income housing on the Lower East Side.

Locals and pols have been struggling to restart the project for decades, and it looks like SPURA will finally be remade, or at least begin the process, after a series of community board votes this week.

Yet a debate is raging over how affordable to make the project, an especially contentious issue for the increasingly upscale Lower East Side, as The Journal reports:

Damaris Reyes, a member of the board’s committee and executive director of the Good Old Lower East Side, a housing and economic justice organization, has called for at least 70% of the housing to be set aside for affordable housing. “We think it doesn’t go far enough,” he said.

Others contend that there is no need for additional affordable housing in the area and the land should be used for market-rate housing and commercial development.

The city has maintained that any development should pay for itself, which limits the amount of affordable housing that could be included in the guidelines, said Mr. Pisciotta, the chairman of the community board.

The current plan calls for 50-percent affordable housing among the 800 to 1,000 units, which is more generous than most projects in the city. Yet considering this was once going to be 100 percent low-income housing, what is the right thing to do? If the city wants a self-sustaining project, especially on the Lower East Side, it seems something in the 20 to 30 percent range is more likely. At the very least, the suggestion that “there is no need for additional affordable housing in the area” seems absurd.