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Mitchell-Lama Co-op at Odds with Neighbors in Public Housing

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Haves vs. Have-nots

The shortcut through the Masayrk Towers co-op that is now off-limits to non-residents (image via Google Maps)

June 29, 2017

Good fences make good neighbors, according to Robert Frost. But a set of gates erected by the shareholders in an affordable Mitchell-Lama co-op on the Lower East Side of Manhattan have inconvenienced and infuriated neighboring residents of two massive public housing projects, the New York Times reports.

Last month, the 1,100-unit Masaryk Towers co-op quietly erected a set of gates designed to keep non-residents from cutting through the property along a former stretch of Rivington Street that was “de-mapped” by the city when the co-op was built in the 1960s. It had served as a pathway for residents of Gompers and Baruch, the largest public-housing development in Manhattan, to get to the various locations of the Grand Street Settlement, a century-old provider of social services to the Lower East Side’s poor. The shortcut was also, according to a letter from the co-op board, a magnet for crime, vandalism, alcohol use, rowdiness, and trash, “largely attributable to non-residents.” And so, after a decade of discussion, the board finally put up the gates, which announce that the former shortcut is Private Property. “The quality of life has improved so much it’s unbelievable,” says Mitch Magidson, the co-op’s property manager.

It appeared to be a clear-cut case of a co-op board looking out for the interests of its shareholders. But it infuriated residents of Baruch and Gompers Houses, who have called for a boycott of the grocers and other retailers who occupy space on the ground floor of Masaryk Towers, asking residents to shop on Grand or Essex Streets instead. “Stand up or be trampled by the cesspool of hypocrisy, greed and treachery,” reads one sheet posted in several buildings.

Even some Masaryk Towers shareholders have misgivings about the message sent by the gates. “Who are we to say that all the scruff comes from the projects?” asks Lilah Mejia, a resident of Masaryk Towers for more than 20 years. “Developers are looking at us now like we’re prime meat. We all work hard. And we’re all being gentrified.”

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