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SOURCE The Educational Alliance
NEW YORK, Oct. 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Over the past fifteen years, our economy has been in constant flux: 9/11 and the aftermath, a stock market boom and subsequent crash, the recession followed by a slow but steady recovery. Although amidst the unsteady market, Manhattan real estate has been a stronghold. Foreign buyers and the wealthy continue to invest in Manhattan property, driving the average price per square foot up 76.2% in the past ten years. As a result, middle-class and low-income families are finding it harder than ever to afford living in Manhattan due to staggering rent prices and record-low vacancies.
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Lower Manhattan's growth over the last 10 years
Right now, Lower Manhattan is experiencing a new popularity beyond the iconic Wall Street and Financial District. The most recent real estate data shows that new residential developments in Downtown Manhattan are garnering the highest prices in NYC, with an 81% increase in price in just one year. Young families and lifelong Uptowners are now flocking to the TriBeCa and Battery Park City neighborhoods as developers are seizing the last few remaining plots of land in Manhattan to build extremely expensive luxury condominiums and apartment buildings. Many businesses have moved their offices downtown, including publisher Conde Nast who signed a 25-year lease to become 1 World Trade Center's anchor tenant. As more foreign investors purchase land uptown and in midtown while real estate prices continue to rise, the middle and lower-class residents of New York are pushed to the outer boroughs.
The Lower East Side: a new revitalization
The Lower East Side has been called one of the last true communities and neighborhoods left in Manhattan, but it has recently undergone a lot of changes. Similarly to the rest of Lower Manhattan, the LES is becoming a haven for young families and wealthier residents. In 2006, the old Jewish Daily Forward building was renovated and converted into condominiums –obtaining prices over $1 million each, previously unheard of in the neighborhood. This led to other luxury condos going up along Delancey Street and now the Bowery. Real Estate firm MNS cited the LES as the neighborhood with the largest upswing in sales prices and one of the three neighborhoods that drove overall real estate growth in Manhattan. These statistics are in stark contrast to the LES's identity as a low-income neighborhood, where it's not uncommon for families to have lived here for 3 generations or longer. Unlike TriBeca or Battery Park City, nearly half of apartment rentals on the Lower East Side are rent-regulated. In fact, New York City's first housing development project was established on the Lower East Side. Adam Davidson for The New York Times describes "the Lower East Side make[s] up one of the most economically integrated parts of the city. It is one of the last places where the fairly rich and the very poor live on the same blocks and shop in the same bodegas." This distinction was seen most clearly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when LES residents were left without any necessities or supplies, many with nowhere else to go.
Unlike the rest of Lower Manhattan, the LES is missing some key necessities of a flourishing community: public schools, public spaces, a movie theatre and a full-sized supermarket. The neighborhood's only full grocery store closed just after Hurricane Sandy due to the building being sold to a condominium developer. Local politicians have worked relentlessly with the building's developer to ensure that a new grocery store will fill the empty retail space. This is essential as grocery delivery services, like FreshDirect, do not deliver to the entire Lower East Side neighborhood and there are only more residents moving in.
The largest undeveloped area of city-owned land south of 96th Street is on the Lower East Side, which was known until recently as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). After nearly 50 years of political stalemates, the city began accepting bids in May and then selected a developer for the 1.65 million square foot site which will break ground in 2015. Now named Essex Crossing, it will add to the neighborhood many services and amenities including approximately 1000 apartments, with fifty percent slated for affordable housing and a full-time school for the nonprofit Educational Alliance's groundbreaking College Access and Success program, which helps low income residents earn a college degree while their children attend Head Start preschool in the same building.
To meet the demands and needs of this diverse and growing neighborhood, the Educational Alliance will be opening the Manny Cantor Center in early 2014. The Center will provide the neighborhood with a state-of-the-art fitness center and classes, early childhood center, community space in addition to its long-standing and enhanced programming. "We started construction on the Manny Cantor Center at the height of the recession. Some people might have thought it was a risk, but we knew how much this neighborhood needed and deserved these services in a state of the art facility," says Educational Alliance CEO Robin Bernstein "The Manny Cantor Center will provide opportunities to every family in the Lower East Side community while supporting and investing in the future of the neighborhood and its residents."
Residents and businesses have had a hand in spurring the neighborhood's revitalization. The Lower East Side Waterfront Alliance and community have created a plan to turn Pier 42 (an unused space on the East River) into a community and green space for the neighborhood's low-income residents. This summer, Pier 42 opened for the first time since 1987 as a temporary park site with educational and art programming to engage the residents of the Lower East Side and Chinatown in the renovation. Businesses small and large are emerging alongside each other. On Orchard Street alone, formerly part of the discount district, there are not only 25 galleries but a slew of new restaurants and shops. The neighborhood has become so popular, a Holiday Inn opened on Delancey Street and the exclusive club SoHo House is looking to establish an east-side outpost on Ludlow Street.
Recent changes on the Lower East Side have made the neighborhood somewhat unrecognizable to some of its longstanding residents. Yet, community is being fostered in new and innovative ways, maybe more so than any other neighborhood in Manhattan. While middle-class and low-income residents are being pushed out of the rest of the city, the LES does not forget that it started as a community of immigrants and honors its diverse socio-economic and racial background. Unlike the boom in the other areas of Lower Manhattan, half of Essex Crossing's new residents will be low-income and, true to the history of change and development on the Lower East Side, will live alongside the new residents of higher-end apartments.
Joanna Samuels, the Executive Director of the Manny Cantor Center explains, "There are so many ways in which people are divided on the basis of their economic class…. But the Lower East Side is a special and unique neighborhood in its diversity. Our goal is to embrace that diversity, and to champion it. We hope that the Manny Cantor Center will be like a tent, whose stakes can be ever-expanded to welcome and celebrate this community's residents."
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