Thursday, July 05, 2007

Columbia's Courage of it Evictions

In today's NY Post we read about what we believe will be the first of a series of evictions should Columbia University be allowed to expand with impunity into West Harlem. This time it is a group of struggling small business folks-auto mechanics who are being dispossessed with no plan for their relocation.

As the Post reports, "More than twenty auto mechanics at three auto repair shops near 131st Street and Broadway in Manhattan will be out of work by July 31st, as they become the first economic casualties in Columbia's campus-expansion plan." They most certainly won't be the last, and everyone in West Harlem should be on guard.

The problem here is that the mechanics were simply subleasing their space and have no legal recourse; but after all, what's their plight when compared with the potential cure for Alzheimer's? The larger issue, however, is the fate of the residents of West Harlem, folks that will be either directly or indirectly evicted as a result of the Columbia plan.

Their fate is underscored by the column in today's NY Daily News by Community Service Society head David Jones. What Jones highlights is the less than stellar record of the mayor in the area of affordable housing-a glaring disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality of the administration's efforts. As Jones writes: "But it's time to check that image against the record. The city's affordable housing picture continues to worsen as the mayor's new housing goes up. Rents are soaring, placing a tremendous burden on low and middle income tenants."

As we have commented extensively before, the mayor is permitting Columbia to expand into the largest underutilized parcel of land in Manhattan with absolutely no additional housing. On top of this scandal, the university will be evicting 400 low income tenants from the expansion foot print. BP Stringer, concerned with a rising tide of gentrification, has proposed his own rezoning plan to try to mitigate Columbia's impact. This is a half-measure.

The Columbia plan needs to be immediately derailed. We have already seen how the collusion of the consultants is hot wiring the review process. Now the more substantive issues of displacement need to be addressed-something that can't and won't be done while this sham ULURP process moves inexorably forward.