By Suzanne Ma
LOWER EAST SIDE — For residents hoping that 2010 will be the year the city finally moves to develop five vacant lots near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge, one community leader has a message: don't hold your breath.
Given the economy and more than 500 stalled construction sites across the boroughs, Grand Street activist and community leader Harold Jacob says it's unlikely to see change anytime soon.
"You can be frustrated all you want, but how many boroughs have stalled construction sites? And now you're going to start something?" Jacob told DNAinfo.
"I don't believe anything can happen in today's economy."
Year after year, advocates, such as newly-elected City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, have demanded that the city finish building affordable housing in the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, a parking lot that's the largest piece of undeveloped city-owned property south of 96th Street.
Advocates, who say the affordable housing was promised more than four decades ago, will once again see the issue brought up at Community Board 3's Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee meeting on Thursday.
The story of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area goes back to 1967 when a federal slum clearance program ordered New York City to tear down several tenements on the Lower East Side. Some lots were redeveloped, but five, bounded by Essex, Delancey, Willett and Grand streets, were not.
Even though residents want action at the site, they are split about what should be built there.
Joel Feingold, a community organizer with housing advocacy group Good Old Lower East Side, believes the bad economy is the perfect time for the city to focus on affordable housing.
"I think that priorities have shifted in this recession. People are fed up with gentrification," he told DNAinfo.
"People are realizing, 'Hey, it's a working class neighborhood and we need housing for working-class people.'"
Jacob, whose family lived in the Lower East Side for four generations, feels the area should welcome commercial development since the New York City Housing Authority already has 960 affordable units and nearly 300 units for senior citizens in the area.
"Why are we turning a city commodity that may be worth tens of millions of dollars into low income housing when we can get a private developer who will pay the city for the land?" Jacob said.
"You have to develop some kind of commercial entity to give jobs to the people who live here."