Almost all NYC neighborhoods are unaffordable to current residents, based on apt. listing study

In Long Island City, with a $3,300 two-bedroom apartment median rent and a median household income of $28,378, tenants pay 139.54 percent of their incomes on rent. (Photo by King of Hearts/via RentHop.com)

By Sabina Mollot

In news that is certain to surprise absolutely no one, New York City fared the worst when compared to four other major cities in a study looking to determine which cities have the fewest neighborhoods with affordable two-bedroom apartments.

Additionally, in New York City, the neighborhoods with the highest low income to high rent ratio were the Lower East Side, Williamsburg and Long Island City.

Upper East Side-Carnegie Hill was actually the most affordable to the neighborhood’s own residents with an average household income of $155,213 and average two-bedroom rent of $3,555. The median income for all of NYC is $55,752 with a 2.4 person household.

The study was conducted by RentHop, an online apartment listings directory.

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District 2 Council candidates square off at forum

Residents watch the forum at Boys & Girls Republic

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Candidates running to replace term-limited City Councilmember Rosie Mendez met to discuss the central issues of their campaigns at the Boys & Girls’ Republic on the Lower East Side this past Monday night. District 2 covers the area west of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village to Fifth Avenue, covering Flatiron, the East Village, Alphabet City and parts of the Lower East Side, and stretching up to Kips Bay.

Democrats Ronnie Cho, Juan Pagan, Carlina Rivera, Jasmin Sanchez, Mary Silver and Jorge Vasquez and Republican Jimmy McMillan appeared at the forum to talk about affordable housing, small businesses, issues important to seniors and education. Democrat Erin Hussein is also running for the seat but was unable to attend the debate.

The Henry Street Settlement, along with the Women’s Political Caucus of New York, sponsored the event and Henry Street executive director David Garza moderated the discussion among the candidates. Garza started the conversation by asking the candidates to outline what they feel is the most important issue for the district and what they plan to do.

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Council candidate focused on housing, mental health services

Jasmin Sanchez (Photo courtesy of Jasmin Sanchez)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Lifelong Lower East Side resident Jasmin Sanchez had already been working in public service for most of her career when she decided to try to transfer those skills to the City Council.

Sanchez, who still lives in LaGuardia Houses in the Lower East Side where she grew up, has experience in the nonprofit sector, working with community leaders at Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and in State Senator Daniel Squadron’s office, which is where she said she learned how to be a community advocate. She is running for the Council seat in District 2, with City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez being term-limited out next year.

A major focus of Sanchez’s campaign is mental health services, primarily because it’s an issue that ties into not only healthcare, but can affect housing and education as well, and has an impact on homelessness. She added that she feels having affordable housing can sometimes be the lynchpin for communities and families, and that it can be especially detrimental for students if they have a tenuous living situation.

“If you don’t have housing, you don’t focus as much on everything else and your performance suffers,” she said.

“It’s not a stable life for kids from shelters. It can be very stressful for them not to have a stable place to live. Schools have mental health services but they have to be holistic and make sure that families are receiving those services as well.”

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Former Mendez aide running to replace her in City Council

Former Rosie Mendez aide Carlina Rivera in Madison Square Park (Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera)

Former Rosie Mendez aide Carlina Rivera in Madison Square Park (Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Life-long Lower East Side resident Carlina Rivera has been involved in local politics since as young as age 12, so it should come as no surprise that her next move is running for City Council. Until recently, Rivera was the legislative director for Councilmember Rosie Mendez, and she left the position to focus on running to fill the seat in District 2 that Mendez will vacate this year due to term limits.

Rivera’s introduction to politics at such a young age was thanks to tenant advocate Marie Christopher, who lived on the first floor of her building on Stanton Street when she was growing up.

“She was an amazing tenant advocate, always pushing issues of public safety and preservation of NYCHA,” Rivera said of Christopher, who died in 2013. “She brought me to my first community council meeting. She knew that the community was an ecosystem, and she knew the importance of working with elected officials but also holding them accountable.”

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Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with these concerts, historic tours and other events

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum presents the tour, “Irish Outsiders,” in the restored home of an Irish-Catholic immigrant family. (Photo courtesy of Tenement Museum)

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum presents the tour, “Irish Outsiders,” in the restored home of an Irish-Catholic immigrant family. (Photo courtesy of Tenement Museum)

By Sabina Mollot
This year, St. Patrick’s Day falls on Tuesday, March 17, and for those looking for a way to celebrate the day when everyone’s Irish (that doesn’t necessarily involve pounding down pints of Guinness), Town & Village has you covered. Read on for information on some local events celebrating Irish culture and/or St. Patrick on Tuesday and throughout the week.

On Friday, March 13 from 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m., the Merchant’s House Museum, 29 East 4th Street, presents the “Spirit of the Irish Candlelight Ghost Tour.” On this candlelit tour, guests will learn the history of the house where eight people died, and hear true tales of inexplicable occurrences from those who actually experienced them. Many of the most peculiar occurrences have been related to the Tredwells’ Irish servants, and so this special tour will include the 4th floor servants’ quarters. The New York Times has called the Merchant’s House “Manhattan’s Most Haunted House.” Admission is $25, $15 for museum members. For more information, call (212) 777-1089 or visit merchantshouse.org.

Mar12 Noel Hill

Concertina player Noel Hill will perform on Friday as part of NYU’s “Blarney Star Concert Series.”

On Friday, March 13 at 8 p.m., New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House presents “The Blarney Star Concert Series” with Noel Hill and Martin O’Connell. Concertina player Noel Hill, of County Clare, is known for revolutionizing the sound of the little hexagonal-ended squeezebox, bringing to it a repertoire and chordal accompaniment style borrowed from the uilleann piping tradition. For this show, he’ll perform with Martin O’Connell, a younger Kerry native who’ll play the two-row button box accordion.
Free admission to NYU students and faculty with a valid ID card. For non-members, a $15 donation at the door for the Blarney Star Concert Series is requested. Tickets are available at the door only; no reservations will be accepted. For more information, call (212) 998-3950.

On Saturday, March 14 at 1 p.m. and Sunday, March 15 at noon, Big Onion Tours presents a guided walk through the former “Little Ireland” district of the Lower East Side, between City Hall and Houston Street. This family friendly tour will explain why St. Patrick’s Day is more popular here than in Ireland. Stops could include: the founding site of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Al Smith’s home, the Five Points, the first Catholic church in the city, and sites associated with Tammany Hall, Thomas Addis Emmet, and many others. The group will meet directly in front of St. Paul’s Chapel, Broadway between Fulton and Vesey Streets. Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for full-time students with ID and seniors 65 and up. Paying in advance is suggested at http://www.bigonion.com.

On Sunday, March 15 at 12:30 p.m., the Merchant’s House Museum presents the “St. Patrick’s Day Celebration: A Tribute to the Tredwells’ Irish Servants.” This tour will invite participants to climb the house’s narrow staircase to the newly restored fourth-floor servants’ quarters and see where the Tredwells’ four Irish servants lived and did some of their work. The tour will explain why it would have been impossible to run a home like the Merchant’s House without them.
Admission is $10, $5 students and seniors, free for children under 12. Reservations not required. For more information, call (212) 777-1089 or visit merchantshouse.org.

On Sunday, March 15 at 3 p.m., the Church of the Epiphany at East 22nd Street and Second Avenue presents a free concert with Epiphany’s Adult Choir and guest instrumentalists. The program will include Irish and St. Patrick’s Day related hymns from the chorus with more Irish and Irish-inspired music in a variety of genres from guest professional singers and instrumentalists, including drummers, flutists and harp players.

Stuyvesant Town fitness instructor Tim Haft will present two holiday themed classes (followed by happy hour drinking at Otto’s Shrunken Head for those looking to balance holiday debauchery with something healthy).
Haft will offer his weekly Punk Rope class on Monday, March 16 at 7 p.m. the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street. Admission is $12. His new MoshFit class, offered weekly at Otto’s Shrunken Head, 538 East 14th Street, will take place on Tuesday, March 17 at 6:15-7 p.m. Admission is pay-what-you-wish with a suggested amount of $12. Both classes will be followed by happy hour at Otto’s with drafts and well drinks priced at $4 (Monday from 8:30-11 p.m., Tuesday until 8 p.m.) For more information, visit punkrope.com/mosh-fit.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard Street, is offering a tour of the restored home of the Moore family, Irish-Catholic immigrants who started a new life in Kleindeutschland (now the East Village). The tour reveals how this family dealt with being “outsiders” at 97 Orchard, and how the Irish more broadly created a strong sense of American Irish identity through the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This “Irish Outsiders” tour, which is recommended for ages 12 and up, is actually offered daily a few times a day. On Tuesday, March 17, it’s given at 12:15, 3:15, 3:45, 4:15 and 4:45 p.m. For schedules on other days throughout the week, call (877) 975-3786 or visit http://www.tenement.org. Booking tours online is recommended since some tours sell out. Admission is $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors.

Mar12 Da

Irish Repertory Theatre is currently running the show “Da,” at the theater’s temporary space at DR2 Theatre. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Irish Repertory Theatre, which stages works by Irish and Irish-American playwrights, is currently running the show “Da,” at the theater’s temporary space at DR2 Theatre, 101 E. 15th St., through April 5. “Da” runs eight times each week, including on St. Patrick’s Day, with Tuesday performances at 7 p.m.
In this play by Hugh Leonard, a man named Charlie returns to his childhood home in Dublin in 1968 after his father’s funeral only to find the stubborn patriarch’s ghost unwilling to leave the house. Immediately, Charlie and his father (his “da”) start bickering as they did in life. Town & Village theater critic Peter Von Mayrhauser recently called the banter “wildly funny,” noting that “playwright Leonard has a great ear for Irish blarney.” Director is Charlotte Moore. Tickets are $70 and can be bought online at irishrep.org or by calling (212) 727-2737.

Nude literary salon “Naked Girls Reading” will present works by Irish authors. (Photo by Angela McConnell)

Nude literary salon “Naked Girls Reading” will present works by Irish authors. (Photo by Angela McConnell)

Horse Trade Theater Group presents “Naked Girls Reading: The Emerald Isle,” on Wednesday, March 18 at from 8-10 p.m. at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Pl. “Naked Girls Reading” is a monthly literary salon featuring readings by local burlesque performers and others who strip down to nothing.
This month, readers will share literature, history, musings and more by and about Ireland’s greatest authors: classics by Oscar Wilde and James Joyce; selections from contemporary authors; traditional folk tales and stories; and musings on the demon Drink by authors from Ireland and beyond.
Host Nasty Canasta will be joined by Evelyn Vinyl, Nina La Voix and Stormy Leather for this in-the-buff celebration, which they’ve promised will not involve green beer or foam leprechaun hats. Cover is $25 (two for $40). For tickets, visit http://www.horsetrade.info/under-st-marks.

Community Boards 3, 6 create task force on waterfront resiliency

Kayakers fill the East River by Stuyvesant Cove Park during an event last June. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Kayakers fill the East River by Stuyvesant Cove Park during an event last June. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community Board 6 and 3 recently formed a joint task force to offer guidance on how new features along the East Side waterfront can be incorporated into a recently-funded project focused on waterfront resiliency. The new task force met for the first time this past Monday to discuss preliminary ideas for the project and is composed of 11 representatives, including members of CB3, CB6 and various community stakeholders.

CB6 chair Sandro Sherrod, who is also chairing the task force, said that while construction isn’t expected to begin until at least 2017 and the project is currently in the conceptual design phase, the task force is planning to have additional meetings and invite the public to look at different options and various design elements.

The project, which is spearheaded by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR), is known as the BIG U and is the result of a design competition that was held by Housing and Urban Development in which participants came up with ideas on how to fix areas that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. HUD approved $335 million in funding for the project last October.

The BIG U in the project refers to a ten-mile long protective barrier to be built along the east side of Manhattan from East 42nd Street down to the Battery, then looping in a U shape up to East 57th Street. Instead of typical flood barriers and walls, the project proposes to include seawalls, raised pathways, parks, locally appropriate berms and mechanized operable barriers. The plan splits the project into three distinct zones, one of which is the area between Montgomery Street on the Lower East Side and East 23rd Street.

The “zone” from Montgomery Street on the Lower East Side along the waterfront extends to East 23rd Street but this area is split into two different parts. The first project area includes the region below East 14th Street, which includes a number of NYCHA developments on the Lower East Side that were badly damaged by flooding, currently has more concrete design plans than the second project area but the task force will be working with the BIG U team to solidify ideas for the area north of East 14th Street.

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From hot kosher meals to hoarding intervention

How one local organization is helping poor and isolated seniors

Project ORE Associate Director Jackson Sherratt and Director Tara Rullo at the center’s dining room (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Project ORE Associate Director Jackson Sherratt and Director Tara Rullo at the center’s dining room (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Give us your poor, your homeless, your isolated, your elderly, your mentally ill, your hoarders on the brink of getting evicted.

This is essentially the mission statement of a nonprofit organization that has been based out of the Sirovich Senior Center building on East 12th Street for the past 28 years. Called Project ORE, its focus is on helping people who fall into those categories, as well as observant Jewish seniors, whether the assistance comes in the form a hot kosher meal or advocacy in housing court.

Project ORE is named after the Hebrew word for light as well as being an acronym for Outreach to the Elderly. It’s run by the Educational Alliance, the parent organization of Sirovich as well as the 14th Street Y. While almost all of its members are seniors, Project ORE isn’t technically a senior center. In fact, to even qualify for ORE’s services, participants have to be older adults who fall into three of the following categories: Homeless, formerly homeless, mentally ill, low-income, isolated (meaning no nearby family or support network) or Jewish. To find out if someone qualifies, a would-be client is invited to come by for lunch and then an assessment is done with an on-site social worker.

Around half of the organization’s members come from the surrounding neighborhoods of the East Village, the Lower East Side and Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village. The rest, however, arrive by train from Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx. There are also some homeless members living in shelters, but just a handful.

“We have very few street homeless,” said the center’s director, Tara Rullo. “I would say most live with friends or family members.”

Still, there’s no shortage of housing challenges faced by members. Project ORE’s Associate Director Jackson Sherratt noted a recent example of a client whose income was too low to qualify even for low-income housing. However, by earning $16,000 a year, the same client was also considered too rich for Medicaid. As for what ORE can do, Rullo said if a client has a history of homelessness or mental illness, the organization can apply for supportive housing.

“We can help navigate the system,” she said. “There are more housing options available and we will research and push for that person to have housing. It can be difficult to navigate. If someone’s in a shelter we’ll advocate for them because once you’re in there you need someone on the outside fighting for you.”

Then there are the clients in rent-regulated apartments who end up facing eviction due to hoarding, or worse, hoarding that leads to infestations of bedbugs. While Project ORE doesn’t employ attorneys, its social workers have advocated for tenants in court and there’s also in-house psychiatric support available that’s specific to helping hoarders. The organization will also communicate with landlords and co-op boards to assure them they’re working with the resident to alleviate the problem. And while ORE’s staffers have certainly encountered landlords who don’t want to be cooperative, they’ve yet to see a case where an accusation of hoarding is just an excuse to get rid of a low-rent paying tenant.

“The problem is real,” said Rullo, “and quite extreme. There’s all kinds of risks associated with this behavior; there’s a risk to other tenants. If you hoard, your bedbugs are my bedbugs.”

Additionally, because it’s such a widespread problem, a current goal of the organization is to provide training on dealing with the issue to other organizations and agencies, from community boards to hospitals to the FDNY. “We’ve become kind of the face of hoarding,” said Rullo. “We’ve done conferences. We’re going to do a webinar.”

For clients with a problem, clearing out apartments is sometimes done through contractors, as well as onsite psychiatric help, as long as clients agree to it.

“It’s the client’s choice; we’re not going to do it behind their back,” said Rullo. But, she added, when faced with keeping their cluttered household or being made to move, the process isn’t usually resisted. “When there’s a risk to a rent-controlled or a rent-stabilized apartment, it’s a great motivator.”

However, not all Project ORE clients have problems that require intervention services. While many are facing some kind of crisis, social isolation is also a big reason for showing up to the center.

“This is a place where they can come in and make friends or partake in Jewish services,” said Rullo.

The kosher meals are also a draw, with the center serving 40-50 people for lunch each day. At the dining room, meals are brought to clients rather than having anyone wait on line. This, said Sherratt, is to make it as different from a soup kitchen as possible so clients feel welcome to stick around.

“You’re not getting line, you’re not getting a ticket. The idea is to have a place where you’re being served,” said Sherratt. Additionally, the dining area is going to be expanded soon, to make it more like a cafe. Clients will then be able to have coffee, tea or pastries from a mobile cart and have access to WiFi. “It’s another opportunity for socialization,” said Sherratt. “They can meet a friend or maybe hear some poetry or something.”

ORE’s headquarters, located in the building’s mezzanine level, overlook East 12th Street west of First Avenue, with the dining room its main common area. On a recent day after lunch was served, there were still half a dozen seniors sitting around either chatting or dozing at their tables. Several client-made paintings were on display on the walls. In a room nearby, a few others were watching a film.

One client who was sitting in the dining room, a resident of the East Village, said he started utilizing ORE’s services after finding out about them through a friend. The man, who asked that his name not be published, said his friend had gotten sick and ended up at Bellevue Hospital. When he went to visit him, the friend asked that he let someone named Lenny from Project ORE know that he was there. When the patient’s friend went to the center to find Lenny, who turned out to be a social worker, Lenny asked him if he wanted to stay for lunch. So he did.

Ten years later, the client still comes each day after walking over from his East 4th Street apartment. He does this, he said, for the exercise as much as for the meals, which come from a kosher caterer in Brooklyn. He also enjoys the center’s classes, which include Yiddish, a torah study group and fitness.

Funding for ORE’s services comes largely from grants from the UJA Federation of New York, as well as individual donations. The annual budget is $700,000 for Project ORE as well as for Safety Net, a sister organization that’s geared towards the needs of local seniors who are homebound. At this time, Safety Net has 172 members while Project Ore has around 200. Due to a steady demand for its services, which are all offered for free, Project ORE has always run on a deficit, and Rullo said the organization is going to have to start relying more on private funds.

“We can’t fundraise enough,” she admitted, “because it’s such a needy population.” Along with donations, the organization is also seeking volunteers, especially for the holidays, to do things like help serve lunch and connect with clients.

One volunteer who was interviewed by Town & Village, Stuyvesant Town resident Dianne Vertal, said she recently got involved with ORE after hearing Sherratt speak about its mission. This was at an event at her congregation, Town & Village Synagogue. Prior to that, she’d also heard about Project ORE from a friend who’d been doing a research project on Jewish poverty in New York. When her friend mentioned that ORE needed help for a Veterans Day lunch, Vertal volunteered.

“People think it’s one of the wealthier ethnic groups,” said Vertal. But, she added, “many of our elderly present a vast array of needs.”

Dolan: Epiphany a ‘light in the world’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan with Epiphany students during a 125th anniversary event for the school (Photos by Mollie O'Mara)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan with Epiphany students during a 125th anniversary event for the school (Photos by Mollie O’Mara)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, made a special appearance at Epiphany Church last weekend to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of the parish’s school.

During a mass held on Saturday night, Dolan showered praise on the school, which has been doing well financially, unlike so many other Catholic institutions in New York City, which have seen attendance and interest dwindle.

For the last three years we have been going through the painful but necessary process of making painful decisions to close and merge schools,” Dolan said.

As we’re getting somber news, we’re here now talking about a school that works. (Epiphany) not only works but flourishes and prospers as a light in the world. It does my heart good to come here. I needed this.”

After the mass was a reception in which Dolan spent time greeting and hugging the students, parents and parishioners that wanted to meet him, while holding a beer in his hand. He also put his red skullcap on students’ heads when posing for pictures.

He’s a very warm and caring individual,” said Jim Hayes, who’s been the Epiphany School’s principal for more than 30 years. “He made sure that everyone who wanted to meet him got a chance to talk to him.”

He also called the service by Dolan “beautiful,” adding that it had always been part of plan to have the cardinal be part of the 125th anniversary celebration.

It was one of the nicest liturgies we’ve had here in a number of years,” said Hayes. “The church was packed and it was a wonderful experience for everybody.”

Monsignor Leslie Ivers with Cardinal Dolan at Epiphany Church

Monsignor Leslie Ivers with Cardinal Dolan at Epiphany Church

Hayes has known the cardinal for about four years but the principal said that this is the first time the archbishop has lead mass at the church.

Following the service, parishioners and parents attending a reception expressed their appreciation for the school and for Dolan.

He could open for Bruce Springsteen,” said Michael Gargiulo, who has been a parishioner at the church

for more than 50 years and whose now-grown children went to Epiphany School.

He’s got a common touch; he’s relatable to people.”

Gargiulo, who moved to the neighborhood when he got married, said he and his wife had initially planned to move again to the suburbs. They never made it out of the city though and both of their kids ended up at Epiphany.

This was the foundation to build on for a good education,” Gargiulo said. “The best aspect of this school is the involvement of parents and families with the school. That’s what makes it great.”

Ed Maher, who lives in the Lower East Side and currently has a daughter attending the school, said that he comes to Epiphany events for the sense of community.

We don’t really have a community in our neighborhood downtown so we come up here for that,” he said.

Chris McCartin, who also currently has a child enrolled and lives farther downtown, agreed that the school offers a more small-town experience within New York.

Coming here (to school events) reminds me of my little town on Long Island,” he said. “It’s a no-nonsense education with a lot of great people.”

Cardinal Dolan with Epiphany School teachers

Cardinal Dolan with Epiphany School teachers

 

Stuy Town photog sheds a little light on East Village’s community gardens

The Diaz y Flores Community Garden on East 13th Street is one of 30 local gardens to be photographed by George Hirose.

The Diaz y Flores Community Garden on East 13th Street is one of 30 local gardens to be photographed by George Hirose.

By Sabina Mollot

Ever since the 1970s, when he moved to the East Village, photographer George Hirose found himself inspired by the scenes there that were both gritty and pretty. In particular, he was a huge fan of the community gardens that popped up then and the years that followed, since it was usually the locals’ way of thumbing – or rather greenthumbing their noses – at would-be developers of vacant lots.

Now a resident of Stuyvesant Town, Hirose has continued his love affair with the community gardens and is involved in the tending of a couple of them. He has also, since the spring of this year, been working on an ongoing exhibit of photos he’s taken of the gardens in the East Village and along the Lower East Side.

An exhibit is currently on display at the 14th Street Y, where Hirose will also be speaking about the photos on December 29 at 3 p.m. In addition, some of his photos are also on display across the street at Kati restaurant, 347 East 14th Street.

So far, he’s captured 30 of the 39 gardens in the area, and there are some he wants to go back to.

“I want to give a sense of the individuality of the places and how special they are,” said Hirose. “People are

George Hirose

George Hirose

interested in what other people are doing even if it’s out of the range of their immediate environment.”

As for his own interest in the gardens, for Hirose, they were always a way to meet likeminded people, artists, musicians and other characters, along with the nightclubs in the Lower East Side in the 70s and 80s. They were also a way to enjoy a bit of nature close to home, allowing a brief escape from the crime-ridden streets and graffiti-covered buildings.

However, even as the neighborhood gentrified over the years since then, the volunteer-run gardens still remained a special place to Hirose. A couple of them even had play areas for kids, and he would take his daughter to the gardens when she was younger.

“Some of them don’t have much in them, some have a lot in them,” he said, adding that some are obviously run better than others. Naturally, he has more appreciation for those where volunteers have been willing to let him in at night when the gardens are normally closed so he can do his photography.

The photos Hirose takes are always at night, enhanced by additional light sources he’ll bring into the gardens, since he wants to capture the bright colors of the trees and plantings. He also uses long camera exposures of up to 20 minutes and digital enhancements.

“It’s a very different way to see the gardens,” he said, explaining that the naked eye can’t see much in the way of depth and color in the dark. “So I have my camera do the things that my eyes are unable to do.”

For Hirose, a professor of photography at Pratt, it was only recently that he decided to start photographing the gardens. His hesitation, he said, had to do with his feeling that the art community would look down on his attempt to present the subject matter in a beautiful way. But, he said, “This was something I really loved and I just wanted to create something beautiful. I’d like for the whole city to be aware of community gardens in general.”

George Hirose's photo of the Children's Workshop Garden on East 12th Street and Avenue C

George Hirose’s photo of the Children’s Workshop Garden on East 12th Street and Avenue C

He’s also been concerned about the future of the gardens since one, called the Children’s Magical Garden on the corner of Norfolk and Stanton Streets, has been fighting to keep part of its space, which is slated for development of a six-story building.

“In the Lower East Side, there’s no real parks except for Tompkins Square, so it is important,” he said.

As for Stuyvesant Town, where he’s lived for the past 12 years, Hirose said he doesn’t feel compelled to photograph it much (though he’s made exceptions for the squirrel population). He also loves that it’s a natural bird sanctuary.

Though he does think the grounds look attractive, the problem, said Hirose, is that the property is “too manicured for my photography,” and therefore lacking the personality and roughness of the community gardens.

“It’s my home but I don’t feel a connection,” he admitted.

“It feels institutionally beautiful. It’s landscaped. The dynamics come from when neighbors gather to create something. I like when it’s a little grungier.”

Hirose’s photos will remain on display at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues, through December 29. Hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. To 9 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. To 9 p.m.

For more information, visit http://www.georgehirose.com.

Mendez opponent, a pastor, says poor have been ignored

City Council candidate Richard del Rio  Photo by Sabina Mollot

City Council candidate Richard del Rio
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Lower East Side-based clergyman Richard del Rio, or, as the hog-riding, tattooed 61-year-old is better known in the neighborhood, “Pastor Rick,” will be on the ballot on Primary Day as the Democratic challenger facing Council Member Rosie Mendez.

Del Rio, who founded his nondenominational church, Abounding Grace Ministries, over 30 years ago and has since become known as a community activist as well as a spiritual leader, said he is running because he feels there’s been a neglect of the poor and the elderly in the second city district, in particular NYCHA residents.

He’s also staunchly against elected officials being able to run for a third term, a policy enacted four years ago so Mayor Bloomberg could run again. “It’s legal, but it’s still offensive,” said del Rio. “It was just a few people that overturned the will of 8.5 million people.”

Mendez, of course, is running for a third time, and, while del Rio was quick to say during a recent interview at his Avenue C campaign office that he isn’t about to “trash her,” he has referred to her as a “no-show” politician on his website.

During the interview, del Rio discussed a number of issues from crime (which he’s been on top of as an NYPD clergy liaison), NYCHA’s plan to build market rate housing on eight of its developments (which he’s opposed to) and the gentrification of the district, which includes the Lower East Side, the East Village, Alphabet City, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay. (Del Rio said he’s been extremely concerned about residents being priced out of the area and NYU’s ongoing expansion without having to build any affordable housing as part of the development deals.)

Meanwhile they’re getting prime real estate and (they want) humungous towers that are overwhelming to the community.”

On NYCHA’s “infill” plan of leasing space on public housing parks and parking lots to outside developers, including at Campos Plaza, del Rio said he feels that the housing authority’s board has “not only neglected but dismissed the poor.” If elected, he said he promises to fight the plan, as well as fight to protect the rent-regulated housing that exists.

The middle class and the poor are being pushed out,” he said, “the creativity of the East Village — that’s all being stifled with this new plan to create a city for the wealthy.”

Del Rio, whose parents were immigrants from Puerto Rico, has always worked directly with the poor since starting his church in “the worst area” of that time which was the Lower East Side. This place, cops, warned him, was where people sold heroin and their bodies. The idea of setting up a base there was to cut down on gang activity and crime, with del Rio saying he found the most effective way to do this was by befriending gang members and other young people who were failing school, homeless or facing other problems like incarcerated family members. Del Rio and his sons, then ages 3, 6 and 8, were often with him as he took a van around, in particular to Union Square, offering information about treatment and other drug-related programs.

It was in the mid-90s when, del Rio said, he was able to stop a gang from retaliating at Alphabet City’s Haven Plaza for the killing of one its members by a rival gang. He did this by showing up, talking to the gang members and “letting them vent.”

They want to know you’re going to talk to them without judging them or even preaching to them, so I became friends with them,” he said.

After asking his wife to make some sandwiches and hot chocolate — because he’d be inviting the gang over — the group talked some more and then, said del Rio, “It was my turn and I told them, ‘If you do this, this is just going to escalate.’” In the end, the retaliatory battle never happened. Del Rio said he became privy to the looming gang war from the cops, who he said he’s always enjoyed a good working relationship with. For the past 20 years, del Rio has been an NYPD police-clergy liaison.

On crime these days in the district, del Rio is concerned about the still-occasional shootings at public housing projects, and attends meetings of the 9th Precinct Community Council. He has mixed feelings about stop-and-frisk, having once been on the receiving end of such an investigation in which he thought the officer’s behavior was “rude,” but also believing that the local cops – NYPD and those working for NYCHA – have a tough job to do.

On education, del Rio is not a fan of the current system that shuts down failing schools. “Our mayor brags about being able to shut schools down; why in the world would he want to have that as his achievement?” asked del Rio.

In 1996, del Rio and his family started a program called Generation X-Cel, which was aimed at helping kids who were failing in school and had other problems. His sons, who helped run it, had asked local kids, what kind of things they wanted to see in an after school program, and found that by asking, the kids got interested. The program ran at a space rented in a building at the Jacob Riis Houses, until the group was booted when NYCHA decided to use it for storage. The organization was replaced in 2008, though, by another program called 20/20 Vision for Schools, which was implemented at 16 schools.

One of his sons is still involved with the program. Del Rio has a total of three grown sons as well as a grown daughter, now a registered nurse, who is adopted. She came from a family he knew, in which the mother was dying of AIDS. The mother had asked del Rio and his wife Arlene to care for her children, which they did, and he wound up adopting one of them.

As for his pastoral duties, del Rio has operated his church in a space he rents at MS 34, a school on East 11th Street and Avenue D. Though he’s been less active at the church since he launched his campaign earlier in the year, he’s still been involved in some activities including a couple of local street fairs organized by clergy as well as an 18-year-old church tradition of holding an annual basketball tournament.

(People are) so dismissive of clergy, but clergy are servants you don’t have to pay and they have a relationship with the community,” he said.

Richard del, Rio, not long after Hurricane Sandy, helps distribute food and supplies. Photo courtesy of Richard del Rio

Richard del, Rio, not long after Hurricane Sandy, helps distribute food and supplies.
Photo courtesy of Richard del Rio

Del Rio noted that it was through relationships he’d developed with locals and law enforcement that enabled him to respond to Sandy with trucks full of supplies. He and others, including groups from as far as West Virginia, distributed hot meals as well as things like blankets and batteries on the street on Avenue D. Eventually, 20,000 people were recipients of the supplies and 12,000 hot meals were served.

On smaller issues, del Rio said he would like to do more for residents who feel that they’re living in “permanent construction zones” and be quicker about fixing things, like, for example, restoring a few Alphabet City bus stops that were recently removed. The removals were supposed to be temporary, he said, but complaints he’s gotten from local seniors have indicated that they weren’t.

If elected, del Rio said he is hoping for a Democratic mayor that is either Bill Thompson or Bill de Blasio. Both, he said, have promised to have roundtables with local clergy.

Being a political outsider, I know there’s a lot for me to learn,” said del Rio, but, he added, “I’m a quick learner.”