We missed our city while we’ve been sheltering at home: we missed all the different neighborhoods, cuisines, languages and histories of the five boroughs. We’re starting to peek out the door a bit, we still can’t experience our city in full. So we’re going to take our followers on a tour of 10 NYC neighborhoods where we’ve built. We’ll feature our projects, the history and culture of the neighborhood, and some fun facts along the way.
The Lower East Side
Here we are on East 6th Street, in front of our first project – a 19-unit building called Mascot Flats. In 1984, a group of volunteers and homesteaders began to renovate this building from burned out hulk to safe, decent and affordable homes. Mascot Flats is an important project for Habitat for another reason too – we had a special volunteer join us – President Jimmy Carter.
The former President worked alongside Habitat NYC’s founder, Rob deRocker, volunteers and future homeowners, even slept in the basement of Metro Baptist Church. Communities of faith on the LES have been partners with Habitat NYC since the start. In fact, volunteers from Grace Church worked with us on Mascot Flats, and the congregation of Middle Church is another historic partner.
Now we’re in front of the building we call Homesteaders, which we completed just a few years later. It’s on the same block as Mascot Flats!
Some of you may be thinking ‘East 6th Street isn’t on the Lower East Side!’ Well, the boundaries of the neighborhood was once considered to be 14th Street, but the East Village and the Lower East Side began to develop into two different neighborhoods in the 80’s.
The Lower East Side is one of the true melting pots of New York City. From Germans, to Irish, to Eastern European Jewish, to Italian, Chinese, Black and Puerto Rican – the LES has been home to migrants and immigrants from around the world. It was once the most densely populated place on the planet! You can learn more about immigration and the area’s history at the Tenement Museum, one of the City’s best museums.
The neighborhood is well-known for its Jewish history (and food!). One amazing artifact of the LES’s Jewish history is Kehila Kedosha Janina, the last remaining Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Romaniotes are a small group of Jewish people from Greece.
The LES was the City’s first racially-integrated neighborhood, and has remained that way thanks to the amount of affordable homeownership opportunities in the neighborhood, including HDFCs.
Organizations like Cooper Square CLT, the first Community Land Trust in the city, have worked to keep hard-working homeowners in this rapidly gentrifying area. We have worked with Cooper Square to preserve the roof and fire escapes, as well as paint the interior of the building. This vital preservation work keeps buildings affordable for generations to come! Most recently, we worked with Cooper Square and NYCHA to provide energy efficient upgrades and other building repairs, including asbestos abatement, roof repairs and even helping set up for solar panel installations!
Even though the area is rapidly gentrifying and affordable housing is becoming harder and harder for hard-working families to find, the neighborhood has representatives and leaders who work for the residents – renters or homeowners. Folks like Manhattan Borough Preside Gale Brewer and New York City Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin support affordable housing & low- to moderate-income homeownership and the strength and stability it brings communities. Thank you!
The area’s official name may be the Lower East Side, but to the Puerto Rican community, the neighborhood is known as “Loisada.” The Puerto Rican, or ‘Nuyorican’ (a New Yorker from Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican descent) community settled in the neighborhood in the 1970’s. One of the most famous Puerto Rican businesses in the LES is Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The Cafe is a small theatre featuring poetry, theatrical performances, music and more, and is the center of Nuyorican art in the City.
Of course, not all residents of the Lower East Side are homeowners. Many live in NYCHA housing, including the First Houses, which are, as their name would suggest, some of the first public housing developments in the country. Our BWK groups have worked in numerous NYCHA community and senior centers in the neighborhood, including two operated by Grand Street Settlement! We even had some famous friends, like John Slattery, Jennifer Westfeldt and Jessie Mueller, stop by to lend a hand during our 2018 Broadway Builds event.
We have worked with lots of amazing volunteer groups on A Brush with Kindness projects – groups like ConEdison, Morgan Stanley, Google, Pepsi Co & Tradeweb help us keep the LES bright and vibrant!
The LES remains one of the most exciting and diverse areas of the whole city. There’s housing history everywhere you look, and the best part? You will not leave this neighborhood hungry! In fact, the LES is home to NYC’s only full-day pickle festival! Now that’s a big dill!