Housing & Environmental Justice

AALDEF’s Housing & Environmental Justice Project provides legal representation, community education, and organizing support to immigrant communities on land use, anti-gentrification, and environmental justice issues. One of the chief consequences of gentrification is the involuntary displacement of low-income residents and small businesses that cannot afford the rising costs of rent and every day goods. Gentrification has changed many immigrant neighborhoods from vibrant, residential communities into tourist spots. Our project aims to counter this impact in our neighborhoods. At the heart of our work is the principle that every community should be able to choose what is best for itself.

We collaborate with tenants, small businesses, and local community groups to sustain neighborhoods where immigrants live and work.

Documenting Change in Affordable Immigrant Neighborhoods

Development displaces many tenants and small businesses. But the data demonstrating the starkness of gentrification is often absent. AALDEF works with groups to gather data and research to bolster anti-displacement campaigns in immigrant communities. Most recently, in collaboration with community groups and academic institutions, AALDEF launched a new report on the state of gentrification in Chinatowns in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Read our report on Gentrification in the Three Biggest Chinatowns on the East Coast.

Strengthening Small Businesses

Small businesses often serve as the life-line of immigrant neighborhoods, providing affordable every day goods and offering a gathering place for local residents. Increasingly, cities have introduced policies like Business Improvement Districts that have spurred gentrification and hurt small businesses by dramatically increasing their day-to-day costs. AALDEF works with small businesses and community groups to analyze and challenge policies that hurt small businesses. AALDEF has won hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of small property owners who were unfairly taxed after the introduction of a Business Improvement District.

Read more about our work on behalf of small business owners.

Zoning to Sustain Immigrant Communities

Zoning plays a significant role in shaping our neighborhoods. Zoning determines how much and what kind of development is allowed in our communities. AALDEF works with tenants, small businesses, and local groups to challenge discriminatory and unjust zoning laws. AALDEF has won a precedent-setting case that requires the effects of displacement to be considered as part of the environmental impact.

Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side

AALDEF is a member of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The Coalition formed in 2008 to address the gentrification and displacement that is changing the working class, immigrant neighborhoods of Manhattan’s Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Since then, the Coalition has created the Chinatown and Lower East Side Special District Rezoning Plan to better preserve existing affordable spaces and create new affordable housing. The need for a community-based rezoning plan that protects working families and small business owners in the last affordable, immigrant neighborhoods in Manhattan has never been more urgent. Our plan promotes a new and comprehensive vision to ensure that Chinatown and the Lower East Side remain sustainable for the working class families that built these communities.

Copy of the Special District Rezoning Plan.

The Special District Rezoning Plan incorporates ideas from years of outreach and discussion with neighborhood residents, workers, and small business owners about the impact of displacement and relies on the technical expertise of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development.

Among other things, the plan calls for:

  • Community review of development on specific lots
  • 100% affordable housing on all publicly-owned sites
  • Special permits for certain chain stores
  • Limitations on construction of new hotels and luxury development
  • Zoning to reflect the current built environment