By Betty Yu
Displacement and gentrification in Manhattan’s Chinatown has accelerated in the last few years. The influx of art galleries, hi-rise luxury condos, and hotels is jarring. At the same time, Chinese immigrant working class tenants are facing landlord harassment, living under unsafe conditions, and forced evictions. Small businesses, stores and restaurants that have been serving the Chinatown community for decades are closing to make way for high-end establishments, businesses, and art galleries.
In the past eight years, 100 galleries have opened in Chinatown with over 60% of them opening up in the last three years. Since galleries have been priced out of Chelsea they have been moving into Chinatown, it has been dubbed by some of the media as the “last frontier of downtown New York.” These galleries have contributed to the rapidly rising rents. There are galleries that are paying upwards of $9,000 a month, while low-income tenants next door are paying hundreds of dollars to share a small room in a dilapidated building. This kind of inequality is unconscionable. While it’s true that the galleries are one part of the larger machine of gentrification, it’s important as community-based artists that we hold these artist institutions accountable for their role in displacing Chinatown residents. Their real estate choices have real consequences that affect people’s material living conditions. A 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund revealed that the number of Chinese residents in the area has declined between 2000 and 2010, while the number of white residents has increased. In 2011 less than half of the Chinatown population was foreign-born.
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