Even the most seasoned Manhattan real estate veterans throw up their hands when you bring up Chinatown. Few outsiders are let in on the ever-expanding neighborhood's secrets. Besides the occasional hotel and/or freaky glass contraption, are these tenement blocks frozen in time? How does one get their hands on an apartment? Are apartments even available? Ever? Today, under the guise of a story about the fledgling Chinatown Business Improvement District, the Times attempts to answer some of these questions. So what's the deal?
Ownership is the crux of the problem. Wellington Chen, the executive director of the coming business district, now called the Chinatown Partnership, said buildings of all descriptions, including side-street tenements, are owned by “associations” of Chinese business people as well as families, many of whom have owned all or part of a building for generations. Getting all parties to agree to a sale would be nearly impossible, he said, even if all the owners could be located. Assembling multiple contiguous parcels for new construction, like three or more tenement buildings, would be extremely difficult. “Chinatown is the Wild, Wild West when it comes to finding out who the building owners are,” said Yvonne Chang, a broker with the Kaufman Organization who is marketing leases at a two-story building at 257 Canal Street. Landmark status on some buildings is another obstacle to development, as is the significant number of rent-controlled and rent-stabilized housing units in the area. Mr. Chen said about 4,200 of the 5,000 apartments in the neighborhood are regulated. Ousting tenants in any of the regulated buildings is out of the question, even though some building owners would like to see them go so they could raise the rent.
So 84% of the apartments are off limits and the building owners wear big hats and carry six-shooters? Now things are starting to make sense.
· Chinatown Mobilizes to Enhance Its Outside Appeal [NYT]