An ‘accidental activist’

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The co-founder of Tenants United Fighting for Lower East Side (TUFF-LES) is taking action against the proposal to build four super-tall towers in the Two Bridges neighborhood


  • Trever Holland at a Halloween event in his community room. Photo courtesy of Trever Holland

  • Trever Holland and Mayor Bill de Blasio discuss zoning for Two Bridges and a push for a ULURP  in September 2017 at Joseph Sauer Park. Photo courtesy of Trever Holland

Trever Holland is tired. He has been thrust into the public eye — a position he’s not entirely comfortable with — which forces him to participate in several interviews. So many interviews that it takes him a while to remember which journalist he had an interview with during our specified time.

But his popularity is understandable. The 52-year-old former attorney and resident of the Two Bridges neighborhood has been integral to the opposition against the proposal to build four super-tall (over 700 feet) towers on one block. The mitigations proved to be controversial as residents feared gentrification and another lengthy construction period. The Extell building, otherwise known as One Manhattan Square, an 80-story, luxury apartment behemoth already took five years to complete.

Holland, co-founder of Tenants United Fighting for Lower East Side (TUFF-LES), has been waging a re-zoning war with the City Planning Commission. He was recently rewarded with a small victory when the proposed mitigations were halted because of impending litigation. The next court date is March 28, where the judge could lift, modify or continue the hold on the construction of the towers.

Where do you live?

I live at 82 Rutgers Slip, which is in the center of all the Two Bridges development. It’s very close to the water and also right next to the Extell building that’s 80 stories and is currently in its completion phase.

Did you raise a family in Two Bridges?

No, but I have family in the area. Including across the street, my wife’s aunt and her cousins. Most of the family live across the street or right across the bridge.

And how did you come to be a founder of TUFF-LES?

This was to make sure the people who lived along the waterfront, which we knew was prime real estate and a prospective area, had a voice in what was going to happen. So, we got together all the tenant leaders who lived on the waterfront. I was one of the co-founders, I use that term loosely because it was really a collaborative effort of folks who lived in the area.

Why do you oppose these buildings?

When you look out your window, you’ll see that large finger sticking out of the ground, that 80 story thing that is completely out of scale. I don’t know one single community planner or anyone who follows architecture can say that it’s appropriate for the area. It’s an immediate transformation of the neighborhood because it’s mostly luxury apartments. This is primarily a low-income neighborhood and the city has decided to target this particular area, one block, for putting, what they say, is the greatest amount of affordable housing in the city. It’s not appropriate, it’s out of scale, it destroys the skyline as we see it.

What was it like when the Extell building was being constructed?

The construction nightmare we experienced with the Extell building, those five years out of my life that I will never recover from. It was extremely hell-ish. I can’t imagine them building four buildings essentially on one block and just because we’re in an area that doesn’t have appropriate zoning and the developers knew that.

How does having a family in the neighborhood heighten your opposition to the proposal?

I mean it’s not just me who is impacted directly as a resident. We are a family that have different socio-economic conditions, so some may not be able to recover or are not as able to be as mobile or handle changes in the neighborhood as I can. A lot of my family cannot do the same.

I read online too that along with the affordable units that would be coming they said they were going to put $4.5 billion into the neighborhood. Isn’t that a benefit of it?

The mitigations were not discussed with the community, it was made by city planning. The recommendations that we gave, none of them were followed. None of the parks that they proposed for re-doing were in the Two Bridges direct impact area.

Do you have an example?

To give you an example, we recommend that the Allen Street Mall, which borders Two Bridges into Chinatown, into a particularly poor immigrant neighborhood, that area has been neglected, we recommended improving that. They did nothing for that. If these buildings do not happen, we’re perfectly fine. What we’ve said all along is, “give us the supermarket,” because that’s what we lost, and we’ll be fine. But there isn’t anything that they’re proposing that we’re going to be sad about if it doesn’t happen. Not one single thing.

Have you always been an activist?

I’m an accidental activist. I just consider myself a resident to the neighborhood that is concerned in keeping the neighborhood as is. If these towers go up this neighborhood is done. It will never be the same and if we don’t do something right now, history is going to look back and say, “what were you guys doing? How did you let this happen?”

How will the effects of these buildings trickle into surrounding neighborhoods such as Chinatown?

All it takes is common sense to think if you put upwards of 10,000 people on one block in a neighborhood, 80 percent of them affluent, the smaller apartment buildings are going to raise their rents. The same thing is going to happen with the rent of the shops. I’ll go the next the day to the deli and they’ll be selling artisanal mustard. I’m not kidding. Rents of the surrounding areas will go up and anyone that says it won’t doesn’t know anything about economics and city planning. There’ll be a Starbucks on the corner, like it or don’t like it, but the dynamics of the entire neighborhood will change. All the local places that you used to go that you could get something that was affordable will change and people will be forced out. No one heard of Two Bridges until two years ago. Now, it’s becoming the “it” neighborhood.

If the proposed towers are built, will you stay in the neighborhood?

I threaten that I’m going to leave but we all know that it’s tough to find places to live in New York City. I’ve been in this neighborhood for 22 years and saying that I would leave would just be out of frustration, but I as of right now I fully intend to stay in my neighborhood.

What is one thing that you would like people to know?

We just need other torchbearers who know what they’re doing to navigate this process because it’s large plan and a big neighborhood with lots of different opinions. I’m waiting for Apple to create a time machine, so I can go take a peek at what’s going to happen.

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