January 22, 1997

'5 Arrested In ABC No Rio Protest'
by Michael Haberman

Five people were arrested as supporters of ABC NO Rio, a performance space on Rivington Street, took their long-running court battle tot he streets last Thursday, chaining themselves to desks and windows at the Asian Americans for Equality office and demanding that plans to evict them be halted.

The performance group has been in court with the city since 1995, when the Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development announced it was ending a month-to-month lease so the building could be converted to low-income housing. Last month, the eviction proceedings were stayed by Judge Leona Freedman until utilities were restored to the buildings. But since that has been done, the city will ask for the stay to be lifted which could lead to an eviction as early as next month.

ABC No Rio has also filed a separate lawsuit in State Supreme Court seeking to nullify a City Council resolution approving the renovation of the building by A.A.F.E. Steven Englander, a member of ABC No Rio, siad they are arguing that the city decided to create the low-income housing because they wanted to evict ABC No Rio, rather than evicting ABC No Rio as a necessity of renovating the building.

Englander said last week's demonstration sought to show A.A.F.E. that they will follow through on the pledge they made at the beginning of the battle: to fight the eviction through the media, through the courts, and through physically defending the building.

But Siu Kwan Chan of A.A.F.E. said ABC No Rio suporters are protesting at the wrong place. A.A.F.E., she said, simply responded to a Request For Proposal after the city had already decided to renovate the building. In other words, A.A.F.E. has nothing to do with evicting ABC No Rio--they are just doing the work that another group would be doing if they did not apply to do it.

"I would like to say they have the wrong place to protest," Chan said.

Chan and Mitchell Alexander, who heads A.A.F.E.'s housing projects, said they did not want to see ABC No Rio left homeless so they offered to rent them commercial space in the ground floor of the building. But Englander said the $1,400 monthly rent they were offered, along with a requirement to pay the taxes on the space, is too expensive. They were paying $370 per month to the city, but the city stopped accepting their money when they announced the renovation plan in 1994.

Chan and Alexander said look at their record. In the past week, they have been helping relocate families who were left homeless after a fire on Allen Street. They have also converted several other buildings in the neighborhood into low-income housing and run a Building Intervention program which helps landlords of low-income housing find grants and other programs to upgrade their buildings at no cost. Landlords who participate in the program must agree not to raise the rent.

A.A.F.E. was founded in 974 as Asian Americans for Employment when a federally funded project, Confucius Plaza, was being built in the middle of Chinatown but no Asians were hired to work on the project.

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ABC No Rio: The Culture of Opposition Since 1980