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The July 11 demolition of a Lower East Side SRO has left at least 30 people homeless–and numerous questions about the city’s plan for the site, which had long been marked for preservation as affordable low-income housing.

A city demolition team began pulling down the four-story, 28-unit, city-owned building at 26 East First Street after the Buildings Department declared it structurally unsound. A piece of the ceiling had collapsed into the first floor stairwell during a thunderstorm on July 9. As in the February demolition of a nearby squat, police blocked tenants from retrieving their possessions. “They’re going to destroy our stuff,” cried nine-months pregnant Carmen Ayala, 22. City workers ultimately retrieved some belongings.

The building had been slated for rehabilitation as an SRO by the Cooper Square Committee under a 1992 agreement with the city. However, rival neighborhood groups and the Giuliani administration have pushed for more market-rate housing in the area. In 1995, the city withdrew $10.5 million slated for development of mixed-income housing one block south. Housing officials later said that site may instead be used for luxury housing, according to Cooper Square Committee organizer Christian Valerio.

Valerio said that now, luxury developers across the street could benefit from the removal of the SRO. “It was an opportunity to get 28 poor families out,” she said.

“I don’t know what the future plans are for the site,” said Cassandra Vernon of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

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