April 21, 2017 By Christian Murray
A group of about 75 people gathered at Bliss Plaza in Sunnyside last night to rally against the gentrification of Queens, specifically targeting three major proposals put forward by the mayor that would affect the livability of Astoria, Long Island City and Sunnyside.
The rally, although organized by the Queens Anti Gentrification Project, brought protestors from all over New York City. The protesters represented an array of anti-development groups including Queens Is Not for Sale, Queens Neighborhoods United, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, NYC Against Trump, Greater Astoria Historical Society and Take Back the Bronx.
The protesters came out to express their opposition to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s massive Sunnyside Yards proposal that would bring more than 20,000 units to the area; the mayor’s plan to bring the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar that would run through Astoria and Long Island City; as well as the administration’s plan to up zone the Queens Plaza/Court Square section of Long Island City to incentivize developers to build office buildings and affordable housing.
The leaders of the protest claimed these projects would result in the massive displacement of residents and result in the continued gentrification of Queens.
Dee Raymond, a Woodside resident who led the protest and was the main speaker, told the audience that the City is working with giant real estate companies at the expense of the working class.
“In New York, we see giant real estate companies driving City policy while the people are disregarded by sell-out politicians like Bill de Blasio who tells us lies about their appreciation for diversity and inclusion and their new-found love for immigrants in the age of Trump.”
Raymond claimed that gentrification is the result of institutionalized racism.
“We see white-supremacist City Planning policies that protect the richest neighborhoods while specifically targeting working class communities of color for luxury real estate in what can only be accurately described as ethnic cleansing,” Raymond said.
Raymond claimed the NYPD and Department of Homeland Security also played a role in this through broken windows policing, massive gang raids and deportations.
There was a large police presence at the event with at least 10 officers on hand.
Sunnyside resident Grace Chung, the other main speaker, took on more of a sober tone when she spoke, focusing on the three proposals.
“We are here today because there are three developments that threaten our community,” she said. She argued that the Sunnyside Yards proposal and the LIC rezoning plan would lead to increased rents in surrounding areas and would put further pressure on an already-stretched infrastructure.
She said that residents would get little in return.
“The affordable housing the city proposes is minimal and won’t make up for the displacement of remaining small businesses and artist studios,” Chung claimed, referring to the proposals.
She said the BQX trolley, which would traverse the waterfront communities of western Queens, is not the answer to this region’s transit problems. She said an express bus system would be just as effective without causing gentrification.
“All three proposals are supported by the current administration, by the mayor and big real estate. These are powerful forces in New York City but they are not as powerful as us—neighbors, families, small businesses, factory workers and working people of color who care deeply about our community.”
The protesters called on Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer to state his opposition to the three proposals, arguing that they need his help to nix the projects.
There were signs at the rally saying, “Say No JVB,” which the protesters later chanted.
Raymond then led the group of protestors along Queens Boulevard to Van Bramer’s 47-01 Queens Blvd office. He then led the group through the streets of Sunnyside.
The group finished their protest outside Van Bramer’s Sunnyside Gardens home.
Raymond said after the rally that the protesters went to Van Bramer’s house to make their demands known. “We want to put pressure on him. It’s very clear that everyone doesn’t want these proposals.”
Van Bramer was neither at home nor his office at the time of the protest. He was in Florida attending the funeral of his father-in-law.
The councilman, in a statement, said he had offered to meet with the leaders of the protest prior to the event but they did not take him up on his offer.
Van Bramer said that he shares many of the protesters’ concerns about the proposals and agreed that gentrification is a threat. Nevertheless, he did not expressly say whether or not he opposed the plans.
Van Bramer said that the proposals are a long way off from being enacted and noted that he has stood up to City Hall in the past concerning development and is a proud progressive. He said he opposed the Phipps Houses’ 220-unit project on Barnett Avenue that was squashed and has a track record for supporting a rent freeze.
He thanked the protesters for making their stance known early and said: “I look forward to sitting down and talking about our shared goals in the near future.”