Nov. 30, 2020 By Christian Murray
A non-profit real estate organization that seeks to build a 7-story affordable housing complex in Sunnyside has come under fire from two elected officials.
State Assembly Member Brian Barnwell and State Sen. Mike Gianaris have accused developer Phipps Houses of shoddy property management after the pair visited the organization’s Phipps Garden Apartments complex on 39th Avenue last week.
The non-profit developer is looking to rezone and build an affordable housing project at 50-25 Barnett Ave., across the street from the complex Barnwell and Gianaris visited Wednesday. The new development would include 167 units–all of which would be income restricted.
Barnwell, whose assembly district covers the Barnett Avenue site and the Phipps Garden Apartment complex., said he does not support the new development.
“I do NOT support the #Phipps Houses’ rezoning due to various reasons,” Barnwell tweeted. “We should not reward bad developers who continuously fail to maintain the current properties they already have with new property.”
I do NOT support the #Phipps Houses’ rezoning due to various reasons. We should not reward bad developers who continuously fail to maintain the current properties they already have with new property. They are also using an #AMI formula that doesn’t create true affordable housing.
— Brian Barnwell (@Barnwell30) November 27, 2020
Barnwell, in an interview, also said that the units should be offered to people who earn far less. He said that the Area Median Income–which is a regional figure– is much higher than the median income for local residents.
Phipps has been subject to fierce criticism in recent weeks over the way it manages its 39th Avenue complex. Many of its tenants at the 472-unit complex argue that the 80-year-old property has fallen into disrepair and Phipps should not be rewarded by getting to develop a new building.
At a public hearing on Nov. 18, Phipps was subject to a barrage of criticism over its management, with tenants citing rodent problems to drainage issues.
Nevertheless, many support the project. Its advocates say that the development would bring much-needed affordable housing to the area and the site is being underutilized as a parking lot.
The Land Use Committee for Community Board 2 voted in favor of the zoning change (8 to 1) last week. Phipps presented the committee with an improvement plan for the 39th Avenue complex prior to the vote.
The full board is scheduled to vote on Thursday.
Gianaris did not expressly say whether he opposed the project, but did pen a letter to Adam Weinstein, the president of Phipps Houses, criticizing the organization’s management.
Gianaris, in the letter, told Weinstein that he visited Phipps Garden Apartments last week and that the property was in poor condition.
“I witnessed vermin, bedbug, and roach infestations, water damage leading to mold, and residents forced to clean and maintain common spaces themselves. Their complaints are well founded, and the result is unacceptable,” Gianaris wrote.
He said that the tenants at Phipps Garden Apartments deserve much better.
“The fact that you are currently asking for approval to expand your development onto a neighboring parcel is troubling if we can expect this record to be repeated at the new location,” Gianaris wrote. “I ask you to do your job and ensure all your current and future tenants receive the quality housing they deserve.”
Barnwell and Gianaris voiced their concerns over the weekend around the same time that a petition against the development was launched by Emily Sharpe, an outspoken critic of the plan who is also a candidate for the 26th District council seat next year.
The petition has generated about 130 signatures and it calls on Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer to reject the plan should it go before the city council.
A new group, dubbed the Woodside Sunnyside Council, is also holding a rally on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to denounce the project at the Sunnyside Arch on 46th Street, according to organizer and long-time resident Patricia Dorfman.
The fate of the plan will ultimately be determined by Van Bramer, since the rezoning application must be approved by the city council.
While Community Board 2 and the Queens Borough President get to weigh in on the project, their feedback is merely advisory.
Van Bramer, who partook in the public hearing Nov. 18, said that he wants to listen to the community before making a decision.
He blocked Phipps in 2016 from developing the Barnett Avenue site, when it sought to develop a 10 story, 208 unit building.
Phipps did not respond for comment by press time.