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CM Van Bramer: What’s the Rush? If We Want Safe, Dignified and Truly Affordable Housing, We Need to Get This Right!

Barnett Ave. rezoning site (Google Maps)

March 10, 2021 Op-Ed By Emily Sharpe

I would like to address two errors contained in Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer’s op-ed explaining why he has decided to approve Phipps’ Barnett Avenue rezoning application.

First, Councilmember Van Bramer stated: “all of this housing is for people who are at, near or below minimum wage earners.” That is simply not true.

Upon completion of the development in 2023, Phipps will disallow people earning under $32,300 for a family of one. This number is based on current trends of AMI in NYC.

Do you know who earns a bit over $32,000? Not people “at, near or below” minimum wage – Phipps would need to dip to $31,200 for that. $31,200 is what a $15/hour minimum wage worker makes for a 40-hour workweek, 52 weeks a year.

Even if the AMI doesn’t increase, minimum wage workers would not qualify for this housing today since the minimum income required for a family of one is $31,840.

Emily Sharpe (Courtesy of Emily Sharpe)

A major concern regarding this income requirement should be that it will have the effect of excluding people of color who are “far more likely to be paid poverty-level wages than white workers,” according to the Economic Policy Institute’s study marking the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign.

It will also exclude single adult men and women who I believe would want to live there. Men and women who don’t benefit much from social programs or receive extra housing subsidies because they don’t have children – a requirement for a program like CityFEPS.

Will we be housing formerly incarcerated people? A young black man who was the target of racist policing, went to jail for having marijuana in his pocket, and now has difficulty finding even a minimum wage job?

Second, Councilmember Van Bramer stated: “Phipps can and must do better by its tenants, but claiming they are slumlords doesn’t bear out.”

Again, that is simply not true. It does bear out. And it’s not just me or tenants in Phipps’ current building in Sunnyside “claiming” Phipps Houses Group is a slumlord – it’s based on HPD records, Marshals evictions data, and other sources compiled by a group known as “The Right to Counsel NYC Coalition”.

This coalition includes over 25 well-respected organizations such as AARP, Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders, Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, DC37, Coalition for the Homeless and many more.

When it comes to landlords in NYC, forgive me if I believe the tenants with the data. Their data shows that Adam Weinstein, CEO of Phipps, was NYC’s 11th Worst Evictor in 2019. Currently, Phipps is demolishing Lambert Houses in the Bronx – an 800-unit complex of truly affordable housing less than 50 years old. In its place will be taller towers where tenants are said to be moving, but evictions have already begun – 42 since 2017 (the plan was approved at the end of 2016).

Additionally, based on data, Phipps appears to engage in what is known as “constructive eviction”. Constructive eviction is making living conditions so miserable that, tenants who can, finally give up and move out.

Since 2017, there have been 860 HPD violations at Lambert Houses. In Sunnyside, photos have circulated showing crumbling ceilings, mold-covered walls and broken windows reminiscent of abandoned buildings.

Thankfully, the DOB is acknowledging excessive violations in residential units and passed regulations that will prevent landlords from obtaining new permits until the violations are resolved and the conditions are corrected.

Unfortunately, the onus is still on the tenants, who many times fear retribution for reporting problems. As a tenant, I know I do. So, there is work to be done to push those regulations to be more stringent, but the point is that we are moving in a new direction.

In fact, two days ago, I completed a city council candidate questionnaire from another venerable housing rights group asking how I would pressure landlords to make repairs and stop harassing tenants. It also asked if I “would bar landlords on the Right to Counsel’s ‘worst evictors list,’ from bringing eviction cases while under investigation, and implement good cause evictions protections?” I said, “Yes!”.

In his op-ed, Councilmember Van Bramer also said, “[T]ruth has to matter again in government.” With that sentiment, I do agree. But I expect leaders to do more. I expect them to protect the vulnerable and focus on passing and enforcing legislation, like the DOB’s, that places tenants above landlords. That is what I believe all leaders should do.

Emily Sharpe is a 23-year Sunnyside resident, public interest attorney and founder of Stop Sunnyside Yards. Sharpe is also a candidate for city council in District 26.

email the author: [email protected]

36 Comments

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Loretta

Some of us “non minorities” grew up in low/middle income homes and then worked three jobs to get through college (and paid our student loans on our own with no handouts). We then got jobs and got on the 7 train and worked our tails off to afford to buy property and raise families and pay taxes in Woodside which used to be a safe and livable community for families. Now, the neighborhood is going to crap because it’s overrun with illegal immigrants who don’t pay taxes and people who want to bring in more low income housing.

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Polis

Bravo. Our present Council member appears to be reversing his position on the way out the door. The point about rents is more than a sticking point Light and air and a walkable city are the main losses that will occur. As well, flimsy parking guarantees, are not promises that will be kept.
Time and again, promoters of New York City development change the plans they file in the buildings department. Queens West waterfront went from hi-rise inter mixed with low rise buildings, as conceived and vaunted (at Grand Central, with building models of an interesting mix.) Sure. One ten story building, a condo, amidst huge, expensive rentals, and the original Renzo Piano hi-rise.
Where did the plans go? The garbage can of promises broken by developers.

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Concerned Citizen

This is why middle village is lucky to have an amazing councilman like Bob Holden…he would NEVER let this project see the light of day….That’s why middle village is literally one of the best places to live….the people there reject low income housing and crime.

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Emily do you stand with this person?

Emily, I hope you realize that your NIMBY crusade against this project is fully backed by fringe elements of the community like this Rosedale-style Robert Holden follower. Disavow this, please. Such ignorance should not go unchallenged, much less tacitly supported! Be the leader you say you are!

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Concerned Citizen

I don’t know what state of delusion you live in where protecting your community makes me “fringe-element.” I think you have no notion of what the real world is like and you have this fantasy utopia in your head where we all get along…let me break it to you….it does not exist and it never will. Violence is tied to the low income population and it always will be. It’s a part of life and it is no ones job to try to save the world.

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How do you plan on "defending" the neighborhood?

Are you going to picket the low income families as they move in? Will you form a “neighborhood watch” to keep tabs on the comings and goings of Barnett Avenue residents from the safety of your SUV? Will you protest allowing low income children to attend area public schools? Or will you stay publicly quiet and express your fringe views online as you’ve always done? Just want to get an idea of the threat you pose.

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Concerned Citizen

Yes the same “children” who were knocking out strangers at random or roaming in packs of 5 or 6 and robbing our law abiding citizens at knife point on Greenpoint Ave or 20 of them ganging up one one person and taking their sneakers, phone, and wallet… but I’m the threat….you don’t gotta worry about me in any SUV. I have a full time job and several side hustles to be doing all of that nonsense you described.

The only watch I am going to be doing is teaching my family to have 360 awareness, using distractions to escape a situation when they’re about to get jumped, and teaching them self defense + fitness so they can escape dangerous individuals in the neighborhood.

I already grew up and escaped a gang infested neighborhood where bloods/crips/latin kings would have shootouts every night and torch cars at will. I can survive and do it again. Lets hope other sunnysiders are ready to do the same. People like you asked to bring this to the neighborhood.

There goes the neighborhood

The whole city is screwed. Watching NY1 and the mayoral candidates speak about homelessness and affordable housing, it seems they all want to shove low income people and the homeless in every community, Park Ave of Manhattan included. It’s not racist for any of us to not want to live with ghetto people. It’s our right! Our success wasn’t given. We all worked hard to have enough money to live in a quiet safe neighborhood. We don’t commit crimes, we went to school, we sacrificed for our kids because we don’t want them to become the street trash that have no respect for anyone including themselves. And we will be forced to have these people as our neighbors?

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Jeremy

People can’t wait for housing, we need more housing in Sunnyside now, especially affordable housing. Anti-housing activists like the author have not presented nearly enough good reasons to block this housing. Blocking this housing would deprive future tenants of these very beneficial opportunities and would increase the rent for existing tenants as well as there would be more competition for existing units.

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Nobody owes you a home you can’t afford

Jeremy – Then these people you speak of need to move to places they can afford like Jamaica, Richmond Hill or Corona.

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Concerned Citizen

You can get a one bedroom in East NY, South Ozone Park, Crown Heights etc. for less than 1000….if you can’t afford a good neighborhood. MOVE OUT. We do not need a single more unit in this neighborhood.

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Concerned Citizen

Literally go anywhere else…Sunnyside is full. Can’t afford it, move out…simple.

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Luz

These are the topics that must be widely debated with all the people of interest, before making a final decision. Public interest must prevail, but Adam Weinstein does not think on public, but private interest, like many urban and housing developers!

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Sunnysider - south side

This is idiotic. We are in a housing crisis. The NIMBY craziness needs to end.

A two bedroom apartment will be rented out for between $800-$1800, depending on income. Good luck finding that anywhere in the area.

This NIMBYism is thinly veiled attempts to keep out the other of lily white sunnyside gardens. It’s nice that she hides behind a social justice veil, but the ugliness comes through pretty easily when you see what the ramifications of the suggestions would be.

Hard pass.

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Concerned Citizen

You lost all credibility when you used the SJW go to NIMBY acronym to describe people protecting their neighborhood….here is a challenge for you…Go take a stroll through Queensbridge houses between 10pm and 5am…lets see how you do because that is the future of sunnyside if we let them put phipps housing projects here. Protect Sunnyside!!

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NIMBYs riding shotgun w the left

This is the MO of a lot of these NIMBYs, many of whom are home owners living in very white and statistically wealthier blocks of the area (it’s easy to see the stark contrast if you take a look at a census map that shows income averages block by block.) Seeing these people bemoan the impending ‘gentrification’ of white, income-secure areas is political dishonesty at its worst. At least the commenters who want to refer to low income tenants as trash and to lionize people like Bob Holden are straight forward about their motivations.

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Concerned Citizen

I love that you assumed homeowners in the area are automatically white. I’m a proud POC half Cuban half Colombian born in a different country….we came here with nothing but dreams…became highly educated and made something of ourselves..started accumulating wealth, property, and other assets without the help of ANYONE but I guess that derails the oppression narrative…so yes I am allowed to be offended that my family worked hard to come to a good neighborhood only to see it systematically undone.

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LIC Direct

Let’s call him out each and every time, Good Job!. Jimmy Says you can’t deny the poor a home, but that is what he has done repeatedly his entire career – deny them decent housing, by being in the pockets of RE developers throughout the largest building boom in LIC and Western Queens during his tenure on the city council!!! And remember he’s running for Queens Borough President so there you go — he wants your votes — don’t be fooled. He’s responsible for the Amazon fiasco – he could have taken the side of good paying jobs when Amazon wanted to come to LIC, he screwed LaGuardia Community College who would have benefited from Amazon coming to the area, the thousands of immigrants students that attend classes could have aspired for those jobs in tech and other services . Jobs, yes the jobs, from construction to other services and collaboration with LaGuardia CC that could have helped lift thousands out of poverty in our community. Former Head of LaGuardia CC does not support JVB in the least. He’s persona non-grata to many in all circles in this community. The residents/tenants in the Projects can’t stand him, he’s abandoned them and does not represent them. He stabbed Brown, Black, Latino’s in the back in this community by turning his back on us when he opposed Amazon and this same Affordable Housing project several years ago as he did not want Phipps to build in his backyard. A so called man of the people — worried about the less fortunate — remember he’s running for another public office all of a sudden he’s for the Phipps Project, not because it matters, but because he wants you to believe he’s honest and that he cares. Just look at his record, how many jobs has he created and how many affordable housing units have been built in the district during his tenure? Not many, but I have seen many multi-million $$$ dollar apartments Condo’s everywhere. JVB is such a phony,
a true cynic and looks down on us as his minions, the stupid constituents.

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LIC Direct is hiding

LIC Direct – You remain anonymous because you can’t support your position.

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souther

Thank you for this! Seems like VB is just trying to get another development under his belt for some future candidacy.

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Concerned Citizen

okay how about this argument….Sunnyside is full. Go somewhere else. We don’t need more housing. Tons of space in south ozone park, east NY, jamaica Queens, hillside….

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Mac

If you can’t afford to live in an area then you need to move to an area you can afford. I grew up here in Sunnyside in the 60’s and 70’s and the vast majority of the people I grew up with and relatives who came from the area, faced these very same challenges. The majority of these people were well educated hard working law abiding individuals who were assets to a community. They moved to areas that met their personal needs and financial reality. Most of them didn’t want to leave. They never demanded government subsidize their housing needs as the entitled and arrogant supporters of projects like this project do. It wasn’t the end of the world when these people ended up moving. As a matter of fact many have returned now that their children have grown, just check out the Celtics and Berkley Towers. Look at the crime in the NYCHA developments and the old Mets now the Cosmopolitans. We do not need this development. Maybe Jimmy and Emily should make better use if their time and tax payer money diversifying NYCHA.

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Joe

I have worked very hard over many many years to finally be able to move to a nice apartment in Sunnyside. For years, I lived in the neighborhood, but in a very tiny studio, that’s all I could afford.
So what’s the deal with this ridiculous “progressive” affordable housing thing? In my opinion, you live where you can afford to live, work hard and then move to a different place you like better, if you can afford it.

So this whole debate between whether this horrendous, out of scale project is or is not affordable for minimum wage earners is pointless. Work hard and aim for what you want and can afford, it brings more satisfaction.

the arguments of this lady are in the end very similar to JVB, same “progressive” mentality of “helping” people (for their own interest, of course) instead of promoting hard work, t

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ABoondy

“housing for people who are at, near or below minimum wage earners” that pretty much limits you to sharing a unit with one or more people, living in the projects, or living on the street in a box. no way are any apartments for that level of income. i dont think it ever will be. building owners want to attract decent income earners, or else there wont be any profit margin. take into account the initial capital required for permits, construction, architects, specialized and general contractors, inspections, then add utilities that you need to provide tenants like heat and water and sewer and common area electricity, maintenance costs for repairs and salary and lots of real estate TAXES, and for a superintendent and an accountant to process rent rolls, pay vendors, and create financial statements. is it going to be feasible to offer someone making minimum wage a sub $1000 apartment? the building would probably go into bankruptcy in the first year of operations. i did not take into account any subsidies, because i dont think it would be that much, but i could be wrong. dont forget, developers and their investors are the exact opposite of charitable. on top of everything, expect a ton of city inspectors to drop by unannounced and give you more violations than you can afford.

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Now

Agree regarding Phipps’ records with HPD and the constructive eviction piece. JVB needs to wake up.

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Besides votes...what do you want, then?

Thank you for that, Ms. Sharpe. After reading, however, I am left wholly unsatisfied on a few very important things that will decide on whether or not I will vote for you. Please carefully answer the following so we can be more clear on where you actually stand on this project, and not just where you differ with Van Bramer’s stance.

1. By picking the one category for whom minimum wage would not suffice (before a small raise would qualify them), would you say you are letting perfect be the enemy of good?

2. Is the deep affordability of this project for families of 2 and above making at, near, or even well below the poverty level something to be commended about this project? (I’m going to give a strong hint here- this is truly unprecedented affordability.)

3. Would not building this project deprive families of colour of a chance to live in our neighbourhood?

4. Are you advocating for the improvement of this development in order for it to be built even more inclusively? Or

5. Are you concern trolling in order to stall, delay, or otherwise prevent any housing from being built on the site?

6. Given the unprecedented affordability of the project, your first point rings hollow and your second belies your actual intent. So please clarify whether you are trying to win votes by coming out against the project, or are actually seeking to “get this right” for our community to welcome low income residents with open arms on this site.

Thank you. We all look forward to your responses!

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Flushing

You sound like you’d rather resort to ad hominem attacks rather than examine what policies this candidate is actually for and how to truly address housing security for lower-income residents at risk of displacement.

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Sick of the entitled and arrogant

I’m sick of arrogant and the entitled. If you can’t afford the neighborhood then move to one you can afford. Nobody, the government or society, owes you anything. Grow up. If you can’t afford to live here, move to a place you can afford.

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nom de plum

Thank you so much for your cogent, brilliant comment!!!
Your information brings a whole new perspective to this complex issue

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