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Councilmember Won Urges Colleagues to Reject Innovation QNS, Draws Criticism from Union Leaders and Borough President

Rendering of Innovation QNS on 35th Avenue (Courtesy of ODA New York). Photo of Councilmember Julie Won (Photo NYC Council)

Oct. 14, 2022 By Christian Murray

Councilmember Julie Won is urging her colleagues to reject the massive Innovation QNS project that would bring 2,800 units to five square blocks in Astoria.

Won, in an e-mail sent to her colleagues, argues that the project does not provide enough affordable housing despite the developers upping the number of affordable units to 40 percent of the project. The e-mail she sent to her fellow councilmembers was leaked to Politico.

The $2 billion proposal, which is dependent on a rezoning, is scheduled to go before the city council for a vote next month that will determine its fate.

The developers–Silverstein Properties, BedRock Real Estate Partners and Kaufman Astoria Studios—initially said they were going to set aside 25 percent of the units for affordable housing but boosted that number to 40 percent last month.

But Won said that 40 percent is not enough and noted that the extra 15 percent would be funded through taxpayer subsidies and not at the expense of the developers.

Won has been calling on the developers to set aside at least 50 percent of the units for affordable housing in order to win her vote.

Traditionally the city council votes in lockstep with the official where the development is proposed—known as council deference—although sources say many high-ranking officials want Innovation QNS to be built and that the council may break from this tradition.

The rendering presented to Community Board 1 (Screenshot)

Won, in the e-mail, urged her colleagues to rally behind her.

“Approving this rezoning with minimal affordability would result in displacement, rising rents, and amplify infrastructure challenges,” Won wrote, according to Politico. “It would also send a message to our communities that the Council will work around them and their representatives for the profit of large real estate interests.”

The Politico report led to some harsh criticism of Won from advocates of the project, such as 32BJ SEIU, the large union that represents building workers.

“Here are the facts,” the union tweeted. “The Innovation QNS project would create 1,100 affordable housing units, including 500 deeply affordable units. At the same time, it will provide family-sustaining jobs for working NYers.”

The union added: “Won faces a straightforward choice: seize an opportunity to address our city’s affordable housing crisis and support good-paying jobs or deploy bad-faith arguments to squander the chance. She’s chosen the latter, and her constituents deserve better.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who initially opposed the project but then became a supporter after the number of affordable units was lifted to 40 percent, also appeared to take a shot at Won.

He retweeted the 32BJ SEIU statement with the message: “Are we still having a conversation in 2022 on why Queens needs more deep affordability?”

Won released a statement in the wake of the Politico report that emphasized her concerns about the project and its likely displacement of existing working-class residents and people of color.

The development would go up in the vicinity of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue and would consist of 12 buildings that would range in height from eight to 27 stories. The proposal would also include two acres of green space.

“The project area is home to hundreds of immigrant families and is one of the few remaining corners of my district where housing is still relatively affordable–despite this, nearly half of the residents here are already rent-burdened,” she said.

“The developers now claim that they will provide 40 percent affordability, but the 15 percent increase would have to be funded entirely through taxpayer subsidies. As Council Member, I stand firm in demanding that Innovation QNS provide more affordable housing–40 percent funded by the developer, and if the City were to fund an additional 15 percent, it would mean a total of 55 percent affordable housing units.”

Won said that she has a duty to advocate on behalf of her constituents–and that they demand more affordable housing.

“I will not approve this project unless the developer provides more affordable units, bringing Innovation QNS to 55 percent affordability. I am committed to ensuring that my residents can afford to live in their own neighborhoods, and will always center my community’s needs above real estate interests.”

The developers issued a statement saying that Astoria would be better off if the project were to go forward.

“Rejecting Innovation QNS’s 1,100 affordable homes would severely worsen the gentrification and displacement that has been underway for years in Queens Community Board 1 — where just 102 deeply affordable homes and 475 affordable homes total have been added since 2014,” said a spokesperson for the developers.

The Council has until Nov. 21 to vote on the project.

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12 Comments

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skillmaniac on skillman

The Union should be fighting harder for that 50% affordable housing, that Won is fighting for, which is really a modest compromise. Yeah you fight hard for your workers, but this is a chance to fight hard for more affordable housing for the general workforce.

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Against This Project

Yes, housing is needed, but it should be truly affordable!! As long as AMIs determine eligibility housing will be out of reach for low income individuals. If I cannot afford to apply, what difference does a low rent make?
Also, the development is much too big for the neighborhood, overwhelming the infrastructure, transit system, etc.

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Sunnyside John

Another person who doesn’t understand supply and demand. Everyone who is currently comfortable in their house/condo opposes this but people who need affordable housing, need this ASAP

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Socialism most go.

Won has absolutely no idea how the system works she’s a clone of that other idiot aoc. Queens will seriously suffer from electing people who can’t balance their Own check book let alone make long term decisions for the well being of the borough and it’s residents. Roll on November and vote out these socialists or there will be nothing left only a wasteland

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Good For Won

Good for Council Member Won.
Affordable housing is sorely needed.
Also, this development does not fit the neighborhood.

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Keith

Good. Won is awesome and is doing what she believes in. Enough of these tacky pre-fab strip-mall communities. Developers reap huge profits off these bland monstrosities, and hire advertising goons to create gigantic marketing campaigns solely designed to sell everyday working people on the idea that “quality of life” means “getting to live above a Cold Stone Creamery” or “having the opportunity to overpay for your groceries & clothes.” Their idea of a “diverse” neighborhood is having a Sbarro, Taco Bell & Panda Express on the same block.

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Don't wreck Queens

InnovationQNS is a big ugly mess that is bad for Queens. Julie Won: Keep up the good work.

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DSA & REBNY working together?

Well this is going to get interesting real quick. Tiffany caban voted for a rezoning and to build large towers and now right next door julie won opposes a similar development. The DSA backed caban on the new mantra of build, build, build. Let’s see if they hold councilwoman won accountable.

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John Z

I think in this economy she should be happy money is spent in the district. JVB lost Amazon, maybe we can have some cash flow. How else are we paying for her daycare bill?

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