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Op-Ed: Innovation Shouldn’t Mean Gentrification

Rally at City Hall regarding Innovation QNS project (Photo by: Marc Safman)

Nov 15, 2022 Op-Ed

What does it mean when 91% of the new housing in your community is unaffordable to lower income communities that live there and throughout our City?

What does it mean when billionaire developers neglect to do meaningful outreach to immigrant groups, the disabled, and working class people that will be most impacted by a massive rezoning they have planned?

What does it mean when those very same developers and their supporters call your community decrepit, dangerous, and a bunch of parking lots?

It means erasure. It means displacement. It means Innovation QNS.

But there is nothing innovative about Innovation QNS, a $2 billion 5-block mostly luxury development being proposed in Astoria by Silverstein Properties, Kaufman (really Square One Capital and Heckman Capital), and BedRock Real Estate Partners. Glitzy PR and paid ads can’t hide the widespread community opposition to this project, resulting in 565 people testifying against vs. 83 people in support at the City Council’s Zoning Subcommittee.

Here’s why:

When you build a majority luxury, instead of a majority of deeply affordable housing in a mostly BIPOC, low income area, you are drastically changing the demographics for who gets to live in Astoria in one fell swoop.

Nearly half of the residents in Community Board One are rent burdened and over 47% of residents are low to very low income. In that part of Astoria, the poverty rate is even higher. The City’s own Equitable Development Data Explorer identifies this area as having an intermediate to high risk of displacement due to its vulnerable population and what is their solution? Encouraging billionaire developers to drastically alter the demographics of the community with some “affordable” housing thrown in to make it seem palatable.

A market-rate two bedroom in Innovation QNS would go for $5,000/mo or more, affordable only to families making nearly 3x the median income for the area or over $200,000/yr. A studio? Over $2,430.

Whether it’s 75% luxury currently certified by City Planning (or 60% luxury if they get public subsidies to build more “affordable” units), the imbalance accelerates gentrification and the displacement. In this case, it’s the Latinx community, over 6,000 Bengalis, and working class, disabled, and lower income people who have shown up in the hundreds to testify against Innovation QNS.

A 55% minimum of truly affordable units as demanded by Council Member Julie Won would help mitigate the damage from this proposal but the proliferation of new high-end housing across Western Queens necessitates even deeper levels of affordability.

Instead of taxing billionaires, BILLIONAIRES WANT TO TAX US. The developers are required by law to provide 25% MIH affordable, and a “deal” would give them subsidies to add another 15%.

We FULLY support our taxpayer dollars going to build social and deeply affordable housing, but gifting billionaire developers who aren’t even paying their fair share of taxes? Who cry poverty when asked to add more affordable units without subsidies and won’t build ONE additional unit without taxpayers footing the bill?

Silverstein Properties alone owns and operates a portfolio worth over $10 BILLION. It’s not only insulting, it’s indicative of the power, influence, and greed of big real estate.

This project would be taking critical subsidies away from other affordable projects since there was no increase in housing funding and that money would have to go towards this private project. If the developers were to get subsidies to build an additional 15%, what is the dollar amount? Where is it coming from?

Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul means taking critical funds for nonprofits, community land trusts, and mutual housing organizations that build supportive and social housing to pay billionaires so that they can keep their obscene profit margins.

This is just the start of more predatory rezonings that will destabilize the diversity of Astoria. The zoning the developers are requesting – which currently doesn’t exist in Astoria – is R9. By rezoning to R9 residential, not only will the value of their land skyrocket, it will set a precedent for subsequent rezonings, speculation, and displacement. Rent stabilized housing in the area is NOT safe and can be demolished with an application to build significantly higher than the rent stabilized that exists with astronomical rents.

Redeveloping this area doesn’t boil down to Innovation QNS or nothing. That binary is propaganda to push this development through and so is saying we are “anti-housing”. We’ve been on the ground dealing first hand with the housing crisis.

Astoria has increased its housing supply even as its population has declined but rents have not gone down. Even worse, there have been 17 rezonings since Mandatory Inclusionary housing law was passed in 2016 and not one of those units have been completed. Properties sit undeveloped for years. Many properties have been or soon will be flipped for enormous profit.

Our system is broken and people are hanging on for their lives. It’s time for comprehensive, community-led planning that centers the needs of the most vulnerable and ends speculation which exacerbates displacement. Innovation QNS is a rezoning on harmful steroids. We stand united in demanding more for our community.

Signed,

CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities

Astoria Not for Sale

Astoria Welfare Society

Hope Justice

Justice for All Coalition

NY Muslim Organizing Collective

Malikah

Woodside on the Move

Western Queens Community Land Trust

 

email the author: [email protected]

33 Comments

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Gardens Watcher

Flushing is going to be home to a brand new soccer stadium, adjacent housing and (my guess) a casino. This will be a big deal for Queens.

My guess is that Innovation QNS is also going to be a positive thing for our area.

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Coach and jimmy

How come some implants from Minnesota get an apartment and I don’t. Better yet why is it a lottery? Ny born should go first.

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Grace

I don’t mind more affordable housing as long as the units are pet friendly and offer doggie daycares.

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Xavi

No one should rent those expensive rentals so those properties can crumble to its knees . It’s disgusting. If the city can house asylum immigrants and homeless for 3000 a month at luxury hotels then they should only approve real affordable properties and just house the working class, poor and homeless there to save money.

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Asma

As a Queens resident these developers do not give a f**** about us. The last thing this city and borough needs is more luxury apartments, we need housing people can actually afford. Look at all the useless towers in Lic, it’s an absolute waste of space. My rent just went up..we need to stop landlords and developers from kicking us out! Make it harder for them to raise rent.

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Gonzales

Nice cheap rent prices, but how to get it? I gave up applying; couple of times they scheduled me, they wanted so much paperwork & documentations, I can’t possibly get all of it. What wrong with just proof of income?!

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Zain

I lived in Astoria for 10 years. Soooo many new condo and new buildings have been EVERYWHERE and I can tell you, they are NOT affordable by your average, working class person. It’s disgusting. Because Astoria is so close to Manhattan, it’s become yet another crazy high rent, desirable place, thus pushing out working class people. People deserve housing that they can afford.

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Katelyn

Thank you for assisting the poor and homeless. What about home owners threatened with foreclosure..

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Helen

We are barreling towards an economic apocalypse. When it all falls apart the 1930’s are going to look like a walk in the park!

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Sean

Smart landlords and developers know to stay away from property-destroying complaining tenants. Stopping this development won’t change that.

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Kim

I think housing needs to be implemented differently. Instead providing the poorest with the ability to afford housing for the middle class, everyone needs a step up. The poor gets enough to live in middle class housing!!

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Wrong kind of innovation for Queens

But it’s NOT gentrification. Overuse of the term and the general woke-washing by typical area NIMBYs are all too transparent here. I’m against this but can’t get behind any of what is written here. Divided opposition will fall, and its a shame because this development shouldn’t happen and this is all but making sure it will.

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Kevin

Astoria is surrounded by housing projects – Astoria houses, Ravenswood projects, woodside projects and the largest public housing complex in USA – Queensbridge houses is withing walking distance from Astoria…

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Anon

The projects mentioned above are absolute tributes to the very best that affordable housing offers neighborhoods. Why would anyone oppose affordable housing in their neighborhood? I don’t get it.

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Nar

That’s where the old studio square was. It could use a facelift. That’s not a “predominantly BIPOC” area either. The whole buffer zone over there by Northern Blvd is actually a good place to develop compared to the rest of Astoria. Also, I’d like to note that that area isn’t even technically Astoria.

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Waaa waaa waaaaa

“Give us money and free housing so we can distrubute it among our supporters in exchange for votes.” Signed… Your friendly neighborhood progressives

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Some people have a child’s view of everything

Was- A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking an elected office in government. Politicians propose, support, reject and create laws that govern the land and by extension its people. Broadly speaking, a politician can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in a government.

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The free press

This article is full of misinformation that needs to be validated. either the author is ill informed or purposely fabricating lies. either way, from someone who has attended the meetings and sees the positive side of the project then i think its only fair that the developers tell their side of the story. if you are in favor vote yes and I will challenge the SSP to be fair and balanced in their publication and give the latitude for a rebuttal

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LIC Dieect

There is no way a working class family can afford these rents unless your an investment banker or attorney at a top law firm, but then why would they want to raise a family in Astoria? the schools suck in the area, underperforming so if you can pay over $5K a month why won’t you move to Westchester county to school district which children actually learn, your not worried for the safety of your kids and pristine neighborhoods?

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Jessica

Families still move in and when their child reaches school age they either move, send their to child to private school, home school or put them in local school so parents say they are gifted and pay for tutors.

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Robinette Obiden

you complain of the housing crisis, yet you accept millions of illegals into an already packed city. you complain of gentrification, but ignore all the violent crime in the area. hypocrite much? you will never stop change with nonsense words like predatory rezoning and destabilize diversity. you expect people to fall for that? we’ve seen the heavy damage your diversity agenda has done to this city already. nothing but increasing violent crimes and you intentionally ignore all laws made to protect the public.

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LIC Dieect

There is no way a working class family can afford these rents unless your an investment banker or attorney at a top law firm, but then why would they want to raise a family in Astoria? the schools suck in the area, underperforming so if you can pay over $5K a month why won’t you move to Westchester county to school district which children actually learn, your not worried for the safety of your kids and pristine neighborhoods?

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Republicans Believe in Myths Fairytales Invisible Gods and conspiracy theories

Market rate and luxury housing only. Look at what Astoria Houses, Woodside Houses, Ravenswood and Queensbridge have done to the neighborhoods around them. If you can’t afford to live there, move to a place you can afford. The government does not owe anyone affordable housing and the government has made a disaster of NYCHA. The older housing becomes more affordable when new housing is built. People who move into these lottery housing later complain about not being able to afford to shop for groceries, eat at restaurants or shop the retail shops in the area. It’s a complete waste of time, money and resources. Move to an area you can afford.

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Wolves in sheep's clothing

NYC is run by democrats, the party of the working class supposedly. How was this situation allowed to manifest under their watch? Could it be that they they are full of baloney when they claim to be champions of the poor and disenfranchised?

Stop voting for these socialist frauds.

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Republicans Believe in myths fairytales invisible gods and conspiracy theories

I’m sick of seeing this no idea mud slinging obsessive Republican operative posting comments. If you live Republicans so much move to Texas, Alabama or Oklahoma or one of the other Republican impoverished strongholds.

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Paranoia is treatable

I’m a republican “operative” now? I guess that sounds more dramatic and sinister than just some local resident with an opinion that differs from yours.

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Shayna Richards

I delighted to see someone other than a strong proponent inCB2making this argument. The injustice wreaked upon at the very least Westerrn Queens is a crime against humanity. People with deep roots in Queens are being squeezed and their voices throttled by the political/real estate monster because they value their money far above the human lives they are destroying. Homelessness is rampant in part because of this.

At first I thought maybe the Sunnyside Post itself had written this editorial, but no. They make too much money from real estate ads. And they uncritically tout every new development that wipes out the readership that supported them when they were just a one-site reporter. You know what they say about the love of money, it’s the root of all evil.

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