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Queens Community Groups Hold Rally Demanding a Stop to ‘Racist Luxury Rezonings’

Seonae Byeon, Lead Housing Organizer at the MinKwon Center, addresses residents from across NYC in front of City Hall Wednesday as part of a new citywide campaign against luxury rezoning. (Seonae Byeon/MinKwon Center)

Dec. 17, 2020 By Allie Griffin

A coalition of community-based groups from across the city held a rally at City Hall Wednesday demanding that the de Blasio administration block all rezonings that would bring luxury apartment buildings.

The organizations called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to end all future rezonings that permit luxury rental and condo buildings. The groups call these rezonings “racist and exclusionary,” saying that they lead to rent increases that price out existing residents– many of whom are immigrants or minorities.

The rally was spearheaded by MinKwon Center of Community Action, a Flushing-based group opposed to the controversial Flushing rezoning project that was approved by the City Council last week. The rally also included groups from Sunnyside and Astoria.

At the rally Wednesday, coalition leaders unveiled a list of demands related to rezonings in a document titled “Community Declaration on the Future of New York.” The document has been signed by more than 60 community groups.

The declaration demands elected officials to stop all future rezonings that would bring high-end housing; reinvent the land-use process so it is led by the community as opposed to developers; and end the use of virtual meetings as a substitute for public hearings.

The groups also said the city must end the practice of allowing luxury developers to construct larger buildings, or upzone, in exchange for so-called  ‘affordable’ housing.” They also said that lawmakers must stop developers from converting manufacturing space into “gentrified housing.”

Seonae Byeon, lead housing organizer at the MinKwon Center, said the declaration was prompted by the city’s decision to approve the 13-tower Flushing rezoning project.

The city council’s approval last week paves the way for developers to create a Special Flushing Waterfront District with 1,725 apartments, 879 hotel rooms, office and retail space, as well as a brand new road network and a publicly accessible waterfront promenade.

“The Flushing community has been bearing the burden of this environmental racism and is suffering from displacement due to this predatory development,” Byeon said. “Enough is enough.”

She said that MinKwon’s opposition to the Flushing rezoning is similar to the opposition of residents across the city to incoming developments in their respective neighborhoods.

“These luxury developments throughout the city have been nothing but a giveaway to the developers. Developers are granted special permits, tax benefits, and deregulation at the expense of the community…,” Byeon said.

Two other Queens groups joined MinKwon Center at the rally Wednesday to oppose rezoning applications within their own neighborhoods.

Emily Sharpe of Stop Sunnyside Yards spoke against a rezoning application put forward by Phipps Houses, a developer that seeks to construct a seven-story, 167-unit building at 50-25 Barnett Ave. in Sunnyside. All the units in the complex would be income-restricted.

“The Sunnyside community is fighting against a spot rezoning that will reward one of NYC’s worst landlords for evicting tenants — Adam Weinstein of Phipps Houses Group,” Sharpe said.

“The 100% ‘affordable’ units provided will not go to anyone earning under $48,000 even though they claim 25 units will go to formerly homeless people,” Sharpe, a candidate for city council, said.

The Phipps Houses application, however, was approved by Queens Community Board 2 on Dec. 3 by a vote of 28 to 12. The project is currently being reviewed by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

Yadira Dumet of the Astoria Tenants Union denounced another Queens rezoning proposal, Innovation QNS — a project that calls for the rezoning of five city blocks on the border of Long Island City and Astoria.

The plan–which is being put together by Larry Silverstein, Kaufman Astoria Studios, and BedRock Real Estate–calls for more than a dozen buildings that would include 2,700 apartments, a school, as well as retail and office space.

“Innovation QNS…will flood one of the few remaining pockets of truly affordable housing in Astoria,” Dumet said. “They will receive enormous tax breaks, make huge profits, and displace the working class and lower income residents who actually built the community.”

The developers, however, argue that the project would bring many benefits to the community. They say that 700 of the 2,700 units would be “affordable” to people who earn up to 60 percent of the median income level.

Additionally, they say it would create 5,400 jobs–consisting of 3,700 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent jobs–and would lead to the creation of 2 1/4 acres of public open space.

The project has yet to undergo the public review process, which is required for a rezoning.

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23 Comments

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Yi Da Li

Why is development bad and why is development racist? And I heard that math and science are racist too. And why is rich a bad thing? I need a Baizuo (a white liberal) to explain the logic to me.

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Asian voice

Im sorry, but I cant really take an Asian ladywith

Sorry, but I can’t really take an Asian lady with a sign that says ‘racist’ on it seriously. Asians are really being discriminated against right now via not being included in the reverse discrimination agendas right now…

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Selfish

This outrage is fueled by primarily white, privileged, resource-hoarding home owners. Do your homework and understand that what they’re really worried about is their property values and an influx of brown kids into their children’s schools. Home owning political candidates making $300k+ a year, wealthy white owners of $1M+ homes in sunnyside gardens historic district, elected officials with count-em 3 houses, have zero credibility on local development issues, especially when the percentage of proposed below-AMI units is greater than the immediate surrounding population of lower income families. The fact that they are also rallying to “protect” Soho from any affordable housing at all is so very telling. They love taking selfies while they drop off expired food and torn second hand clothing at the projects, then scream opposition to any housing alternatives that would actually move some of the beneficiaries a little closer to their own backyards. But don’t worry, more and more people are catching on to the charade.

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ABoondy

agreed. so anyone that worked hard in their life and struggled and EARNED their way to wealth are racist? they should sue these groups for defamation and fraudulent accusations.

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Why does the Radical Right want everything to be PC?

What did they say that was racist enough to offend you?

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Dave

Racist? That word has been devalued so much this year .I hope they realize the race of those that will move into the Flushing luxury building.

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Thirumwamalalana M.

Sunnyside post, what’s the point of giving fringe and marginal groups a voice? It’s pretty clear that that no one supports the people like these, yet you’re still printing? Click-baiting much?

Regarding racist rezoning. City is full of older housing stock, so people with means search for new houses. Astoria, Flushing, Sunnyside – they’re all good places to live due to proximity to Manhattan and relative safety (for example, the Bronx doesn’t get developed at all, that’s because it’s perceived as dangerous). For developers, Queens neighborhoods are also attractive because of cheap land parcels that can be bought and converted to house well-off people.
The sole reason why, MinKwon Center, Flushing is populated with Asians and Sunnyside& Astoria is populated with Hispanics is because at some point long time ago, developers built up these neighborhoods to attract middle class people from manhattan, but for whatever reasons, middle class left for other places. That depressed housing prices making it truly affordable. Immigrants moved in, created their own unique flavor to the neighborhood, and middle class residents found these neighborhoods attractive again.

Flushing will become hot again, pricing out poorer residents, who will move to another, cheap neighboorhood, where they will create another unique flavor to the place, attracting more middle-class transplants.

Fighting the forces of supply and demand with a magical power of the word “racist!” is stupid. Yes, that word is great is making people scared and forcing the to do what you want. But economic forces, like weather, don’t care about your labels. It’s just there, and it will win despite your protests or name-calling.

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Royale with Cheese

What ISN’T racist these days?

The word has lost a lot of its potency from overuse.

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One doesn't belong

How is a 100% affordable building in a majority white Sunnyside Gardens a racist luxury rezoning? Or is the racism against those minorities who might occupy the units?

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Mac

When you can’t afford a place any longer you need to move to a place within your financial means. This is not a new issue related to life in NYC. Most of my friends I grew up with here in Sunnyside had to move out of the neighborhood to find housing more suitable to their needs, they did not ask for government help. Many moved back when they hit retirement, just check out Berkley Towers. Its is not the end of the world.

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So you're saying

You’d be okay with people who “can’t afford” what you in fact are paying for living right down the hall from you? People who can’t afford their living arrangements should find something they can afford. People like this usually come with a whole lot of drama and illegal activity! Good luck.

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Dave

The hypocrisy of calling someone privileged when you are a self-entitlted individual who expects everybody to lower their standards so you can fit in.

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ABoondy

only a racist would say that. also, all the trash cans are racist. why do they have to be the same color? where’s the diversity?

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Sunnyside Resident, Advocate, and Proponent

Thats how I ended up in Sunnyside, and I am white. I was priced-out of Brooklyn almost a decade ago.

How do we go about discussions now? Am I still on the correct team?

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