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.
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?”
Are we still having a conversation in 2022 on why Queens needs more deep affordability? 🤦🏽♂️ https://t.co/GNwwGfKzNz
— Donovan Richards Jr. (@DRichardsQNS) October 14, 2022
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.