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Op-Ed by Councilmember Julie Won: Innovation QNS Can Afford to do Better

Councilmember Julie Won speaking before the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on Innovation QNS last month (Photo Credit: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

Nov. 10, 2022 Op-Ed By Councilmember Julie Won

I don’t need a crystal ball to see the future; my community has already witnessed firsthand the effects of gentrification, displacement, and luxury development.

In Long Island City, we’ve seen the development of more than 25,000 luxury, market-rate units, leading to a rent increase of more than 43 percent over the last decade, far outpacing the city as a whole.

Woodside, which has not seen the same luxury development, has had just a 7 percent rent increase within the same period, less than the city average.

Building more luxury than affordable apartments is precisely how developers and policy makers created our housing crisis. My community has had enough, and we demand a commitment to majority affordable development.

In October, the City Council’s Zoning Subcommittee held a marathon hearing lasting almost 7 hours to review the Innovation QNS proposal. The community was overwhelmingly critical, as 565 people opposed this project and 83 people supported the project.

This project as it currently stands would be a majority unaffordable luxury development in the heart of working-class Astoria. If this project were to move forward, market-rate apartments would be completely out of reach for my neighbors in the area, where the median rent is currently $1,686.

A market-rate two bedroom in Innovation QNS could cost $4,000 or more, affordable only to families making over $158,000/yr. That is more than double the local median income of the local area, and totally inaccessible to nearly all those who live there now.

The testimonies of my courageous neighbors before the Council reflect our neighborhood’s shared identity. Astoria has been the landing pad for immigrants, artists, and working class folks in our city for generations, including my family.

We found our start in Astoria when my uncle moved here from South Korea 40 years ago to work at a dry cleaners. As with countless immigrants before us, our neighbors welcomed us in to build a new life, alongside people from all over the world.

For decades, this community created Astoria’s uniquely diverse and vibrant culture, which evolves with each group of people who join us. Unfortunately, the Innovation QNS project seeks to monetize this very culture, while placing those who shaped it under immediate threat of displacement.

Since Innovation QNS arrived at the City Council this October, I have been in active negotiations with the developers, the Mayor’s team, and the City Council Land Use Division to fight for more affordability.

I have offered alternative solutions to reach the community’s ask of 55 percent affordable units: accept project based vouchers for those currently in our shelter system, repurpose office spaces and parking spaces into affordable housing units, leverage Article XI and 420-c tax incentives, and work with HPD to create permanently affordable apartments for extremely low-income residents.

As we await a final offer from the Innovation QNS team, I remain hopeful that the concerns of affordability from our community will not be ignored.

Allowing developers to build luxury market rate units without proper set-asides for affordability has and will raise rents throughout the city.

I believe that the solution to our affordable housing crisis is simple: build more affordable housing. As a City, we can no longer allow luxury development to outpace the construction of affordable housing.

Our community is asking for 55 percent affordability from the Innovation QNS project, because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t. I call on the Mayor, the Council Speaker, and my Council colleagues to join me in calling for greater affordability—because our city deserves better.

email the author: news@queenspost.com

10 Comments

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Sunnysider

In 2011 I tried to rent a 2 bedroom apartment around the block from here in a walk up. It was $2900 a month. To say that this project will create gentrification is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. She is lying because she thinks that her constituents are too stupid to know that building housing where there are currently either parking lots or empty warehouses will not displace people.

She has been dreadful this entire process. Vote her out.

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MRLIC

You tell them Julie do not let this mega development hapoen. Gentrification is on the way if it does. Just like LIC.

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HB

Correlation does not mean causation. The author must know this but makes a disingenuous argument with an unequal comparison. There’s been development in Long Island City because there were many underutilized spaces that were not residential, and because it’s desirable to live here. The development did not cause rents to go up for people who already lived in Long Island City. In fact, one can just look at Astoria instead of Woodside. Astoria had much less development than LIC but an even larger increase in rent prices. The proper way to deal with rising real estate costs is to build more, and rent stabilization so the developer can recoup costs but not price gouge later on.

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Anonymous

In re. to “My community has had enough, and we demand a commitment to majority affordable development” & “our community is asking for 55 percent affordability from the Innovation QNS project, because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t”, I don’t think Julie is speaking for her entire constituency. Many of us are working crazy hours, have families and can’t make in person events during the week, where Julie could hear our voice. It’s unfortunate and sad to feel like we’re not represented. I do think affordable housing is important but I would do not think that the luxury units are a bad thing. What I’ve seen happen in Long Island City living here for around 10-years is a beautiful neighborhood was created from nothing. Many people work hard, save their money, do the right thing and then don’t want a crazy commute to Manhattan – so they move here to enjoy the neighborhood, great views and great people. What has happened to Long Island City is NOT a bad thing and I think Julie needs to acknowledge that. She’s right and courageous to fight for more affordable housing. But nice / luxury housing in a beautiful neighborhood is not a bad thing. Fight for jobs, new careers, new businesses. That’s what people also want.

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Mr. Galikanokus

Ok, but wouldn’t the fact that LIC was a barren wasteland 10 years ago mean that rents were quite low to begin with? Sure the new luxury developments are going to have higher price tags that will drive up the average rent across the neighborhood, but what has happened to the prices of the existing non-luxury buildings? She doesn’t explicitly say whether their rents have exploded and are pricing out people. At best, her math needs some additional context.

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OAR

As some one who lives in a building that has been here prior to all the development. I can say that subsequent landlords destabilized more than half of the 20 apartments in my building by turning the big two bedrooms with a dining room into a 3 bedroom and doing “improvements” that destabilized the other apartments, therefor raising rents to prices that are not affordable for many. Now the newest owners are an investment firm that are buying up small buildings in neighborhood. They have taken buildings that were rent stabilized, managed to empty them, combined apartments or reconfigured them and then rent them for huge amounts of money. They are trying to empty my building by offering buyouts, however, they are encountering much pushback from the current tenants. As for your comment about LIC being a barren wasteland 10 years ago, it wasn’t. It was a mix of residential, artists studios, and industrial buildings with small businesses. There was a community here long before the high rises. We were just a well kept secret.

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Mr. Galikanokus

“In Long Island City, we’ve seen the development of more than 25,000 luxury, market-rate units, leading to a rent increase of more than 43 percent over the last decade, far outpacing the city as a whole.”

Ok, but wouldn’t the fact that LIC was a barren wasteland 10 years ago mean that rents were quite low to begin with? Sure the new luxury developments are going to have higher price tags that will drive up the average rent across the neighborhood, but what has happened to the prices of the existing non-luxury buildings? She doesn’t explicitly say whether their rents have exploded and are pricing out people. At best, her math needs some additional context.

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Mitchell Hauser

The facts used in this editorial are specious. For example, developments in the Hunters Point area may have led to average rents in the neighborhood being 43% higher. However, there is no connection that rents for pre-existing apartments have increased as a result. Is it possible that rents for pre-existing apartments may have been lower than otherwise as a result of the much higher supply.

Let’s be honest about this issue. Innovations QNS is being built on an area that is currently parking lots and warehouses. Increasing the supply of apartments in NYC is critical to keeping rents under control. Many of these apartments will be affordable. Also, Innovation QNS will be built far from any existing residential neighborhood so it is hard to see how this will have an effect on “gentrifying” these neighborhood.

Julie Won, as our Council representative, should know the geography and demographics of our neighborhood much better. It seems that her objections are based on an ideology, rather than practicality. I also wonder if her opposition is based upon an effort to get more publicity for herself and to be perceived in a way that benefits her image.

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MRLIC

Julie Won is rigjt
.Dump this rich developer
project. It is out of character with tbe neighborhood and will definitely raise rents. APTS will be half full and a stote will open on the space for retail and tben close because tbe commervial rent is too high and will be 95% a high end store my experience.
Well off people will move in
With their dogs and many will not pick up tbeir poop. Do not let what happened to LIC
happen to Astoria. You will regret it. Overdevelopment hss to stop. I thought tbe 421-A taxpayer funded tax
breaks ended. Did they get in under the wire or
are they getting special treatment or no taxpayer funded tax breaks ?

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