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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]

5 Comments

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Jeremy

This rezoning is just a few blocks, it would definitely not change the demographics of Astoria, Astoria has almost 200,000 people. Even if a hundred people showed up to testify against this rezoning, that is a tiny fraction of the number of people who could live in this development. It’s also a small fraction of the regulated units this development would build. The City can, and should, build a lot of regulated affordable housing. Majority regulated developments require City subsidy and the opponents of this rezoning have shown no analysis that proves this project could afford to build 55% units as affordable. While the rents of the market rate units in this development might be high, we need to remember that the future tenants paying those rents can and will out bid existing residents for other units if this development is blocked. The high income people won’t leave Astoria, they’ll just take other units causing displacement. Astoria and LIC has done a better job than the rest of the City in terms of allowing housing and that’s why you see units in Astoria be more affordable than other comparable units in the City. Astoria is a very short commute to mid-town Manhattan, the housing growth it has witnessed has helped to keep rent lower than it would be otherwise. Look at Park Slope in Brooklyn, it’s a similarly short commute and much more expensive than Astoria because it has allowed no new housing to be built. We can’t risk losing all of this affordable and market rate housing by listening to anti-housing activists who have shown no analysis that their demands could ever be met.

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MRLIC

We need no nrw luxury development. DO NOT let high earners get into income restricted compleces. Thereare plenty of high end apts available around LIC and Other areas. The mixdle class is just about destroyed in this unaffordable high taxed city. Bdtween inflatikn taxes, cab fares going up, vongestion pricing coming but we have money for illegal immigrants crime up especislly subway and bus crime. DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISTS especially pay to play Hochul are leading us to ruin. She is in tbe developets pockets. Richards and Adams too.

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Frank

“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?”

It means the neighborhood has been improved. Buh-bye.

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