Originally published at City Limits on March 14, 2017
Written by Abigail Savitch-Lew
On Monday night, public-housing residents and other Long Island City and Astoria stakeholders expressed strong skepticism about the city’s rezoning study for Long Island City, with many attendees expressing concern that a potential rezoning would create housing unaffordable to low-income residents at a time when federal budget cuts threaten to undermine the viability of public housing.
The forum, hosted by the Justice For All Coalition, was the Department of City Planning (DCP)’s sixth meeting with local groups since they launched the rezoning study in January. DCP Queens Director John Young emphasized that the agency is still in the “listen and learn” stage of the process, and that “it’s not entirely clear if there will be a rezoning [and] what parts of the area would be rezoned.”
The study focuses on roughly the same area surrounding Queens Plaza that was rezoned by the Bloomberg administration in 2001. That rezoning did not create as much commercial development as DCP hoped, and the agency’s aim for their current study is primarily to stimulate more commercial development, with housing development—including the creation of income-targeted housing through the city’s new mandatory inclusionary housing policy—a secondary goal. Other core goals of the study include enhancing neighborhood quality through infrastructure and open space improvements, and increasing job opportunities.
Since January, DCP has also met with Community Board 1 and 2, the Court Square Civic Committee and the Dutch Kills Civic Association. George Stamatiades of the Dutch Kills Civic Association told City Limits its members largely support the study but would like to see the study area expanded to Dutch Kills, creating more opportunities for residential development there.
The sentiment on Monday was far less positive. Several audience members wanted to know how the study would help NYCHA residents in light of federal budget cuts. NYCHA officials said in City Hall hearings earlier that day that the Trump administration’s cuts could lead to major delays in addressing maintenance and repair issues in public housing, a diminished supply of Section 8 vouchers, and a lowered voucher amount leading to rising rent for residents in privately owned buildings.
While public housing residents are expected to continue paying a maximum of thirty percent of their income on rent, as required by federal law, it was clear at the meeting that many public housing residents are fearful this won’t be the case. Public housing residents have already weathered rent increases over the past several years, but according to NYCHA, residents still never pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Yet even with the understanding that NYCHA will remain affordable, the possibility that conditions in NYCHA will worsen during the Trump administration, combined with a dwindling amount of alternative affordable options in the area, creates strong concerns among public housing residents with the affordability levels in de Blasio’s housing plan.
One person asked if profits generated from the development could be reinvested back in NYCHA to plug the budget gap. Young said the city looked forward to working with NYCHA to make improvements to Queensbridge Baby Park and to connecting residents with more economic opportunities.
There was confusion about the rent levels and income restrictions in the potential rent-restricted units, with some audience members expressing frustration that the city’s housing programs uses Area Median Income, a federal measurement that takes into account the incomes of Westchester and other neighboring suburban counties. The city has little choice in doing so because key housing finance tools are tied to that federal measure.
Laura Burrell, whose mother lives in Queensbridge Houses, questioned why the city was focusing on commercial development, rather than affordable housing, and she asked for an explanation of how the new commercial spaces would benefit low-income residents. “The average lease is $10,000 and [more],” she said. “It’s not benefiting the community.”
When Young replied that the new businesses would provide jobs, she noted that many new commercial businesses that have come to the neighborhood recently either offered low-wage jobs, or did not employ residents of the area.
Bernard Callegari, a former Queensbridge resident and field representative for the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET), also called on the city to ensure the creation of good employment opportunities.
“One of the reasons that the area median income is so far out of people’s reach is the lack of good career jobs,” he said. “What are you going to do in Long Island City to ensure that these jobs that are created are not these low-road, low-wage, short-term jobs.?…What are you going to do to ensure that the contracts that are working on these projects are part of a state-approved apprenticeship program?”
Young said “we don’t have any ideas yet” but that DCP would work with sister agencies over the coming months to create a strategy.
Some expressed fear that public-housing residents would be left out of the planning process, and that a rezoning would be approved by the local community boards without input from public-housing residents. Young said he would happily attend a public-housing tenant association meeting to further engage with residents.
Over the coming months, DCP will be hosting workshops on topics like housing and open space to solicit detailed feedback. The Justice for All Coalition, for its part, is hosting Hunter professor Tom Angotti and other scholars to explain, according to Justice for All leader Elder Diane Brown, “what actually happens once they do the rezoning.” That meeting will be held on March 27 at 7 p.m. at the Jacob Riis Community Center at 10-25 41st Avenue.
The Justice for All Coalition will then create its own neighborhood plan, and if the city doesn’t accept enough of it, “we might have to march,” Brown said.