2017-03-22 / Front Page

Justice For All

By Thomas Cogan
The Justice for All Coalition (United We Stand LIC-Astoria) was planning for a busy March, with two meetings within the month, not just one. The first of them took place Monday evening, March 13, at the Jacob A. Riis Community Center, within the Queensbridge Houses. A good crowd showed up to hear about the Department of City Planning’s Long Island City Core Neighborhood Planning Study, presented by John Young, the DCP’s director for Queens. His presentation was a reiteration, and not the last, of the Long Island City core study that departmental persons have been explaining at recent meetings in different parts of Long Island City, including Court Square and Dutch Kills and at Community Board 2.  In one or another form, such as workshops or further presentations, LIC meetings will continue until the summer break in June. 

But the first March meeting of the J4AC took a turn that Young couldn’t have expected.  While he was talking about affordability or the lack of it in the residential buildings of Long Island City that were put up in recent years or are currently being built, attendees from Queensbridge or other New York City Housing Authority buildings started to question the relevancy of the information they were hearing.  April Simpson, president of Queensbridge Houses Residents’ Association, asked what interest she or other Queensbridge tenants should have in these workshop meetings to come, indicating disdain by her inquiry.  Her irritation was quickly adopted by others. 

Young had begun his address by saying that the LIC core study looks at the potential need for rezoning in an area including Queens Plaza, Court Square and the corridor along Northern Boulevard, leading into Queens Plaza.  He said that the rezoning in Queens Plaza in 2001was done at a time when construction aimed at generating commercial and industrial expansion was seen as wise policy, with

residential expansion in tow—or as a DCP handout says, it “sought to foster a 24-hour, central mixed-use district, with a lively mix of commercial, light industrial, retail and residential uses.” 

Since then, about two million square feet of office space has been or is being completed, but expectations were for five million.  At the same time, buildings containing some 13,000 apartments have been completed or are close to completion.  Young said that only 650 of them could be classed as “affordable,” which is an affordability rate of 5 percent.  Low- and mixed-income affordability figures from New York city’s Housing Development Corporation are based on the Area Median Income (AMI) determined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for what it calls the New York city region, which includes some surrounding counties, such as Nassau and Westchester. The full AMI for the region is $90,600 for a family of four.

Young went over mandatory inclusionary housing figures and rents based on them, as declared by Mayor Bill de Blasio a year ago.  The first option is 25 percent affordable housing in any development at 60 percent of AMI, which would be $54,360 for a family of four and monthly rents of $969 for a one-bedroom, $1,162 for a two-bedroom unit; and the second, 30 percent of housing on 80 percent of AMI or $72,480 for a family of four, with monthly rents of $1,360 for a one-bedroom, $1,632 for a two-bedroom unit.

All that made Simpson furious.  Why, she asked, shouldn’t we invest in NYCHA improvements instead, in light of President Trump’s proposed budgetary cuts to it?  She also expressed astonishment about the figures considered to be within the range of affordability and the fact that the AMI for New York city includes incomes in Westchester County.  HUD’s idea of affordability was too high for the residents of

Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Astoria and Woodside Houses and other NYCHA entities, who are finding even NYCHA rents unaffordable, Simpson said. 

The meeting became loud and loose, though some like Diane Brown, who presided over it, tried to restore order.  Hearing someone complain that too few people realize how poor the situation is, Brown told the meeting that the responsibility for publicizing their plight lies in large part with them and that they should take some flyers from J4A’s abundant supply and post them where they live.   

Still the complaints persisted. One man said that not only was affordability unaffordable but jobs programs produce only junk jobs for those enrolled in them.  Another one said that new housing would lead to rejection of local mom-&-pop stores, which would die out, in favor of well-known chain stores.  In addition, the presence of Jet Blue’s headquarters on Queens Plaza has done nothing for Queensbridge.

That moved Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses residents’ association, to come to the front of the room to say the trouble with local protesters is that they show up too late, after the plans they deplore have already been determined.  It’s necessary to examine capital plans early, which is the time to protest them if you find them bad.  As for job training, she said the job training center in Astoria Houses often produces excellent results.  

Both Coger and Simpson were among the four women honored as presidents of the residents’ associations of the four area NYCHA projects. Coger is president of

Astoria Houses and Simpson president of Queensbridge.  The other two were Carol Wilkins, president of Ravenswood Houses and Annie Cotton-Morris, president of Astoria Houses.  All were given Proclamations from Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and also awards from Public Advocate Letitia James.

At the March 27 J4A meeting, three urban planning academic experts are on schedule to talk some more about LIC rezoning, the BQX light rail streetcar line from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria in and the Sunnyside Yard housing plan.

   

 

 

 

 

 

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