2017-06-14 / Front Page

Justice for All Coalition To Stage Protest

By Thomas Cogan

Gerald Frohnhoefer speaks to the J4A meeting as J4A’s Andrew Hausermann runs the audio-visual part from the computer.  Frohnhoefer spoke of getting the homeless out of shelters and into housing and also promoted the installation of modular units as a way of having affordable housing that could eventually be purchased by its residents.

Photo Ray Normandeau (Normandeau Newswire)Gerald Frohnhoefer speaks to the J4A meeting as J4A’s Andrew Hausermann runs the audio-visual part from the computer. Frohnhoefer spoke of getting the homeless out of shelters and into housing and also promoted the installation of modular units as a way of having affordable housing that could eventually be purchased by its residents. Photo Ray Normandeau (Normandeau Newswire)The Justice for All Coalition, the activist group expressing determination to resist the trend of development in western Queens, has for several weeks announced that it will stage a protest march Thursday, June 22 from Queensbridge Houses to Queens Plaza.  Last week it held its last meeting before that event, at the senior services room of Jacob Riis Community Center in Queensbridge Houses.  The coalition reviewed some issues, listened to guest speakers and, as it does every meeting, broke up into some half-dozen small groups, each of which would discuss and debate one of several topics of concern to the group and the neighborhoods it has chosen to represent. 

“We have laid the groundwork and we are ready to move,” said Dr. Diane Brown as the meeting got started.  It only remains for the coalition to activate residents, particularly in the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses, to turn out for the June 22 march.  When she had made her statement, Dr. Brown announced that for reasons that are preventing her from continuing as J4A leader, she is stepping down.  She immediately introduced her successor, Sylvia White, who, she said rather cryptically, “came to us for one reason but stayed for all the right reasons.”

Following the opening prayer by Dr. Brown, Sharon Cádiz introduced Gerald Frohnhoefer of La Guardia Community College, an activist whose partial objective is to build homes for the homeless that would replace shelters for them.  Another aim is to establish an alternative to what he called the insidious campaign to “infill” market-rate housing on land belonging to the financially-strapped New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA.  He believes that modular housing is the way to go in constructing affordable residences for a populace that is threatened by trends which would push them out of current residences and price them out of any other. 

On a screen in front of the room, he showed examples of modular housing that is constructed in Pennsylvania and can be transported to any place where it could be set up.  He used the example of one manufacturer, Gary Allen, though he said there are others, such as Monadnock, formerly located in the old Brooklyn Army Terminal but now relocated, also to Pennsylvania.  Gary Allen puts up four-story buildings that comprise modular, pre-fabricated units, from studios to three-bedroom apartments, the larger ones being perhaps 30 by 40 feet.  Pre-fab units are put into place to make buildings complete, a process that is cleaner than on-site construction, Frohnhoefer said, adding that it “changes communities as they are built.”  He said that the city has more than 1,000 parcels of land on which such houses could be built.  A significant consequence of this is that it would provide public housing with the option to buy, he said.  White called it an “exciting” prospect.

Paula Crespo of the Pratt Center for Community Development was the next speaker, being introduced by J4A’s Andrew Hausermann, who said that at the June 22 march there must be a declaration of specific proposals, not just a lot of defiant outbursts.  Crespo stressed the importance of an integrated planning process and development on public land.  For the former she cited valuable history, the Queens Plaza rezoning plan of 2001, providing mixed use in the new buildings constructed there.  She even praised the Dutch Kills rezoning of 2008, which codified the presence of hotels there but protected its small industry. 

She found the projected Brooklyn-Queens Connector light rail trolley plan dubious.  It might be a good idea for getting people to work but the financing plan, a proposed taxation, simply wouldn’t cover expenses.  She deplored the very idea that any more city-owned land could be sold to private developers.  She cited the 58,000-square-foot lot at 11-20 Jackson Ave., near Newtown Creek, as a space that must be reserved for public development.

Next to speak was Missie Risser, of the Urban Justice Center.  She spoke of value capture, or getting development funds for the benefit of the public and not just profiteering developers.  She also mentioned zoning text incentives (ZTI) with trade-offs that insure affordability of development.  She said that too often residents become resigned to accepting decisions made for them over their heads, when that doesn’t have to happen.  Thus, when a uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, is carried out on some local plan, affected neighborhoods might look at the plan as final when there may still be time to get a neighborhood plan, not that of some expert.  She cited the case of development at Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx in 2010.  Community agitation caused the plan, backed fully by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to be rejected and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to denounce it in the name of his constituents.

Pat Dorfman, president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, requested the floor for a few minutes of what she called ranting.  “Our main power is in our vote,” she said, so when confronted with the latest bright idea from planners and experts, simply say No! and force them to listen to what you have to say.  It’s the first step to progress, she concluded.

The groups that convened at the several tables talked about the best use of public monies or the development of parkland in western Queens, where the population is high but greenery is sparse.  Conclusions drawn at each table were presented to everyone just before the meeting was ended.

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