2017-06-28 / Features

Queensbridge, Van Bramer March For Justice For All


Nick Velkov, owner of Yoga Agora on Broadway in Astoria, tells the rally that he’s a typical small businessman whose lease could be raised to a level that would force him out of business. 
Photo Rita & Ray Normandeau, Normandeau Newswire Nick Velkov, owner of Yoga Agora on Broadway in Astoria, tells the rally that he’s a typical small businessman whose lease could be raised to a level that would force him out of business. Photo Rita & Ray Normandeau, Normandeau Newswire On the evening of June 22, after several weeks of planning, the Justice For All Coalition (J4A) carried out its march from the Queensbridge Houses to Queens Plaza North, winding up in Dutch Kills Park, the green space located on 28th Street. There, they rallied for such issues as genuine affordability rather than an official affordable rate that only the well-to-do can afford. They heard from Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who said that all the vaunted community improvement must also be of benefit to the public housing residents of the community. He said also that threats to their residential peace are matched by threats to small businesses, as both parties face being driven out, to places unknown by skyrocketing prices.

The march began at the Queensbridge Houses at about 6:15 p.m.

Starting out at the Jacob Riis Center, several dozen marchers went along 41st Avenue, chanting, waving signs and heading for 21st Street where, by the 21st- Queensbridge subway station, a couple of men were selling Mobb Deep T-shirts, in tribute to Prodigy, the Queensbridge founder of the rap duo, Mobb Deep, who had died earlier in the week at 42. The marchers crossed the wide street and went a block farther, until becoming momentarily confused about where they might turn toward the plaza. Figuring that out, they turned south, reached the plaza and turned east, heading toward 29th Street, a PSA 9 squad car accompanying them as they marched on the sidewalk amidst evening commuters coming from the 7 train or Astoria Line trains.

Upon completing the trek and crossing into the park, several of the determined but elderly marchers were groaning a bit in the warm weather. The first speaker – Sylvia White, the new president of J4A – reinvigorated the crowd with an uplifting speech. Standing below and surrounded by the stunning clusters of unfinished buildings, they heard White say that these dominating structures began to go up in the plaza, Hunters Point and Dutch Kills as soon as Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002. Big commercial buildings, tall residential ones and hotels have redefined Long Island City, and it’s time for the people they weren’t meant for to put up a fight, she said. They’ve lived here a long time and are intent on staying, even if all the new construction implies that they have become economically unworthy to remain.

White was succeeded by Van Bramer, who said the meeting with J4A in his Queens Boulevard office the week before was inspiring. He said that now, the people have an opportunity to do big things. Public housing residents must benefit from all this vaunted community improvement, he added. He said he is a co-sponsor of the bill to create the Small Business Jobs Survival Act that is currently sequestered in the City Council, mainly by a member who will be leaving office after this year, being term-limited, Van Bramer said. He is running for another term and if elected will be in a position to set the bill free for a vote, he explained.

The next speaker identified herself as Ashley, a lifetime resident of Queensbridge who will turn 28 in September. She said we must demand the $400 million in funding formerly allotted to the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, but which President Donald Trump included among the myriad spending cuts he is insistent on making. On a local level, she said the Green Apple supermarket on 21st Street was bought out and closed earlier this year (she wondered who the buyer might be), leaving residents to either side of it forced to go on a hunt for another such store. She called the march the start of the fight for affordability, and the fair opportunity to prosper.

Nick Velkov, who runs a yoga studio on Broadway in Astoria, spoke and said he typifies the small businessperson threatened with extinction by builders who want tradespeople who will pay higher rents for the ground floor store space in their new buildings. He said there’s no automatic renewal of the lease on his place and the cost of a new lease would be any price the landlord wants to set. Jennie Dubnau, who lives in Jackson Heights but works as an artist in Long Island City, in a space she says she can barely afford, observed that local manufacturing jobs in LIC or Dutch Kills pay well, but if those workshops are replaced by hotels or other big buildings, the well-paying jobs would be scattered and the employment on offer would be cleaning jobs that might not pay half so well.

Some of the signs the marchers carried and chants they chanted wound up codified in a statement the Justice For All Coalition issued. Briefly stated, they are (1) no rezoning of the LIC core, unless money from private development can be leveraged to support NYCHA; (2) no selling of public lands to developers (the lot at 11-24 Jackson Ave. being a prime example); (3) no LIC rezoning or development in the Sunnyside Yards without community input and integrated planning; (4) preservation and building of green and open space; and (5) support of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, to protect local businesses.

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