2017-10-25 / Front Page

Justice for All Coalition Meeting

By Thomas Cogan
It was understood the mid-October meeting of the Justice for All Coalition would be held in the gymnasium of the Jacob Riis Center in Queensbridge Houses, but arriving attendees found basketball was being played there and were directed downstairs to the senior services room.  The large crowd that was expected at what was billed as a town hall meeting wound up being jammed into the room, intent on hearing and asking questions of City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.  The councilman’s speech was energizing, and he took questions before being forced to leave for another event on his busy schedule.  Subsequent speakers talked about rich and less rich areas of Long Island City or the huge projects that developers want to build there.

Previous J4A meetings have been full of such warnings, though this meeting produced in addition one speaker’s astonishing estimation that in order to recoup the huge investment to build it, those in charge of a completed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) would have to charge every rider $10 per ride, and have them accept it gladly, to keep those trolley cars full and running day and night.  Speakers exhorted the audience to adopt a firm resolve to reject these projects (BQX, building over the Sunnyside Yard, even a proposal to join the rest of the known world begging for the chance to build HQ2, the second Amazon headquarters).  They can’t happen if you declare you don’t want them to happen, the speakers said. Despite these claims, the Mayor has consistently claimed that the price of a BQX ride will be exactly on par with the price of a subway ride, similar to his assertion for the price of a ferry ride, a promise which was kept.

Van Bramer began by saying he fights for Queensbridge and has been fighting for it since the beginning of his council career in 2010.  To date, he asserted, he has brought $150 million to Queensbridge.  What he sees as the excess of growth in Long Island City in recent years was sanctioned by rezoning in 2001 and 2009, which were long before and just before he became a councilman.   He expressed dismay for the building projects Mayor Bill de Blasio has promoted since he came to office in 2014, particularly in western Queens.  Queensbridge must stand strong against such development, Van Bramer said. 

When he took questions, someone asked him if the affordable housing everyone talks about would have some range of size or would it be established on the proposition of “one size fits all.”  He said that wouldn’t be right, and he spoke of a range of one to three bedrooms.  He was asked about the Small Business Job Survival bill currently awaiting further action in the City Council.  He began his reply by calling bodegas and other neighborhood enterprises “the backbone of the community.”  But, he added, they all face the small business trap, whereby success can be bad for the proverbial Mom and Pop shopkeepers because it only leads to rent increases and the landlords’ impulse to sell their properties to speculators or developers.  He said that if he takes office again next New Year’s Day he hopes to become prime co-sponsor of the small business bill, which would impose commercial rent regulations.  “If my name is on it,” he said of the bill, “I’ll fight for it.” 

Another question was about private development on New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) land, which is a currently suggested expedient to lessen the public housing bureau’s mountainous debt by selling some of its land (containing athletic fields and other spaces) to private interests.  Van Bramer said he hadn’t heard of such plans for NYCHA property in Queens but is rigidly opposed to them in any case.  He said that all land use review should have “everyone at the table.”  He concluded by recalling his younger days, when his parents had difficulty paying the rent each month, so he’s witnessed tenants’ distress, he said.

The councilman was succeeded by Paula Crespo of the Pratt Center for Community Development, who displayed an economic map of Long Island City.  It shows the highest family income residing close to Newtown Creek and decreasing steadily as it goes north, reaching the lowest point between the Queensborough Bridge and Astoria.  She said 12,500 apartments have been built in LIC since 2010, following four re-zonings from 1986 to 2008; it remains to be seen what will become of a currently-proposed rezoning of an additional 37-block segment.  She said that the greatest amount of jobs in the area is in transportation, healthcare and social assistance but the question is, are they accessible to the residents of Queensbridge?  A group in the audience answered in chorus, “They are not.”

Nick Velkov of the J4A steering committee went over the proposals for big projects in LIC and was the one who formulated the fare he believed would be necessary to keep the BQX solvent, if ever it were built.  He said that the proposed T.F. Cornerstone project, a 65-story residential building, comes with a promise of making a quarter of the apartments affordable, but asked what that meant, given the fact that it is based on median area income statistics drawn from a vastly populated area that includes all New York city and Westchester County.

Mary McClary, also of the steering committee, said she and a few of her J4A associates “will be in training” for the next three months in matters of “education, listening and taking action.”  She has become annoyed by criticism from activists outside LIC that accuses J4A of doing a lot of talking and complaining about how bad things are but hasn’t recruited a large following to effect improvements.  It seems the part about taking action is part of her reply to those critics. 

Pat Dorfman noted that there were members of perhaps 15 groups in the room dedicated to the same goals as J4A’s, so they should unite with it, to stop further rezoning, among other things.  Also brought in to contribute to the cause was a group of students from La Guardia who will be conducting door-to-door surveys of neighborhood concerns and what can be done about them.

The last word was to vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 7 and remember especially to read the information on the constitutional convention proposition to decide if it should be accepted or rejected.      

   

 

 

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