JFAC emerged in 2016, in tandem with an expected proposal for a city-led rezoning of the Long Island City “core” that was meant to stimulate the creation of more housing and offices on 37 blocks adjacent to the Citibank building at Court Square. This rezoning came in the wake of three previous rezonings under Bloomberg, which repurposed land previously zoned for manufacturing to housing and office development, and contributed to mass new development in the neighborhood. Over 16,780 new housing units have been built in Long Island City since 2006, and an additional 11,800 units are projected to open by 2020, making the neighborhood one of the fastest growing in the country today.
This growth has placed strain on existing neighbors, including fellow Long Island City residents who live in Queensbridge Houses, the largest remaining public housing complex in the country. These changes have driven up land values increasing the cost of market-rate residential units – the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Long Island City is a whopping $3,455 per month – and commercial space. These changes have displaced many community members including low and moderate-income residents and small businesses; meanwhile new stores and retail offerings are out of reach for or don’t serve the needs and interests of many long-time residents. Moreover, increased population density has placed a strain on existing community resources including schools, transportation, and sewer systems.
The proposed rezoning in 2016 promised to continue these trends. As part of Mayor De Blasio’s Housing New York plan, the rezoning would have required 20-30% of the new residential units to have below-market rents. However, the affordability levels were not deep enough for the area’s low- and moderate-income residents, and were too few to meet the need. Moreover, the affordable units would be significantly outnumbered by market-rate units that would further worsen the massive changes resulting from previous rezonings. Further still, the new population that the rezoning would usher in would place even more strains on already overstressed neighborhood infrastructure.
While community organizing – on behalf of JFAC and other local grassroots groups – put the rezoning proposal on an indefinite hold, other large-scale, city-led development proposals have been put forth, or are in the works. The proposal for a Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a master planning process for Sunnyside Yard, and the infamous Amazon HQ2 deal. While community organizing once again changed the tide – convincing Amazon to abandon its interest in Long Island City – the New York City Economic Development Corporation (“the EDC”) is now colluding with private developers in the area to support their desire to upzone that area. In conjunction with other “smaller” rezoning requests through LIC and Astoria, like Hallet’s Cove, the developments show a continued interest in re-making and gentrifying Western Queens.
But we ask, to what ends, for whom, and at whose expense?
Western Queens is home to working class communities, including four public housing communities, who have lived in the community for decades. The changes described above have shuttered supermarkets and other stores these community members depend on. They have made it difficult – if not impossible – for small businesses owned and managed by these community members to survive and thrive. They have ensured that public housing is the only affordable housing option, at the same time that investment in public housing has plummeted, as has the habitability of the buildings and units.
We need better planning and development for our neighborhood and communities; development that puts our needs and the needs of the existing community first. Without genuine consideration and incorporation of existing residents’ needs, experiences, and perspectives, this continued interest promises to further reduce affordability and deteriorate the quality of life of long-time low- and moderate- income households, small businesses and other community members. Existing community members must have a seat at the table when planning the future of our neighborhood. Specifically, the needs and concerns and perspectives of long-time, lower-income neighbors who have historically been locked out, must be formative in creating just futures that benefit all.
We, the Justice for All Coalition, and on behalf of residents in Astoria, Long Island City and Western Queens, put forth this community platform as a starting point for rethinking the future of development in our region. It outlines the needs and concerns of long-time community members as we presently understand them, and proposes directions for development that create less rather than more challenges for us and our neighbors.
We present this community platform as a living document and expect that its content will expand and evolve as the context does.
Last updated: February 3, 2020