Ralliers walking down 126th Street Monday night want relocation for the many auto body shops that call Willets Point home and affordable housing in the complex planned to replace them.
A contract signed between the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the Queens Development Group puts a proposed 1,920 units of affordable housing last on its to-do list.
Top of the queue would be a 1.4-million-square-foot mall, market-priced housing, shops and ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway.
Furthermore the contract takes the developer off the hook from building 875 units of affordable housing slated for the first, 23-acre phase of the redevelopment if the city doesn’t build the ramps by 2025 or if the developer pays a $35 million fine.
Activists with the Queens Housing Coalition, a conglomerate of many tenant organizations that led Tuesday’s rally and has pushed for affordable housing for years, say the developers have reneged on their promises.
The original deal, brokered by then-Councilman Hiram Monserrate, was a one-shot redevelopment of all 62 acres of Willets Point, which included nearly 2,000 units of affordable housing.
“It’s something that’s needed,” said Woodside on the Move Executive Director Adrian Bordoni, who marched with about 35 individuals. “In Long Island City and Astoria affordable housing is always a part of the discussion. We are thinking the same thing can happen here.”
The group held many colorful signs and chanted — “What do we want?” echoed by “Affordable housing” — as they made their way from the No. 7 Mets-Willets Point stop to the future construction site.
The day after the rally Borough President Helen Marshall approved the mall project, which if approved by the City Planning Commission and Council could be built on the parking lot south of Citi Field. As with Community Board 7, which also OK’d the development, Marshall asked for local hiring benchmarks and more input as the project plods forward.
The other parts of the plan were approved in 2008 and do not have to go back to the City Council, a detail many politicians and activists have decried.
Young Sook Na has lived in Flushing for 15 years and sees more and more people packing into apartments while rent continues to rise.
“Building a mall gets me really mad,” Na said. “We need more affordable housing. They can’t suddenly change that.”
“It was promised,” Woodside resident Ana Rivera said. “We are still hoping they remember the people.”
A half dozen auto body shop owners marched with the group holding signs saying “Relocation not eviction.”
The city for years has been threatening to move them for the project, but many owners say no one has told them about a concrete plan for where they would go.
Jamie Satti, owner of Discount Mufflers for 10 years, watched the rally from his storefront.
“They want housing, but where will we go?” Satti said.
An employee from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development told Satti on the phone the day before he had one month to move.
“This is serious,” he said.
“We don’t have support,” Satti said. “There’s no one in front of us and no one behind us.”
“The workers are struggling,” Queens Housing Coalition coordinator Ivan Contreras said. “They don’t know what is happening.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), Councilman and Land Use Chairman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona) showed up at Willets Point to support the ralliers.