A public meeting about two residential high-rises set for construction at Hunter’s Point South in Long Island City became contentious last Thursday over the plan to make all the apartments in the buildings affordable for moderate- to middle-income families.
The high-rises are the first two buildings of what could eventually be as many as six or more at the Hunter’s Point South site. All 950 apartments in the buildings will be affordable, as the federal government defines it, on a sliding scale that officials at the meeting said would allow a diverse group of individuals and families, with annual salaries ranging from $32,000 to $130,000, to live in them.
But many residents at the crowded meeting, held in MoMA PS1’s foyer, expressed fears that existing property values would drop as a result of the project. Some were angry with the city for what they said was its lack of transparency when it came to the project’s affordable component.
Affordability has been a major aspect of the plan since 2009, when the Mayor’s Office announced it had bought the 30-acre parcel of land on the waterfront. At that time, the city said 60 percent of all units built there would be affordable, while the other 40 percent would be rented or sold at market rates.
In February 2011, when the winning bid for the first two buildings on the site was announced, the Mayor’s Office released a statement saying that “at least 75 percent” of the units in these first two high-rises would be affordable.
The news that the buildings would in fact be 100 percent affordable, announced by the deputy mayor in November, took many by surprise.
“It’s a bait and switch,” one man at the meeting said, indicating he believed the city was trying to get away with making all of Hunter’s Point South 100 percent affordable.
But Ruth Anne Visnauskas, a Department of Housing Preservation and Development official present at the meeting, assured the crowd that this was not the case.
While the first two buildings in the project would be 100 percent affordable, “it’s not our intent to have the entire site be 100 percent affordable,” Visnauskas said. Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley said the city would still maintain an overall 60/40 ratio for the entire project.
When asked how the city’s plans had evolved from its February 2011 statement — which said the site would be “at least 75 percent” affordable — to the 100 percent affordable decision, Eric Bederman, an HPD spokesman, wrote in an email that, “We viewed the announcement of 100 percent affordability as a positive gain for the neighborhood and the city. We were clear at the announcement in February 2011 that 75 percent was a minimum.” He added that the city’s initial call for developers to bid on the project asked that applicants “present proposals with a minimum of 60 percent affordable units.”
At the meeting, Conley noted that the average income of people in the two buildings would be $100,000. “That is not low-income,” he said, in an effort to dispel what he called a “rumor out there that this is a low-income housing project.”
As outlined by the HPD, rent for a studio apartment in the buildings will range from $669 a month to $1,957 a month, which will be determined by a housing applicant’s salary — applicants must make salaries between a minimum and maximum to qualify. Rent for two-bedrooms will range from $1,032 to $2,963 a month; and for three-bedrooms, from $1,088 to $3,421.
Frank Monterisi, the vice present of Related Companies, which is co-developing the buildings with Phipps Houses Group — a nonprofit that specializes in affordable housing — and Monadnock Construction, said these prices are in fact not that much cheaper than comparable market rates.
Monterisi told audience members to visit nearby developments by TF Cornerstone or Rockrose, where two-bedrooms might go for $3,500 to $4,000 a month, not far off from the highest two-bedroom rental rate — $2,963 — in Related’s Hunter’s Point South buildings, which would be charged someone fitting into the project’s highest income bracket.
Monterisi also emphasized that the buildings had been designed by “the best architects.”
“We are dedicated to bringing the best possible real estate product” to Long Island City, he said.
Responding to residents’ fears about property values decreasing because of the project, Bederman wrote, “Much to the contrary of that notion, affordable housing helps to strengthen and stabilize neighborhoods and brings new opportunity for growth.”
“The affordable housing we’re bringing to Hunter’s Point South will help to ensure that hardworking New Yorkers will always have a presence, a voice and a place to call home in this neighborhood.”
After the meeting, Lisa Deller, a longtime Sunnyside resident and chairwoman of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee, said she was “shocked by the reaction” of the crowd when it came to anger over the buildings’ affordability.
“Look at those prices,” Deller said, referring to the cost of rentals in the buildings. “Those are not that affordable.”
Deller said she and other members of Community Board 2 had fought for the Hunter’s Point Project to be “inclusive,” to keep Long Island City’s waterfront from becoming a “luxury ghetto.”
For his part, Conley defended the process that had led to the buildings becoming 100 percent affordable.
“This was not done under the cover of dark,” he said after the meeting. “This process was well-vetted.”
Of Long Island City, he added: “We have the million-dollar views, but it was starting to cost a million dollars to move into the neighborhood.”