Approximately 70 residents packed into the second floor of the Community Church of Astoria for a community meeting on Monday to address growing concerns over development plans.
Organized by the Justice for All Coalition, an alliance supported by Faith in New York consisting of local congregation members and public housing tenants, the community meeting sought to provide a platform to address the concerns of residents and inform the community on the coalition’s demands.
Residents of Sunnyside, Woodside, Ravenswood, Long Island City, Astoria and Queensbridge all came out amid growing fears of the privatization of the New York City Housing Authority.
As a 20-plus year resident of the Jacob Riis NYCHA development in Queensbridge stated, “Raising rent and talking about selling the projects and putting us in a hotel, that’s why I’m mad.”
These fears were further echoed by two longtime Chinese tenants of Jacob Riis, who cited the feared privatization of NYCHA as their primary reasons for attending.
Concerns over privatization of NYCHA stem from Mayor de Blasio’s proposed Affordable Housing Act, under which one initiative is to turn the “underutilized” section of NYCHA public housing buildings to private developers.
This initiative is part of the program known as NextGeneration Neighborhoods that has turned to developers to help address the city’s acute housing shortages and deteriorating housing conditions.
Fears that newly constructed housing would increase the rate of gentrification comes at a time when a massive wave of luxury apartment development has already swept LIC and other areas.
“We’re thinking that what’s happening in LIC is also going to spill into Woodside,” said Amy Paul, executive director of Woodside on the Move, a community organization that focuses on affordable housing. “Our residents are worried about the overspill of more affluent residents into Woodside and Sunnyside as well.”
Echoing the concerns voiced by residents, Dr. Diane Brown, an elder of a local church and head of the Justice for All Coalition, came out exclaiming “The Justice for All Coalition is coming together under affordable housing, jobs, and rezoning.”
Signaling a call for greater community organization regarding zoning and development, Brown called out “This is not fully a coalition yet, we need to form one. We are getting ready to really start moving now and because of that we can’t do it all by ourselves so we need you to help us.”
Together all attendees outlined the next steps for the Justice for All Coalition. The first step was organizing through door knocking, giving out flyers to raise awareness on rezoning and following up with new members. Brown called for “help setting up a website; we need to be on Facebook.”
The second step was to identify organizations to partner with and to decide which elected officials to contact and pressure to adopt their demands.
The demands call for the development of more permanent low-income and affordable housing that reflect current incomes levels of LIC and Astoria residents, increased jobs with longevity and benefits, protection for small business and manufacturing jobs, repairs to NYCHA developments and enactment of anti-tenant harassment laws.
Additional demands vocalized by Brown call for “accountability” by the city for community development that would use local workers and promised job creation.
The third step called for more manpower to be directed towards research development, including the creation of a database of all developments.
Calls for stronger mobilization by the Justice for All Coalition members comes at a time when the city Economic Development Corp. has released more details on the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, a trolley that would connect the northern part of Astoria with Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.
According to proponents of the BQX, the streetcar will provide transit equality to more than 400,000 people, including 40,000 public housing residents.
Additionally, they say, it will create at least 28,000 construction jobs, create innovative job hubs in Long Island City, Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Cornell Tech and maritime working waterfront, providing a boost to local businesses and creating a $25 billion economic impact in the five boroughs over the next 30 years.
The Justice for All Coalition’s official position on the BQX is that it should help provide accessible mass transit for residents without increasing the cost of living. Many residents where the proposed BQX will be built fear that as current development already stands, their way of life may become permanently changed, even without the development of the BQX.
“We need to come together because we need goals because rents are skyrocketing,” said Jenny Dubnau, an LIC artist. “We’re losing jobs, a dance troupe that has been above my [art studio] for 20 years, got a 40 percent rent increase.”