Rally Howls For Affordable Housing
Queens residents rally Sunday for more affordable housing to be included in the development plan for Hunters Point South.
By Noah C. Zuss
Ongoing pressure is being applied by community groups as construction draws imminent at Hunters Point South, a massive housing development on the banks of the East River, directly across from the Manhattan skyline.
the city in a mad dash to populate formerly industrial sites along the river is using publicly owned land to build what some activists feel is a project better suited to the ritzier side of the river.
The City Economic Development Corporation is looking to create 5,000 new apartments and new commercial and open space with zoning changes on a 30 acre parcel of public land in Hunters Point.
The Queens For Affordable Housing Coalition (QFAH) is leading the charge against the project, demanding it include residents from more income tiers and below-market rentals.
To ensure affordable units are included in building plans on the Queens waterfront, concerned activists from QFAH rallied against the current composition of the project on Sunday. They were joined at the rally by Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside).
The coalition and ally Gioia believe the project fails on affordable housing, and needs to be rethought before being built. They are concerned that as New Yorkers’ rental burden continues to rise, most Queens residents will be shut out of owning or renting an apartment in the soon-to-be constructed building.
Recent economic news, coupled with already high rents and continued Wall Street uncertainty, give credence to many who believe a project with majority apartments out of reach for most needs to be redesigned to include more affordable units.
Currently the plan is at the tailend of the city’s land use review process. The City Planning Commission is slated to make recommendations on the project on Sept. 24.
“Providing affordable and middle income housing needs to be part of every new development,” Gioia said. “A cop married to a school teacher ought to be able to live in New York City, and so should a maintenance worker or a crossing guard. This plan doesn’t yet make that possible and must be changed to include units affordable at lower income levels.”
For the past decade, many New Yorkers have had to deal with rising rents and stagnating incomes.
According to data from QFAH, New Yorkers are being forced to spend a higher portion of their incomes on rent than ever before. From 1996 to 2005, median rents in private unsubsidized units rose by nearly 50 percent, from $600 to $900. This growth outpaced median renter incomes, which increased by only 31 percent, from $29,000 to $38,000.
In Queens, the situation is even worse.
With a median income of $51,290 Queens residents are less well-off today than they were in 1990. While median incomes have actually decreased, the median monthly rent has risen by 80 percent over the same time period. Fully, 28 percent of the borough’s residents pay more than half of their income in rent, classified by the federal government as a severe rent burden.
Gioia and QFAH are calling for 20 percent of housing in the final Hunters Point plan to be affordable to low-income families earning $25,000 a year or less, with 20 percent for families earning from $25,000 to $61,000 and with 20 percent of units for families earning $61,000 to $100,000 a year, with 10 percent for those earning $100,000 to $127,000, along with home ownership options to be included at those levels.
The plan currently proposed by the Bloomberg administration creates rental market-rate units and units for those earning roughly $60,000 to $160,000.
“This project on our public land, is one of the largest developments in Queens, and offers a tremendous opportunity to include sorely needed units that are truly affordable to residents from the surrounding community. Yet, none of the units are available to over half of Queens residents” said Hannah Weinstock, community organizer for Queens Community House, a member of QFAH.
The proposed plan is particularly inadequate, the groups argue, in light of recent data by the Independent Budget Office (IBO), that they say showed the Bloomberg administration’s affordable housing program shortchanges low-income families in Queens. Queens is home to 23.7 percent of City households earning less than $50,000 a year, yet has received only 3.7 percent of the apartments affordable to those families under the New Housing Marketplace Program.
After the Planning Commission makes recommendations, it will proceed to City Council review. The City Council has ultimate authority over the project and is expected to vote in November.