Response to Mitch Waxman

This is a reponse to Mitch Waxman’s critique of our recent op-ed at City Limits: We Have to Talk About Gentrification in Long Island City.  Mitch’s response is located below the original article.

Queens Anti-Gentrification Project is well aware of the infrastructure issues plaguing our neighborhoods. We are concerned with infrastructure. However, the op-ed we wrote for City Limits does not mention infrastructure. What the op-ed deals with, very specifically, is the financial influence of the real estate industry on city politics, income inequality, and most importantly – the displacement of human beings from their homes and livelihoods.

Why, then, is Mitch Waxman’s response attempting to reframe the discussion in terms of infrastructure? Why does the response ignore our main points and accuse us of “painting” Jimmy Van Bramer as a villain?  We quoted Van Bramer verbatim from a real estate conference appearance, and we invite all readers to watch the video themselves.  We aren’t “painting” anything.  We’re merely stating facts:

Van Bramer took over $100k in campaign donations from real estate, he frequently speaks at real estate conferences, he has consistently spoken publicly in favor of luxury development in his district, and he refuses to take concrete action to prevent mass displacement. None of these facts are being contested, so if these are the attributes of a villain, then perhaps Mitch Waxman is asking the wrong question.

As for the mentality that more luxury development is inevitable – the result of a “population explosion” – this is precisely the type of myth we were trying to debunk in the first place.  It is not inevitable, it’s a result of public policy and city planning, and we will do everything we can to stop it.

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URGENT UPDATE: Solidarity With Louis Flores!

 

Background Info On Louis’ Case

 

Louis’s Landlord is Rosalind Spodek, the widow of Leonard “Dracula Landlord” Spodek. Louis’s Landlord still does business with Herbert Donner, Dracula Landlord’s former business partner. Together, they run ADI Management, which has been the target of an unrelated Federal civil rights complaint, and they manage apartment buildings that have been in the news over allegations of violations that have caused at least one death.All across New York City, Housing Court is exploited as a tool that Landlords use to cause displacement of long-term tenants. Join us, as we stand together against unscrupulous Landlords

Louis’s Landlord began the nonpayment case after the Landlord refused to cash one month’s rent check and before Louis paid the next month’s rent. Refusing to cash rent checks as a pretense to sue tenants is against the law, but no regulator holds unscrupulous Landlords accountable for such violating tenants’ civil rights. The Landlord now wants to collect legal fees from Louis after the Landlord was responsible for prolonging the Court case by denying Louis key documents he needed, included a copy of his renewal Lease. At this court hearing, the judge will decide whether Louis will be made to pay legal fees to the Landlord’s attorney, even though they played a role in dragging out this Housing Court case. The Landlord is demanding over $5,000 in legal fees. This is so unfair.

Because the Landlord commenced the rent collection petition based on a false pretense, for other legal misconduct (like never serving the Rent Demand as required by law), and for never having made repairs that were revealed in Court filings, the Landlord should not collect any legal fees.

The judge, who will hear the motion on Tuesday, is Queens Housing Court Supervising Judge John Lansden. Judge Lansden has been described as “pro-Landlord.” By joining us on Tuesday, you can bear witness to way that Judge Lansden runs his courtroom. We need to make sure that Judge Lansden does not get another term as a Housing Court judge. Louis has blogged about his Housing Court case, and you can read more about how Judge Lansden has acted to benefit the Landlord : https://beforeitsgone.co/stories/PYHRYz.

We have to build up a network to support all Queens residents, who get dragged into Queens Housing Court by unscrupulous Landlords.

Time to Put the Brakes on De Blasio’s BQX Trolley Plan

According to newly released documentary, Gentrification Express, it’s time to put the brakes once and for all on the BQX trolley plan.

In 2016, Mayor de Blasio announced a proposal for an above-ground streetcar that would link Brooklyn and Queens, following the trend to use trolleys to promote tourism and real estate development from Portland to Washington D.C.  The Brooklyn Queens Connector (known as the BQX) would link 10 neighborhoods along a 15 mile route stretching from Astoria, Queens to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. De Blasio and private real estate developers, represented by the “Friends of the BQX,” extoll the trolley as a model public-private partnership that would create jobs and bridge two boroughs as they are experiencing a development boom along the waterfront.

Local elected officials, including City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer have lined up behind the Mayor: “Mayor de Blasio’s forward thinking proposal promises to provide more Queens and Brooklyn residents with a new reliable transit option,” said Van Bramer in 2016 press release. The Mayor has also recruited NYCHA tenant leaders, and most recently, the Transit Workers Union to support the plan (read our open letter to the TWC here).

But not everyone is enamored with the Mayor’s shiny new project. Still in its planning phase, the BQX is facing significant opposition from planning and transit experts, as well as grassroots organizations and residents who fear that the BQX will cause more harm than good in communities that are already facing significant displacement pressures. The Gentrification Express documentary captures these concerns through interviews and analysis, highlighting three key reasons New Yorkers shouldn’t be so quick to jump aboard the BQX:

1. The BQX is too damn expensive.

Though privately operated, the BQX would not come free to the city. The Friends of the BQX project that the trolley will cost about $2.5 billion in tax payer dollars to build. This in itself is no small sum, but according to Hunter Professor Samuel Stein, the actual construction price could be even higher. He explains that a common strategy for developers is to low-ball project costs because once construction is underway with tax-payer dollars, no one will oppose putting in the extra dollars to see it through the finish line.

The costs don’t end with construction. The Friends of the BQX claim that the project will pay for itself through a strategy called “value-capture.” This financing strategy relies on the assumption that development will spur property tax increases along the route, and that these increases can be redirected into the operations costs. However, even a leaked city memo to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen points out that value capture won’t come close to covering the high costs. In other words, tax payers would end up covering most of the operations costs—and it will be expensive, particularly since the BQX route passes through FEMA-designated flood zones. “If a disaster like [Hurricane Sandy] happens again and the BQX flops the city is going to pay for that… and that’s coming out of our tax money,” said Sunset Park resident Antoinette Martinez.

2. The BQX’s primary purpose is to spur luxury real estate development.

MTA-Underserved Neighborhoods.jpg
The MTA has identified 9 neighborhoods most underserved by public transportation and none of them are along the BQX route. Taken from: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/intro_to_brt_phase2.pdf

In a recent report, the MTA identified 9 densely populated neighborhoods that are one half mile or further from public transportation. Strangely, the BQX doesn’t run through any of these neighborhoods. According to Sam Stein, that’s because the BQX’s main purpose isn’t to fix transit deserts—it is part of a larger strategy to catalyze luxury real estate development along the waterfront. According to the documentary, there are at least 10 developers with heavy real estate interests along the route. The NY Post has found that BQX-backing developers have contributed significantly to the de Blasio campaign.

“A lot of developers see the Brooklyn Queens waterfront as the gold coast, and it is for them. They come out and say it. The Jamestown Properties owners say, ‘We want another Williamsburg waterfront in Sunset Park… they’re not hiding what they want,” said Jenny Dubnau, a Long Island City-based artist.

bqx-trolley-developers.jpg
Documentary screenshot shows 10 major developers with significant real estate interests along the BQX Route (top to bottom): Durst Organization, Alma Realty, Tishman Speyer, Park Tower Group, Brookfield Properties, Two Trees, Steiner Studios, RAL Development, Toll Brothers and Jamestown Properties.

3. The BQX will lead to displacement of renters and manufacturing businesses.

The greatest concern expressed by advocates in the documentary is the fear that the BQX will push up property taxes, which in turn, will raise rents and displace low income New Yorkers.

“We are really being pushed out of this community… And that’s not fair. Why should we have to move out of the community we was raised in to go to someplace new when we’ve been here all our lives?” said Sylvia White, a NYCHA resident and leader of the Justice for All Coalition which opposes the BQX.

Renters are not the only ones concerned. According to Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE, the BQX also threatens the displacement of manufacturing jobs in communities like Sunset Park that is one of the largest live-work communities in NYC. Once the BQX is built, it will become much more lucrative for developers to choose residential over manufacturing developments.

What is an alternative to the BQX?

There’s one thing that BQX advocates and its opponents agree on: Queens and Brooklyn can benefit from improved transportation options. But according to Sam Stein, you don’t need a streetcar to have a fast moving mode of public transportation. The solution is an improved bus system that extends bus routes, and gives buses priority on streets so that they aren’t gridlocked in car traffic. While not as sexy as a new streetcar, express buses would provide the same commuting benefits, for only a fraction of the price—and no gentrification would be caused.

Watch the full documentary, Gentrification Express, for free here. This documentary is produced by NYC-based filmmakers Samantha Farinella and Amanda Katz.

Take Action:

  • Sign this petition and demand that Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer say no to the luxury trolley that would run through his district
  • Contact your local City Council Member to share your concerns and demand their opposition to the BQX Trolley. View this map to see if your district is along the BQX route.
  • Organize against the BQX. If Queens-based, contact us at queensantigentrification@gmail.com to find out how to get involved. If you are based in Brooklyn, connect with a local organization such as UPROSE (click here to view their transportation justice page).

Learn more: