Triple Threat Letter to Van Bramer

Dear Council Member Van Bramer:

We are writing this letter to give voice to hundreds of neighbors, small businesses, community board members, and other local stakeholders within our district who are deeply concerned about the future of their communities and who signed a petition urging you to oppose a “triple-threat.”

Every year, it is becoming increasingly unaffordable to live in District 26. As West Queens is experiencing a large building boom, rents and home prices have skyrocketed. In Long Island City, which is now the fastest growing neighborhood in the country, an average one-bedroom now costs $3,237. These high rents not only make it hard for LIC residents to stay but also pressure surrounding neighborhoods. As just one example, in Sunnyside, this past summer, a home sold for a record $1.9 million.

Beyond soaring property values, the overdevelopment of our neighborhoods has also paid a heavy toll on our infrastructure and environment: our subway lines are highly congested (with the 7 train being one of the worst offenders in the city😉 our schools are some of the most overcrowded city wide; our neighborhoods have some of the highest shortages of park space in the city; and our waterfront is endangered by overdevelopment.

This development did not happen by accident, or by the so-called “free-market;” the destruction of our neighborhoods is the direct result of irresponsible planning and public policies that favor luxury real estate developers and those with capital over everyone else. Specifically, these include the 421-a tax abatement that gives tax breaks to the largest luxury developers in LIC like Tishman Speyer and Rockrose, and rezonings for higher density which significantly enriched these same developers by allowing them to build super-tall residential towers that rival Manhattan. This not only includes neighborhood rezonings like the ones we have seen in LIC, but also spot rezonings, like the one you approved to allow the Wolkoff brothers to tear down Five Pointz and replace it with a luxury residential development.

As if this weren’t enough, we have learned that the Mayor has plans to encourage even more development in our communities—development that we know will not be affordable for low-income, or even middle-income New Yorkers. Specifically, he has planned a triple-threat, which if collectively passed would drastically change the future of West Queens. These include:

The BQX Trolley is a private trolley that would run along the waterfront in  Astoria, Queens and run through Long Island City all the way to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, displacing low-income residents and businesses along its entire stretch. This proposal may be in the “planning” phase, but we know enough about the plan to know that we do not need a luxury trolley in our neighborhoods. The plan’s financing is based on a value capture model—which is a euphemism for raising property values all along the waterfront, to be recaptured and help pay for the operations. Furthermore, as explained by Hunter Professor Sam Stein in the recent documentary, The Gentrification Express: Breaking Down the BQX, and a leaked confidential memo from the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s BQX advisory team to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, we have learned that even the $2.5 billion will not be enough to cover the costs, which are likely to far exceed this amount and come out of our tax dollars. This money could be much better used to address our existing 7 train issues, adding new bus routes to transit desserts, and improving “Access-A-Ride” car services that have dismally failed our most vulnerable seniors and neighbors with disabilities.

The Sunnyside Yards, where the city plans to build a new neighborhood that would comprise mostly of luxury housing. Earlier this year, the city released a feasibility study with various development scenarios. In every scenario, market-rate housing far outweighed any affordable housing or community use. At this early stage, the study predicts that this development could cost as much as $19 billion—that is $19 billion that could be put to much better use, such as covering the severe capital gap in NYCHA public housing, and investing in true low-income housing.

The Long Island City Core rezoning is the city’s plan to encourage more mixed-use, commercial development in LIC. While additional commercial space for existing, Queens-based small businesses and affordable studios would be desirable, given the already high density of LIC, we know that these new spaces will not be affordable. The city also claims that the rezoning would require developers to build additional “affordable units” through the Mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) plan. These additional units would be minimal as developers already have significant incentives through programs like ‘Affordable Housing New York’ which provides a 35-year tax break in exchange for building some “affordable units” in neighborhoods like LIC. We also know that units built through MIH are truly not affordable, as they are for households making an average of 60% of the area median income (approx. $50,000 for a household of three), and can also be for households making well over $100,000.

Furthermore, we are deeply concerned with the planning process itself, which to date has minimized resident participation, with minimal notice given to community residents and discussion formats that limit participation. In fact, during a recent planning meeting, residents were only able to present their thoughts after they demanded a town-hall format and seized the microphone from city planners.

During that town-hall, residents agreed: the only rezoning that should be considered in LIC is a downzoning to correct the mistakes of the past.

We are directing this these concerns to you, because while these proposals may come from the Mayor’s office, all three of these developments will eventually come to you for a vote. We also know that in cases where multiple Council Members are involved (such as the BQX proposal), you wield influence as the majority leader. The real estate industry has much to gain from your votes, and so we were not surprised to see that you raised nearly half a million dollars in campaign contributions–even while running unopposed. That is also why we were not surprised to find through our research (which was confirmed by an independent investigation by City Limits) that you are a top recipient of real estate money, accepting the most real estate dollars, second only to Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito.

 

We have heard you say that you are “concerned” about the triple-threat, and that these campaign contributions you have received from Luxury Real Estate Developers do not influence your decisions. If that is the case, we want you to put those words into action, specifically by challenging the Mayor and openly opposing these developments that will further destroy our communities.

We have also heard you say that these plans are too early in the planning stages, that action will come later, but we know that this is false. Once any of these plans make it to the city’s formal review process, Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), it will be extremely difficult for residents to influence the final outcomes, which are ultimately decided by the city, and voted on by you, our councilman. That is why Sunset Park residents (successfully) demanded that Council Member Menchaca withdraw his support from the BQX (he now admits that “the BQX is predicated on having a successfully gentrified neighborhood”) and that is why we are calling on you to stop the triple-threat now.

We are also collectively calling on you to fight for full funding of NYCHA public housing, which suffers from a $17 billion capital deficit as well as a city-wide rent freeze. We learned that you have called for a “city-wide rent freeze” in your re-election campaign platform, but we have yet to hear anything from you about how you plan to implement one across all residential and commercial units. Now that you have used this platform to win, we demand to know what is your plan to make this a reality for Queens residents who are in desperate need of housing protections.

To date, over 800 neighbors have joined us in signing a petition, calling on you to oppose these developments. These signatures have been collected collaboratively by Queens neighbors and grassroots groups including: Democratic Socialists of America – Queens Branch; Peoples Power Assemblies; Queens Anti Gentrification Project; Queens Is Not For Sale; and SPARC (Serve the People – Awaken Revolutionary Consciousness). Please find the paper signatures attached to the email, along with these additional online signatures.

This petition is only the beginning. For as long as these developments threaten our communities, we will continue to do the work of informing our neighbors and organizing with them to hold you, and all those in power accountable to do the right thing for the future of our families, neighbors and beloved communities.

Sincerely,

Queens Neighbors

Queens Anti Gentrification Project
Queens Is Not For Sale
SPARC
Democratic Socialists of America – Queens
Peoples Power Assemblies

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Long Island City does not Need a Vertical ‘Country-Club’ on Public Land

Originally published on CityLimits.org: https://citylimits.org/2017/10/12/cityviews-long-island-city-does-not-need-a-vertical-country-club-on-public-land/

There’s something different about the newest luxury towers planned for Long Island City’s waterfront. The private developer, TF Cornerstone, has already developed 6 waterfront LIC properties, but this time, it plans to build on public, city-owned land—one of the few remaining parcels in Long Island City.

Earlier this year, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) announced its selection of TF Cornerstone to redevelop the public site. Considering that Mayor de Blasio has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from private developers, including TF Cornerstone, the “carrots” offered in this deal for Queens residents should be considered with a generous grain of salt:

  • 250 units of affordable housing: The so-called “affordable” units will be out of reach for truly low-income residents—and even these units will make up only 25 percent of the total 1,000 residential units that will be primarily luxury housing. The inclusion of affordable housing is not a gift; but rather, the bare minimum requirement for TF Cornerstone to qualify for 35-year tax breaks.
  • Approx. one-acre park with canoe and kayak launch point: This park will not relieve the shortage of green space as it would primarily serve as a backyard for the new luxury towers which alone will house 1,000 new households.
  • Public school: Again, this project will not relieve the overcrowding of LIC schools as it will simultaneously bring in 1,000 new households. More households means more children who need schools.
  • Thousands of new jobs: The lead selling point for this project is that it would create 4,000 jobs; however, more than half of the jobs (2,500) will be temporary construction jobs.
  • New industrial space: Finally, the crowning jewel of the project is industrial space managed by a nonprofit organization. However, this “affordable” industrial component actually makes up less than 10 percent of the massive 515,000 square feet of industrial, commercial, and retail space that TF Cornerstone plans to build—and profit from.

What would another TF Cornerstone development look like?

TF Cornerstone has already developed numerous towers including the 4540 Center Boulevard building right next to the proposed redevelopment site. These developments include tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, billiards, theater, gyms and more —an intentional design to ensure residents circulate disposable income and time within their building, rather than walking the actual neighborhood where they might support existing local businesses.

Our residents can indulge in a country-club-like atmosphere without leaving their own street,” bragged Sofia Estevez, TF Cornerstone’s executive vice president, in a recent statement.

As City Limits has previously reported, over 95 percent of all recent Long Island City developments have been market rate housing (read: unaffordable), so it is hard to imagine that the neighborhood truly needs another country club—let alone one that is built with public support.

Yes, Queens residents need new jobs, parks and affordable housing – but we can in fact achieve these goals without luxury housing. There are dozens of nonprofit developers across NYC that would readily seize the opportunity to develop true community space and affordable housing, if they weren’t always overlooked by the city for private developers like TF Cornerstone, Jonathan Rose Companies and L&M Developer Partners.

Can this project be stopped? – YES!

The public site is zoned for manufacturing use and therefore a luxury residential tower cannot be built as-of-right. To change the zoning, the project will have to go through the formal community review process, the Uniform Land Review Process (ULURP). Once in ULURP, the project will require an advisory vote from the community board’s land use committee and full board. And most importantly, it will require a vote from City Council, which almost always defers to the local City Council Member.

In other words, if Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer opposes this project, it is dead.

Only a few months ago, Crown Heights residents succeeded in convincing their local Council Woman and Borough President to oppose a similar project in Brooklyn where the same agency, EDC, sought to privatize another public site, the Brooklyn-Union Armory. In that project, at least 50 percent of the rentals and 20 percent of the condos would be affordable, but Crown Heights residents wouldn’t be sold short. They mobilized and organized, and successfully pressured their local elected officials who are now calling for nothing short of a 100 percent affordable project. We can do the same in Queens.

Hundreds of residents have already signed onto an LIC Coalition petition against the TF Cornerstone project, and as more residents learn about this public land give-away to a “country-club” developer, this movement will only grow.