The City is Ours, if We Take It: Breaking Up With Neo-liberal Politicians

(To preface this article, we reiterate our support for the LIC Coalition’s demands and petition, which can be viewed here: https://www.change.org/p/city-elected-officials-save-the-waterfront-this-land-is-our-land-public-land-for-public-use. However, below, we outline our serious concerns related to the involvement of Jimmy Van Bramer in today’s protest.)

This afternoon (3/3/18) Big Real Estate’s beloved Jimmy Van Bramer will be headlining a rally to protest the giveaway of public land to private developers in Long Island City. His act of doing so will be steeped in the most palpable hypocrisy – on a soapbox, the politician will be enveloped by skyscrapers and development projects that he himself helped conceive of and promote. With luxury condos surrounding Saturday’s “This Land is Our Land” protest, let those present recall that Jimmy Van Bramer was hailed a champion of the LIC BID, received the most donations of any city council candidate (of which over $100,000 from Big Real Estate), was complicit in the destruction of 5-Pointz, is a staunch supporter of the BQX, among many other unforgivable positions.

Many of the developers who own skyscrapers in LIC donated repeatedly to Van Bramer, who, in turn, helped facilitate their development.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

One might wonder why such a stalwart supporter of Big Real Estate has agreed to speak at this protest. The answer simply comes down to opportunism: Van Bramer, a standard middle-of-the-road Democrat, no more “progressive” than De Blasio or Hillary Clinton, and just as neo-liberal, has had his left-wing persona damaged by groups who have fought to bring his record to light. Following his failed City Council Speaker bid and his subsequent announcement that he will be running for Queens Borough President, the politician seeks to reestablish himself as a leader of the “#resistance” and cement support from neighborhood groups going forward. Therefore, after an enormous community effort, he has chosen to support this one cause. But at what price?

Accidentally Selling Out Your Neighbors

In short: The mere presence of Jimmy Van Bramer is an affront to the work so many have done and to all those who are currently getting priced-out and displaced because of his policies.

Politicians, especially ones with Jimmy Van Bramer’s record, do not do things out of the goodness of their heart. Each move is calculated, with contingencies and hidden clauses, all arranged to promote their political career. If Jimmy Van Bramer was true to his word, he would call for a city-wide ban on the giveaway of public land to private developers (he won’t – remember, he voted for the Bedford-Union Armory deal). If Jimmy Van Bramer were really here for his constituents, he would fight for 100% low-income PUBLIC housing, not De Blasio’s public/private partnership through MIH/ZQA. If Jimmy Van Bramer was a champion of “#queensvalues”, as he proclaims to be, he would have adamantly rejected the BQX (aka the Gentrification Express) long ago.

If Jimmy Van Bramer was true to his word, he would call for a city-wide ban on the giveaway of public land to private developers (he won’t – remember, he voted for the Bedford-Union Armory deal). If Jimmy Van Bramer were really here for his constituents, he would fight for 100% low-income PUBLIC housing, not De Blasio’s public/private partnership through MIH/ZQA. If Jimmy Van Bramer was a champion of “#queensvalues”, as he proclaims to be, he would have adamantly rejected the BQX (aka the Gentrification Express) long ago.

The dangers of allowing Jimmy Van Bramer to headline any rally related to land use, displacement or gentrification is two-fold: first, when the time comes, he will call in his debts. Secondly, and more importantly, it comes at the price of potentially accidentally selling out your neighbors. For example, Jimmy Van Bramer has promised that Queens NYCHA developments will not get privatized through Next Generation NYCHA, but what about our friends in the Bronx, Harlem or Brooklyn? As a City Council member, does he not owe it to all NYC residents to push for fair and just housing policy, not just for those who’s votes he conveniently needs? Another example: many have been fighting for Jimmy Van Bramer to reject the BQX, a position he has declined to take. How does allowing Jimmy Van Bramer to headline a rally related to gentrification help other causes that are just as important? Instead of collectively strengthening our position, giving Jimmy Van Bramer a platform does the exact opposite.

Reforms Not Reformism

Queens Anti-Gentrification Project endorses the idea of “reforms without reformism”, meaning that we refuse to work alongside those politicians we see so clearly are our enemies. Instead, we strongly believe that neighborhood groups must come together, independent of politicians, and fight for and demand certain reforms that are so desperately needed – and to do so from a position of strength and solidarity. By remaining independent, politicians can either listen to or reject our demands, which is their alleged job anyway.

History has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that working alongside neo-liberal Democrats consistently leads down a road that gives them the upper hand. Its time we reject this path and build our own power.

If you are tired of working with politicians like Jimmy Van Bramer and believe in the need for independent grassroots groups and civic engagement, please feel free to get in contact.

If you want to read more about Jimmy Van Bramer’s record, you can check out our other blog posts here.

We demand a city-wide ban on the give away of public land!

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Triple Threat Letter to Jimmy Van Bramer

Dear Council Member Jimmy 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

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 Jimmy 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:

Jimmy 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.

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 Jimmy 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:

Jimmy Van Bramer’s Big Real Estate Problem

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer claims to be part of the “resistance.”  After the last presidential election, he led a march across the Queensboro bridge to protest Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.  He then held a “resistance” town hallJimmy Van Bramer’s track record, however, makes these activities and claims hard to take seriously. A recent analysis of campaign contributions conducted by Queens Anti-Gentrification Project reveals that the Council Member received at least $106,834 from sources related to real estate for the 2017 campaign cycle.  We also found that Van Bramer has appeared as keynote speaker at multiple real estate conferences in Long Island City.

“his campaign received at least $106,834 from sources related to real estate, with 16 donors who sit on the boards of the Long Island City Business Improvement District and Long Island City Partnership”

Donations
Queens Anti-Gentrification Project completed an analysis of donations received by Van Bramer’s re-election campaign as of June 8th, 2017. We found that his campaign received at least $106,834 from sources related to real estate, with 11 donors who sit on the boards of the Long Island City Business Improvement District and Long Island City Partnership, the organizations leading the charge of luxury development in Long Island City. In total, Van Bramer is reporting that he has raised almost half a million dollars – more than almost every other Queens candidate – and is still continuing to fundraise. The full list of donations can be found here.

The $106,834 figure is an estimate based on research of available data; however, the actual number may be higher.  It is impossible to identify many contributors due to increasingly lax campaign finance laws regarding the collection of donor information.  Our research methodology included: a line by line analysis of every donor (as of June 8th, 2017), then summing up donations from developers, brokers, land use lawyers, architects, and family members of these individuals and entities. If it was unclear whether a donation was made by someone connected to real estate interests, research on that individual’s name was carried out. If a matching name was discovered that clearly had links to the real estate industry, they were then included in this analysis along with a link to the website which implicates them.  In several instances, we discovered that names or employer names had misspellings.  We believe this may have been done intentionally. For example, the spelling of David Wolkoff’s name (misspelled Walkoff), or the spelling of the law firm Davis Polk and Wardwell (misspelled David Polk & Wordwell).

Below are a few highlights of real estate related campaign contributions:

  1. The Wolkoff family: $6,500 from David & Gerald Wolkoff, owners of the former 5Pointz graffiti mecca which was destroyed despite community opposition and recently replaced with a pair of high rise towers.  Stephanie Wolkoff also chipped in $2750.  In previous election cycles Van Bramer received close to an additional $8,000 from this same family. (Some of this money was returned)  Read more here.
  2. Modern Spaces Real Estate: Modern Spaces employees donated on 7 separate occasions, totaling $3,700.  Modern Spaces is a major brokerage firm founded in LIC that specializes in luxury real estate.  Real estate mogul Jonathan Kushner has a stake in Modern Spaces.
  3. LIC Partnership Board and/or LIC BID: $11,300 in donations were received from 11 board members of the LIC Partnership and/or LIC Business Improvement District.
  4. Criterion Group: $16,250 in donations were received from individuals related to Criterion Group, including three members of the Manglick family, also connected to Sak Structures LLC, the officer manager at Sak Structure LLC, and Caaminee Pandit, the director of acquisitions and real estate development for Criterion Group, LLC.
  5. Rockrose Developers: $4,500 in donations received from Rockrose Developers(Henry Elghanayan and his son Justin) who, in spite of community opposition, plan to destroy a vital LIC green space in order to build an 18 story building. Read more here.
  6. Plaxall Developers: Leonard Quigley and Paula Kirby(also connected to the LIC Partnership), donated a total of $4,125.

A detailed analysis by Queens Anti-Gentrification Project can be found here.

Van Bramer’s donors directly benefit from the frantic pace of development in Long Island City and have a vested interested in securing the passage of the triple threat – the BQX, Long Island City Core Rezoning, and development of Sunnyside Yards – which Van Bramer is pushing for both publicly and behind the scenes.

Appearances at Real Estate Conferences
These campaign contributions are not surprising considering that Van Bramer has been very vocal in his support for real estate development in Long Island City. The Council Member, by appearing as keynote speaker at real estate conferences, holding numerous meetings with developers, and, generally pushing for policies that benefit developers, has shown very clearly where his interests lie.

On September 23, 2014, Jimmy Van Bramer was the keynote speaker a real estate conference, “Future of Long Island City”, consisting almost entirely of representatives from the real estate industry. One ad touted the conference for “bringing together the top real estate figures in one of NYC’s hottest submarkets. With its booming residential and commercial sector, and its ease of access to Manhattan, there is a huge future to look forward to in Long Island City.” The invitation also promised “plentiful schmooze time,” insinuating opportunities for attendees to network with others in the industry, and speak off-the-record with the influential Council Member.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 2.33.25 PM.png

The following year, in 2015, Van Bramer was yet again the keynote speaker at an LIC real estate summit hosted by the Long Island City Partnership, in which he was introduced as a “Great Champion of the LIC Partnership.”

During his remarks (Click here for the video), Van Bramer said “I feel the envy from other Council Members all over the city of New York when they talk about Long Island City. They see it from Manhattan, or they drive through it, or they come to an event here, and they say that’s incredible what’s happening there: all those buildings going up, all those cultural institutions, that waterfront park, yes, that 30 million dollar library that is now rising on the waterfront – these are incredible victories that signal an amazing future for this place.” Van Bramer added, “Where Long Island City goes, New York City goes.”

“All those buildings going up, all those cultural institutions, that waterfront park, yes, that 30 million dollar library that is now rising on the waterfront – these are incredible victories that signal an amazing future for this place.” – Jimmy Van Bramer

But who is benefiting from these supposed victories? For those in and around Van Bramer’s district who are threatened by displacement, concerned with the environment, or struggling with the rising cost of living – these buildings do not symbolize “victories,” but tall concrete specters of what’s coming to their neighborhood – unless, of course, they are stopped.

licmasterplan15bpw-2-web.jpg

Again, in 2016, Van Bramer was the keynote speaker at a real estate conference hosted by the same LIC Partnership. This time, the conference was interrupted by a grassroots group, Queens is Not for Sale: “We are here today because we represent the people of Queens that the Mayor’s affordable housing plan has left out.  We are domestic workers, fast food workers, taxi drivers, day laborers, seniors, among others.  Queens is being billed as the ‘new frontier.’ This ‘new frontier’ has been our home for many years. This is about displacement.”

This June, Van Bramer headlined the LIC Summit.  Other speakers included Modern Spaces, Rockrose, and Plaxall.  At the conference, discussions took place regarding LIC’s future as a tech and science hub.

Conclusion
As addressed previously, Trump’s base of power and influence is the real estate industry.  While Trump spews anti-immigrant rhetoric in the news, the diverse, working class immigrant communities along the 7 train are faced with the imminent threat of displacement – driven by luxury real estate developers and their lust for profits.

As shown above, it isn’t the xenophobic president, Donald Trump, however, who is defending these interests in Queens.  It is none other than the self-anointed “resistance” fighter, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, local stalwart of luxury real estate, who refuses to acknowledge the displacement crisis and refuses to oppose the three looming luxury development proposals in his district (BQX, LIC Core Rezoning, & development of Sunnyside Yards) that would lead to the displacement of thousands of working class people along the 7 line.

Despite their difference in public rhetoric, both Trump and Van Bramer are firmly aligned with a real estate industry that shows no regard for the working class. The difference is that Van Bramer, instead of scapegoating immigrants, uses them as human shields by holding symbolic protests while at the same time taking huge amounts of cash from the same real estate industry that is displacing them.

No matter how many protests Van Bramer conducts, his position is clear when it comes to the people of Queens. Van Bramer’s “resistance” protests are meant to create a progressive public image. We will not let this carefully constructed persona fool us.

Clarifying the nature of Van Bramer’s “resistance” is just one part of a larger fight for basic housing justice in Queens and beyond. Behind Van Bramer’s rhetoric is the assumption that there are only two options, luxury development and luxury development with a small amount of “affordable” housing.  However, the frequently ignored demands for full funding and expansion of public housing, and the creation of low-income housing without displacement are realistic and attainable. As the stock of rent-regulated housing dwindles, thousands are forced to sleep on the street, and thousands more languish on public housing waiting lists, the necessity for such demands becomes more important than ever.

Senator Peralta’s Assault on Roosevelt Avenue / El Ataque del Senador Peralta a la Roosevelt

haga click aquí para leer en español

“It’s turned into the old Times Square where you have prostitution, $2 dance clubs, drugs, fake IDs….and that needs to end.” – State Senator Jose Peralta, District 13

On November 1, 2016, State Senator Jose Peralta, along with State Senator Michael Gianaris and State Assemblymember Michael DenDekker, announced a plan to “clean up” Roosevelt Avenue through Woodside, Jackson Heights and Corona.  Peralta said that Roosevelt is “in a clear state of disarray,” plagued by “illicit activity.” He added that “when night falls the corridor metamorphoses into a noisy and salacious place that is undesirable for area residents.”  These politicians, led by Peralta, want to create task forces and commissions that will solve these supposed problems by increasing police activity and vastly increasing fines for local bars who allegedly violate cabaret license laws.

For a decade, the conditions on Roosevelt Avenue have not been a priority for local politicians.  Despite this, vibrant immigrant communities have grown independently, attracting visitors from other boroughs and around the world.  For those that live here, there is no disarray.  A vast majority of crime is that of the wealthy exploiting the poor, landlords exploiting tenants, bosses exploiting employees.  The criminal activities Peralta is pointing out are common to all cities and take place as much in Midtown Manhattan, despite countless security cameras and police, as they do in Jackson Heights, Woodside and Corona.

The expectations of Peralta’s plan are out of touch with the realities of urban life, clearly putting particular immigrant working class neighborhoods under a magnifying glass for a specific reason – real estate development.  His focus is not on ending exploitation, but rather changing its look.  By “clean up,” he means that he wants to criminalize and eliminate what he sees as an undesirable visual element – the poor immigrant – an obstacle for luxury development.  In his vision for the new Roosevelt Avenue, just like in Times Square, prostitution and drugs don’t actually stop, but rather move from the street into the penthouse.

Displacement and High Scale Development
The reason that Council Members and State Senators are now paying attention to Roosevelt Avenue has nothing to do with improving the conditions of the people already living there. They have chosen to encourage high scale development in these areas, with a mindset that justifies the need for interventions that don’t address the needs of working class residents – instead, they serve to drive rents up and push us all out in favor of affluent tenants, and of course, higher profits for real estate developers.  The agenda of improvements these elected officials propose is driven by opportunistic economic interests.

Local politicians have a record of favoring corporations such as the Mets and U.S. Open. The financial goals of these corporations influence the ideas envisioned by our politicians.  During sporting events, neighborhoods along the 7 train often experience disruptions of our normal life – heavy drinking by Mets fans visiting from places like Long Island, crowded trains, unmanageable traffic and a heavy police presence around Flushing Meadows Corona Park(FMCP), combined with the restriction of public access to the park during the hottest time of the year.  Two years ago, the U.S. Open was granted public park land in exchange for an insignificant amount of money dedicated to the maintenance of the park, which had been rejected from public funding.  Compared to Central Park which employs almost 200 maintenance staff, FMCP does not employ nearly enough staff despite the fact that it is the second most used park in the city.  The conditions of the park show constant neglect from the city, and public resources only go into the park when corporations stand to benefit.

It is within this context that Peralta wants more police along Roosevelt Avenue.  He points at drugs and prostitution, but there is a bigger picture.  There is a profit to be made from the expulsion of working class immigrants.  In addition to the slow privatization of the park, real estate developers have their eyes set on Jackson Heights and Woodside as the next “hot” neighborhoods.  There are new luxury developments popping up along Roosevelt, and several other projects on the table, including a failed Jackson Heights-Corona BID and a more recent proposal for a Woodside BID.  There is always an agenda attached to calls for more policing, especially in the era of mass displacement.

What Does Policing Actually Look Like On Roosevelt?
As all local Queens politicians made sure to send their regards for mother’s day this month, we know that their sentiments are nothing but empty words. The meaning of the month of May for many of the mothers in our neighborhoods is more police harassment – ticketing, arrest, or physical abuse, all for selling tamales, ice cream, mango with chili and other summer snacks.

In recent months, we have experienced what an increase in public safety and police presence means for our neighbors. This February, a NYPD officer attacked a street vendor, violently throwing her merchandise to the street.  There is little respect for working class immigrant women that make a living from selling homemade food. While Queens officials go out of their way to flaunt their immigrant background, they reject the types of programs that would protect the well being of immigrant street vendors. Another recent act of violence by the Parks Department was against a pregnant woman defending her mother, a street vendor in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

What are Queens politicians really doing to defend the hardest working people in their neighborhood, and the immigrant street cash economy in this “sanctuary city”? What would their mothers think about their policies of injustice that leave immigrant women unable to provide for their families?  They are not addressing the needs of the working class, but rather governing for their own benefit, real estate developers and the rich.

Next steps
Our neighbors along Roosevelt Avenue do need protection, not from supposed rampant crime, but from exploitation, real estate developers, politicians like Peralta and the police that enforce their policies. As neighbors, we need to look out for those most vulnerable under the current system, such as those working in the “informal” economy like sex workers and street vendors, as well as the homeless who congregate in our public spaces, and whose existence is criminalized under the current administration’s broken windows policy.  We need to develop defense networks, combat police harassment and deportation raids, and create long-lasting financial support structures for when such crises occur.

While some groups are calling for him to leave the IDC, Peralta along with other Democrats has demonstrated that there are much deeper and institutional issues that need to be addressed.  Thus we call on our Queens neighbors to publicly confront Peralta and other politicians, specifically regarding the lies being told about Roosevelt Avenue, and their agenda to gentrify our neighborhoods. Accordingly, we call on our neighbors to pressure Council Member Daniel Dromm to declare his support and solidarity with sex workers, many of whom are trans and/or LGBQI, street vendors, homeless people, and other vulnerable populations, and state the concrete steps he will take to realize that solidarity, in addition to denouncing Peralta’s plans.


El Ataque del Senador Peralta a la Roosevelt

(La Avenida Roosevelt) “Se ha convertido en la vieja Times Square donde hay prostitución, clubes de baile de $2, identificaciones falsas… y eso debe terminarse.” – Senador José Peralta, Distrito 13

El 1ero de noviembre del 2016, el Senador José Peralta, junto al Senador Michael Gianaris y el Asambleísta Micheal DenDekker, anunciaron un plan para “limpiar” la Avenida Roosevelt a lo largo de Woodside, Jackson Heights y Corona. Peralta dijo que la Av. Roosevelt está “ en un claro estado de desorden” plagado de “actividades ilícitas”. Añadió que “cuando cae la noche este sector sufre una metamorfosis que lo transforma en un lugar bullicioso y escabroso que es indeseable para las personas que viven en el área.” Estos políticos, liderados por Peralta, quieren crear fuerzas especiales y comisiones que supuestamente resolverán estos problemas incrementando la presencia de la policía y aumentando las multas a los bares locales que supuestamente violan las leyes que controlan los bares.

Por una década, las condiciones de la Avenida Roosevelt no han sido una prioridad para los políticos locales. A pesar de esto, las comunidades migrantes han crecido independientemente atrayendo visitantes de otros condados y gente de todo el mundo. Para la gente que vive aquí, no hay desorden. La mayor cantidad de crímenes que se sufre, es el crimen de la explotación de los ricos a los pobres, los dueños de casa explotando a los inquilinos, jefes explotando a empleados. Las actividades criminales que el Senador Peralta señala son comunes en todas las grandes ciudades y pasan igualmente en Midtown Manhattan, en Jackson Heights, Woodside y Corona a pesar del sin número de cámaras de seguridad y policía en las calles.

Las expectativas que propone el plan de Peralta demuestran su poco contacto y entendimiento de la vida urbana y son evidencia de cómo él quiere poner a los barrios de gente trabajadora migrante bajo una lupa de investigación, pero en realidad tiene  una razón específica: el interés en los bienes raíces y la construcción de inmuebles de lujo.  Su enfoque no tiene nada que ver con ponerle fin a la explotación, porque solo quiere cambiar la cara, el look.  Cuando él dice “limpieza” él quiere decir que quiere hacer que se les vea a los migrantes como criminales y así eliminar lo que él ve como un elemento visual indeseable – los migrantes pobres- que son un obstáculo para las construcciones de inmuebles de lujo. En su visión de la Avenida Roosevelt, así como en Times Square, la prostitución y las drogas no es que dejan de existir, solo se mueven de lugar, van de la calle a los penthouses.

Desalojos y Construcciones de Lujo
La razón por la que los concejales de la ciudad y los senadores están prestando atención a la Avenida Roosevelt no tiene nada que ver con mejorar las condiciones de la vida de la gente que ya vive ahí. Los políticos han escogido motivar la construcción de lujo en estas áreas, con una mentalidad que justifica la necesidad de intervenciones y cambios que no resuelven las necesidades de la gente trabajadora – en vez de eso, facilitan que se suban los precios de la renta y así pueden desalojarnos para atraer a inquilinos más afluentes, con más dinero y por supuesto que crean más oportunidades de ganancia para los que invierten en construcciones y renovaciones de edificios de negocios, viviendas etc.

La agenda de mejoramiento que proponen estos políticos está motivada por intereses económicos oportunistas.

Los políticos locales tienen una historia de favorecer a las corporaciones como los Mets y el U.S Open (el campeonato de tenis). Las metas financieras de estas corporaciones influencian las ideas que tienen estos políticos. Durante los eventos deportivos, los barrios a lo largo del tren 7 a menudo experimentan interrupciones en su vida diaria – fans de los Mets intoxicados con alcohol visitan desde lugares como Long Island, abarrotan los trenes, crean un tráfico incontrolable y se ve un alto incremento de la presencia de la policía en el parque de Flushing (FMCP), en el que se restringe el acceso del público al parque durante los meses más calientes del año. Hace dos años, el U.S Open (la corporación que dirige el campeonato de tenis) recibió más tierra pública del parque a cambio de una cantidad de dinero insignificante dedicada para el mantenimiento del parque, que ha sido rechazado del presupuesto público para cuidarlo por mucho tiempo. Comparado con el Central Park que emplea a casi 200 empleados para su mantenimiento, el parque de Flushing no tiene el personal suficiente, a pesar de que es el segundo parque más utilizado de la ciudad. Las condiciones del parque muestran un rechazo constante del gobierno de la ciudad, y los recursos públicos van al parque solo cuando se pueden beneficiar y les conviene a las corporaciones.

En este contexto es que Peralta quiere más policía a lo largo de la Roosevelt.  El señala las drogas, la prostitución, pero hay un panorama más amplio.  Hay una ganancia que se puede explotar de la expulsión de la gente migrante trabajadora. Además de la privatización lenta del parque, los inversionistas constructores de bienes raíces tienen los ojos puestos en Jackson Heights y Woodside como los siguientes barrios “de moda”.  Hay nuevos negocios, oficinas y viviendas de lujo apareciendo a lo largo de la Roosevelt y otros proyectos esperando en la mesa, incluyendo el fracasado Distrito de Mejoramiento de Negocios Jackson Heights-Corona y la más reciente propuesta de un Distrito de mejoramiento de negocios (BID) en Woodside . Siempre hay una agenda ligada a los llamados para más policía, especialmente en esta era de desalojos masivos.

¿Cuál es el verdadero rostro del aumento de Policía en la Roosevelt?
Mientras todos los políticos de Queens expresaron sus sentimientos de respeto en el día de las madres este mes de mayo, sabemos que sus sentimientos no son más que palabras vacías. El significado del mes de mayo para muchas de las madres en nuestros barrios es más acoso policial – tickets, arrestos, o abuso físico, todo esto por vender tamales, helados, mango con picante y otras golosinas de verano.

Durante los últimos meses, hemos experimentado lo que significa el incremento de seguridad pública y la presencia de la policía para nuestras vecinas. En febrero, un oficial de la policía de Nueva York NYPD atacó a una vendedora en la calle violentamente, tirando su mercadería a la calle. Hay poco respeto para las mujeres migrantes trabajadoras que se ganan la vida vendiendo comida hecha en casa. Mientras que los políticos de Queens no pierden la oportunidad de ostentar y presumir su identidad migrante, rechazan los programas que protegerían el bienestar de las migrantes que venden en la calle. Otro acto de violencia estuvo en manos de un guardia del Departamento de parques en contra de una mujer embarazada que defendía a su mamá, una mujer trabaja vendiendo en la calle y en el parque de Flushing.

¿Qué están haciendo en realidad los políticos de Queens para defender a las personas que más duro trabajan en los barrios de sus distritos, y ¿qué hacen por apoyar la economía inmigrante cash en esta supuesta ciudad santuario? ¿Qué pensarían sus mamás sobre sus políticas de injusticia que impiden que las mujeres inmigrantes puedan proveer el pan de cada día para sus familias? Ellos no están dedicando sus esfuerzos para atender las necesidades de la gente trabajadora, pero en lugar gobiernan para su propio beneficio, el de los inversionistas constructores de bienes raíces y los ricos.

¿Qué podemos hacer?
Las personas que viven a lo largo y en los alrededores de la Avenida Roosevelt necesitan protección, no del supuesto crimen desenfrenado, pero protección de la explotación, de los constructores de vivienda de lujo, de los políticos como Peralta y la policía que ejecutan sus políticas. Como vecinxs debemos cuidar a las personas que se vuelven más vulnerables bajo las condiciones actuales de este sistema, como la gente que trabajan en lo que llaman “la economía informal” las trabajadoras sexuales y las personas que venden en la calle, así como también las personas desamparadas, sin casa que se congregan en las plazas y espacios públicos, y las personas a las que se les tacha de criminales bajo las leyes de la alcaldía actual y sus políticas de “ventanas rotas”. Necesitamos desarrollar redes de protección, apoyo y defensa para combatir el acoso de la policía, las redadas de deportación, y crear estructuras y maneras de apoyo financiero a largo plazo para cuando ocurren estas crisis.

Mientras algunos grupos ya han pedido a Peralta que salga del grupo de Demócratas independientes, Peralta junto a otros políticos Demócratas ha demostrado que hay asuntos más profundos que se deben cambiar en estas instituciones. Por eso hacemos un llamado a nuestrxs vecinxs en Queens a enfrentar públicamente a Peralta y otros políticos, específicamente para denunciar las mentiras que dicen sobre la avenida Roosevelt, y su agenda para desplazarnos mientras traen gente con más poder adquisitivo a vivir en nuestros barrios. Así mismo hacemos un llamado a nuestras vecinas a presionar al concejal Daniel Dromm para que se declare en apoyo y solidaridad con las trabajadoras sexuales, muchas de las cuáles son trans y/o LGBQI, las vendedoras/xs que trabajan en la calle, la gente sin hogar y otras poblaciones vulnerables y exigir que establezcan los pasos concretos que tomarán para mostrar su solidaridad, además de denunciar el plan de Peralta.

Response to Van Bramer’s Non-Opposition & What We Mean By “Rent Freeze”

In a recent Sunnyside Post article published on March 21, Jimmy Van Bramer responded to our call for a protest against the LIC core rezoning, Sunnyside Yards development and BQX trolley.  We understand that all three of these development projects will result in massive displacement in western Queens.

Van Bramer says that he has “publicly expressed great concern and skepticism about all of the Mayor’s proposals.”  The working class of western Queens is not just concerned about out-of-character development – we are convinced that these development projects would raise property values and rents, and ultimately displace us from the area.

We know because we have eyes, and we have seen what has happened to every working class Black, Latino, Asian, & immigrant neighborhood over recent years as a result of harmful development projects and upzonings.  Williamsburg, Harlem, Chinatown, LES, Park Slope – the list goes on.  We know because we have read the insightful work of urban planning and geography experts Tom Angotti (Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at CUNY Hunter) and Sam Stein (PhD candidate in geography at the CUNY Graduate Center).  We know because many of us have already been displaced from Brooklyn and Manhattan, and we have seen this exact process play out before.

What we are asking for is a concrete understanding that we are in a crisis.  Working class communities in queens are under attack – rising rents are driving out our neighbors and local small businesses, and immigrant communities are undergoing nothing short of an ethnic cleansing.  This is a direct result of politicians, city planners and developers who play games with the real estate market to drive up land values and maximize tax revenue and profit.  Drastic measures are necessary.

Therefore, we are demanding unconditional opposition to upzonings and harmful development projects, and urging support for a city-wide moratorium on upzonings and a universal rent freeze.

Jimmy has a choice: He can side with the people and vocally oppose these outrageous developments, or by his meager “concern” be complicit with the very developers who are ready to destroy our neighborhoods for profit. The decision Jimmy makes will prove how he really lives out his “Queens values”.

What is a rent freeze?

Jimmy Van Bramer says he is in favor of a rent freeze.  We are not sure that he understands what we mean.  We are not calling for a rent freeze on rent regulated apartments, but rather a city-wide, universal rent freeze on all units in the city.  Until we achieve a legitimate, long term solution, we demand that we be allowed the dignity to remain in our homes and neighborhoods regardless of what the so-called free market says.