Why Fighting Gentrification is Connected to Fighting Trump

Unlike no president before, President Trump is a product of the powerful real estate industry which fueled his rise to power, and it is going to take an equally powerful fight from the people to strike his source of influence.

Trump’s fortune, which includes 1.7 billion in NYC real estate assets, made it possible for him to fuel his brand and business ventures, not to mention pour $66 million into his presidential campaign. And he will continue enriching his family’s real estate business in office. Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner remains a beneficiary of Kushner Cos—the family real estate business which has made over $7 billion in acquisitions over the past decade and boasts over 20,000 apartments in its portfolio, with a focus on “up and coming neighborhoods” like Astoria, Queens and Jersey City.

In the book, How to Kill a City Peter Moskowitz explains gentrification as a process of “reorienting the purpose of cities away from being spaces that provide for the poor and middle classes and toward spaces that generate capital for the rich,” and that is exactly what is happening under the Trump administration.

As president, Trump has started this process by appointing the wealthiest cabinet in U.S. history to date, and more recently, by releasing a preliminary budget with draconian funding cuts across the board for essential housing and social service programs.

The White House budget includes over $6 billion in cuts to the federal housing budget—eliminating the HOME program that provides housing for very low-income residents and reducing the already meager budget for public housing, senior housing and housing subsidies for people with disabilities. The budget also proposed over $4 billion in cuts to community service programs from the Department of Health and Human Services, and $2.4 billion from the Department of Transportation.

These cuts will pressure cities to run into the open arms of private corporations and luxury developers—like Trump and Kushner—to meet essential housing and transit needs. This is already playing out in New York City, where for example Council Member Ritchie Torres is calling public private partnership “the salvation of public housing” which faces a $17 billion deficit. On the transportation side, Mayor de Blasio has allied with luxury developers like Two Trees Development to push for a new Brooklyn Queens Connector trolley which would be financed by rising property values along the entire waterfront from Astoria to Sunset Park.

As Trump and our elected officials push forward with these pro-gentrification policies, it will be up to the people to unify and take back our power.

We don’t have to look too far back in history for lessons and inspiration. Against incredible odds, the Montgomery bus boycott- led by poor, working women of color- resulted in a Supreme Court decision against the state of Alabama. It was successful largely for two reasons: (1) thousands of ordinary people mobilized together around a common cause, putting fear into those in power; and (2) by refusing to ride buses which perpetuated a racist system, the people directly hurt the purse strings of the state (at the time, black Americans made up over 75% of the bus ridership).

We can use these same tactics to fight Trump, by uniting as neighbors and citizens against pro-gentrification policies which prioritize the wealthy over the most vulnerable and by taking actions which deliberately attack the source of his influence, the real estate industry.

Join the fight in West Queens by signing a petition to oppose three mega-developments that will benefit luxury real estate developers: the BQX Trolley, Sunnyside Yards, and the Long Island City Core Rezoning, and join over 100 neighbors on April 20th to tell Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer to say no to luxury development perpetuated by the likes of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner. Click here to RSVP and join our movement.


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.

A History of the Woodside BID

Plans are underway for the establishment of a BID(Business Improvement District) in Woodside.

What is a BID?

In short, a BID is a nonprofit organization with a board of majority property owners that oversees economic activity and usage of public space in a given area.  The BID is advertised as a beneficial public-private partnership that contributes to the well-being of the neighborhood by providing services like sanitation and security, or by engaging in projects to improve lighting, signage, painting, etc.  Sounds nice!  However, the BID can also act as a political lobbying force in the interests of landlords.  Most importantly, the BID can be used to encourage large scale corporate development in areas that are seen as undesirable, such as low income immigrant neighborhoods.

In reality, BIDs destroy neighborhoods.  We understand that a BID would help speed up gentrification by leading to a massive increase in property value, the closure of local businesses in favor of large corporate chains, the loss of immigrant jobs, police harassment of immigrants, criminalization of homelessness, and ultimately, the displacement of all working class people from the neighborhood.  The evidence of the negative impact of BIDs is found in over 70 current locations where BIDs now exist in NYC. We must prevent the Woodside BID at all costs.  In order to understand what we’re up against, here is a brief history of the Woodside BID proposal:

Four years ago, a meeting was held at St. Sebastian’s Parish Hall during which a very small handful of local officials pushed the idea forward for the creation of a BID on Roosevelt Avenue.  At that time, those behind the BID proposal included:

City Councilmember – Jimmy Van Bramer
Former Community Board 2 Chair – Joe Conley
Chair of Woodside on the Move – Bob Piazza
Owner of Ottomanelli Burgers – Frank Ottomanelli

Fortunately, the BID failed to garner any interest from local business owners and even small landlords.  Enter QEDC(Queens Economic Development Corporation).  In November of 2014, QEDC was given a “Capacity Building” grant by SBS(Small Business Services), the city agency that assists nonprofit development organizations in the establishment of BIDs through their Neighborhood Development Division.  One of the Capacity Building grant requirements is the creation of a “corridor assessment” document, to be used for the “commercial revitalization” of Roosevelt Avenue between 57th St. and 70th St.  This initial grant was used to try to warm up small business owners and community members to the idea of nonprofit intervention, and ultimately, the establishment of a BID.


On June 23rd of 2016, QEDC presented their corridor assessment to community members at a public meeting at Woodside on the Move.  QEDC also announced their plans to start a merchants association.  SBS sees a merchants association as a precursor to the BID, as they explain in their Merchant Organizing grant:

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 11.34.44 AM.png

According to an amNewYork article published on August 3, 2016, Bob Piazza, the Chair of Woodside on the Move, has explicitly stated that the merchants association is being used(like a Trojan horse) to gain support for a BID:

“In a second attempt to get local merchants to band together to improve their area, Woodside on the Move has teamed up with the Queens Economic Development Corporation to try to form an association. […] Bob Piazza, president of Woodside on the Move, said he hopes the business association will allow merchants to see the benefits of pooling their resources together and potentially create excitement about future BID proposals.”

As we speak, the QEDC and Bob Piazza are working to establish the Woodside BID.  In response, Queens Anti-Gentrification Project is kicking off a campaign to defeat the BID and keep QEDC out of our neighborhood.  We have many activities planned out over the next few months, and we invite those who live in or around the neighborhood to join us and defend Woodside from gentrification and displacement.

To get involved, message us on Facebook or email us at QueensAntiGentrification@gmail.com

Stop the Phipps Development! Community Meeting, April 28th, 7:00 PM


Proposed 10-Story Development on Barnett Ave. Sunnyside

Worried about rising rents? Scared that you will be forced to move? Construction of a large housing development has been proposed on the Woodside-Sunnyside border that will lead to higher rents, overcrowding, parking trouble, and even the loss of our neighborhood. But we can stop it!

Join us at a community meeting on April 28th at Sunnyside Community Services and make your voice heard.

Thursday, April 28th
Sunnyside Community Services
43-31 39th St, Sunnyside, NY 11104

The Anti-Gentrification Movement Will Not Be Funded

This Monday, the City Council, along with Real Affordability for All (a coalition of primarily nonprofit organizations) announced its support for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed housing plan.  They are expected to vote in favor of the plan next week.  For those who aren’t familiar with the proposal, please refer to our previous post: MIH and ZQA: de Blasio’s Trojan Horse

“MIH and ZQA will allow for more rapid ‘up-zoning’ (i.e. the ability to build larger and more profitable kinds of developments) across the entire city. As part of the deal, developers will be forced to make a certain portion of their developments ‘affordable.’  Politicians only like to talk about this ‘affordable’ component, when in fact MIH and ZQA have very little to do with affordable housing and are really aimed at generating profits. To garner public support for this plan, the DeBlasio administration has devised a very savvy and insincere media campaign: it aims to create 200,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. What DeBlasio doesn’t tell us, however, is how many housing units will become unaffordable as a result of the gentrification brought on by MIH and ZQA. Undoubtedly, the gentrification that results will lead to rapid rent increases in neighborhoods across the city – the 182,000 residents living in East New York, for example, are guaranteed to see their rent increase across the board if rezoning passes in their neighborhood.”

We understand that this plan will be devastating for the entire city.  So why in the hell did a coalition of social justice nonprofits help to facilitate the plan’s approval?

The Hidden Role of Large Nonprofits
Real Affordability for All describes itself as “New York City’s most powerful housing coalition,” aiming to “address homelessness, NYCHA, the preservation of existing affordable housing, and the development of new affordable housing.”

The coalition had originally planned a demonstration and even threatened acts of civil disobedience against the proposal, all of which it ultimately postponed because of “progress” in the negotiation process with the Mayor.  This week, RAFA has canceled all future protest relating to MIH/ZQA and instead has officially come out in full support of the proposal, declaring it a victory for low-income New Yorkers:

Image posted on RAFA social media
One of the main concessions leading to RAFA’s endorsement of MIH/ZQA was the alteration of the Area Median Income requirement to include more low-income residents (which we know will do nothing to stop gentrification). Another major aspect of their endorsement was an agreement by the Mayor’s office to engage in a study on housing affordability.  Are we expected to believe that a study will actually lead to anything?

What we see here is the usage of social justice language and the implementation of tactics such as civil disobedience by very powerful organizations in order to appear as if they represent the interests of working class residents.  The result: A potential mass housing movement is co-opted, and dissent is dismissed for a few bread crumbs as people who don’t know any better follow these large organizations like lambs to the slaughter.

This is what large nonprofits do.  They’re structured in a self-serving way which places focus on growth and forces them to meet the conditions of funders and donors.  They can’t upset the status quo.  Instead of opposing legislation outright, they’ll say “if you pass this legislation, it needs to include X or Y.”  The result, in this case is gentrification and displacement going unopposed – their advancement is even seen as a victory.  For anybody who knows the implications of MIH/ZQA, the passage of this plan is far from a victory.

The Solution is Easy
By allowing career activists and opportunists to lead the anti-gentrification movement from the helm of powerful organizations, we relinquish our agency.  Gentrification and displacement will continue until we come together as a community and lead our own movement from within our neighborhoods.  When we do, we will stop it and we will reverse it.  We will win!

Reach us at queensantigentrification@gmail.com

NOTE:  We want to be clear that we do not know which of the RAFA coalition organizations pushed for this compromise deal with the Mayor, and also that we do not believe ALL nonprofit organizations are guilty of co-option.  We recognize the important work done by many of the city’s smaller nonprofits, and we would never discredit or delegitimize that work.

Phipps to Develop Despite Community Opposition

On October 26, 2015 Council-member Jimmy Van Bramer held a community meeting for residents of Sunnyside to hear a presentation by Phipps Houses about the new 10-story residential development and rezoning they are planning for the area near Barnett Avenue and 50th Street. According to some in attendance, there was a lot of opposition to the proposal. After speaking with many more residents in the area, we found that the opposition to the new Phipps development is widespread. Despite opposition, Phipps went ahead and filed a rezoning application at DCP with the intent of developing the area. Since Council-member Van Bramer held a community meeting with residents, and since we wanted to give the Council-member the benefit of the doubt, a member of Queens Anti-Gentrification Project visited his office for a statement last week. Not surprisingly, we were told that the Council-member would not be making any comments regarding the Phipps development. We were left wondering – does Van Bramer really value the thoughts and feelings of the people in Sunnyside? Or did he hold the community meeting for show?

Screen Capture of Barnett Ave rezoning application from DCP website

Regardless of his position, one thing is clear: we need to get organized to oppos this development and all others that will be ushered in after City Council passes the MIH and ZQA zoning laws. As a rule, this organization will not come from any of those holding political office. Instead, it needs to grow directly out of our neighborhoods themselves, block by block.

For more information these zoning laws, please check out our previous blog post MIH and ZQA: DeBlasio’s Trojan Horse.

NOTE: On February 29, 2016, members of Queens Anti-Gentrification Project filed a FOIL request to get a copy of the Phipps rezoning application from DCP, something that’s usually kept hidden from public until DCP staff and the developers polish it up enough for public scrutiny. Of course, we will share the documents with our readers and neighbors in Queens.


If we want to win, we need to be informed. Currently there’s imbalance in information between those fighting against unjust conditions and those that are in power. There are many projects that aim to level the playing field – this is one such project, albeit a small contribution.

Below are resources for doing property, building and owner research. If you have any questions regarding these resources or need help researching a particular property or policy, please contact us at: queensantigentrification@gmail.com

To begin, find the block and lot of the property you’re researching by entering the address in the first link below and clicking on the “location report” tab in the right-hand column.








Very soon two new zoning laws are going to be voted on by the City Council – Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA). These laws were ostensibly developed by the DeBlasio administration to increase the amount of affordable housing in NYC. The proposed laws, however, are, quite literally, a trojan horse for gentrification. If MIH and ZQA were to pass, and they are likely to do so, the potential land value across the city will increase immediately. The passage of these laws will prompt land developers to start buying up parcels of land that were previously deemed not profitable. In fact, in anticipation of MIH and ZQA, this process has already begun and, unfortunately, East New York is Ground Zero.

Developers have the primary goal of squeezing as much money out of their land as possible. Because of various regulations, the amount of money a developer can make off of a particular parcel of land is limited. Therefore, the developer is forced to mobilize political will in order to change the regulations and laws limiting their profits. There are a number of ways to do this – one of the main tactics is through rezoning. With rezoning, a developer gains the ability to build bigger and more upscale buildings on the parcels they own. In turn, this allows them to pack more people into a limited amount of space (e.g. by building taller) and charge higher rents (e.g. by creating luxury condos and selling them to rich people). The golden equation for developers is more people + higher rents = higher profits. As rezoning takes place, old buildings owned by individuals and occupied by working class folks are demolished and new buildings owned by developers are put in their place; in the rezoned neighborhoods, land values begin to increase, leading to gentrification and ultimately, displacement

More precisely: MIH and ZQA will allow for more rapid “up-zoning” (i.e. the ability to build larger and more profitable kinds of developments) across the entire city. As part of the deal, developers will be forced to make a certain portion of their developments “affordable” (which in reality aren’t actually affordable to most working class people). Politicians only like to talk about this “affordable” component, when in fact MIH and ZQA have very little to do with affordable housing and are really aimed at generating profits. To garner public support for this plan, the DeBlasio administration has devised a very savvy and insincere media campaign: he aims to create 200,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. What DeBlasio doesn’t tell us, however, is how many housing units will become unaffordable as a result of the gentrification brought on by MIH and ZQA. Undoubtedly, the gentrification caused by MIH and ZQA will lead to rapid rent increases in neighborhoods across the city – the 182,000 residents living in East New York, for example, are guaranteed to see their rent increase across the board if rezoning passes in their neighborhood.  For what?  A few hundred supposedly affordable units? Units which will likely be marketed to out of town folks, anyway?

In the end, the DeBlasio administration would like us to believe that trading our neighborhoods for a meager amount of affordable housing is worth it, but history has shown us that the words of politicians should not be trusted blindly. Every single politician in New York, from DeBlasio to Ruban Diaz, knows that MIH and ZQA are intended to increase land value and profits for developers and, in turn, produce higher tax revenues and capital investment for Borough Presidents. As an added bonus, DeBlasio gets to pretend that he’s the Mayor who saved affordable housing. It’s our contention that history will tell a different story, and we hope that this story is told sooner, rather than later.

A NOTE ON ZONING: The way city zoning law works is as follows: there is large zoning document, which has very detailed descriptions and regulations for what types of buildings can be built in various areas called “zones”. Each neighborhood in New York City is designated as a specific zone. For example, the R5 zone allows buildings that are 30 feet tall and the R6 zone allows for buildings that are up to 60 feet tall. If a developer wants to change the law, they can either change what is allowed in the R5 and R6 zones (higher allowed building heights), in general (zoning text amendment) or they can change what zone a neighborhood is designated as (map amendment). MIH and ZQA are zoning text amendments, whereas the rezoning in East New York is a map amendment (which will be one of the first zoning map amendments that will use regulations from the zoning text post-MIH and ZQA