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Activists Send a Message to Innovation QNS Developers: Queens is Not for Sale

This message was projected on the wall of a Kaufman Astoria Studios building Sunday night in protest of the proposed Innovation QNS development (Photo courtesy of Astoriaisnotforsale.org)

June 20, 2022 By Christian Murray

A group of activists and artists sent a message to the developers of the proposed Innovation QNS project Sunday night that their development is not wanted.

The artists projected enormous messages on the side of one of the Kaufman Astoria buildings in Astoria that were highly critical of the $2 billion development proposal that would bring 2,800 apartment units, as well as office, retail and community space to the Steinway Street/35th Avenue district.

Some of the messages expressed concern about possible gentrification such as “Mom and pop small businesses can’t afford the rents” and “Immigrants and working-class built Astoria. $4,500 for a one-bedroom will destroy Astoria.” Other messages spotlighted the environmental impact with “Thousands of cars, 27 story buildings, 7,000 residents, and no infrastructure improvements.”

This message was projected on the wall of a Kaufman Astoria building Sunday night in protest of the proposed Innovation QNS development (Photo courtesy of Astoriaisnotforsale.org)

The messages went up two days in advance of Community Board 1’s vote on the project, when the board will make a recommendation as to whether the area should be rezoned so the expansive plans can proceed.

The recommendation is likely to influence the decision Councilmember Julie Won makes as to whether to approve the rezoning or not. She will ultimately determine its fate in the city council.

The developers consisting of Silverstein Properties, Kaufman Astoria Studios and BedRock Real Estate Partners are looking to rezone a 5-block district between 37th Street and Northern Boulevard, bound by 35th and 36th Avenues, so they can move forward with the project.

The proposed development would consist of more than a dozen buildings that would range in height from eight to 27 stories. It would include 711 affordable housings units, in accordance with city requirements, which would be offered at an average of 60 percent of Area Median Income.

The plan calls for 711 affordable units at an average of 60 percent AMI. Some affordable units would be offered at 40 percent AMI and others at 100 percent AMI–but the average would be 60 percent AMI. There are also 2,132 market rate units (Data from Innovation QNS Racial Equity Report)

The ambitious plans have faced headwinds since their inception, with its naysayers arguing that the development would lead to higher rental prices in the area since the project would include more than 2,100 luxury apartments.

They argue that the high rents would lead to the displacement of current residents, many of whom are low-income immigrants. The project, they say, would also be a magnet for other high-end developers.

“This luxury development will worsen the housing affordability crisis,” said Farihah Akhtar, lead organizer with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, who played a central role in the art-activism Sunday, along with members of Astoria is Not for Sale and The Illuminator. “We need deeply affordable housing, not luxury apartments that will displace our working-class immigrant community.”

The art-activists also posted a number of parody ads onto the Kaufman building critical of the number of affordable units as well as the 2 acres of open space being marketed by the developers in their advertising campaign.

“For months Astoria residents have been telling these developers and Community Board 1 that Astoria is not for sale. At the same time, they have used food and giveaways to exploit and manipulate the public into supporting it,” said Brian Romero, member of Queens Community Board 1.

The advocates for the project argue that there is a need for both affordable housing and market rate housing in Astoria. They also say that the proposed development area is a manufacturing district so there would be little displacement.

The developers sent out a press release late Friday saying that they had completed a Racial Equity Report and that the report showed that the development was consistent “with the City’s strategies to affirmatively further fair housing.”

The report, which Innovation QNS says was conducted following the procedures prescribed by a 2021 city law, says the development would “increase access to opportunities by creating affordable housing, jobs during construction and operation, new publicly accessible open space, and space and support for community-serving non-profits to expand their services.”

The revised plan presented to Community Board 1’s Land Use & Zoning Committee on June 1 (Screenshot)

The project, the developers say, would lead to the creation of 3,700 construction jobs over 10 years and 1,700 permanent jobs.

But activists argue that the developers have not been honest with the community since the get-go.

“The developers have misled the public deliberately and continuously,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, an Astoria resident and longtime community activist.

“They continued to say they would build a school even after the Department of Education said no; they advertise affordable senior housing but have admitted they would only build it with subsidies; and in all of their materials, there is never a mention of the fact that 75 percent of the units will be expensive high-end, with studios that will cost upwards of $3,100/month at today’s prices.”

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