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Op-Ed by Councilmember Julie Won: Innovation QNS Can Afford to do Better

Councilmember Julie Won speaking before the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on Innovation QNS last month (Photo Credit: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

Nov. 10, 2022 Op-Ed By Councilmember Julie Won

I don’t need a crystal ball to see the future; my community has already witnessed firsthand the effects of gentrification, displacement, and luxury development.

In Long Island City, we’ve seen the development of more than 25,000 luxury, market-rate units, leading to a rent increase of more than 43 percent over the last decade, far outpacing the city as a whole.

Woodside, which has not seen the same luxury development, has had just a 7 percent rent increase within the same period, less than the city average.

Building more luxury than affordable apartments is precisely how developers and policy makers created our housing crisis. My community has had enough, and we demand a commitment to majority affordable development.

In October, the City Council’s Zoning Subcommittee held a marathon hearing lasting almost 7 hours to review the Innovation QNS proposal. The community was overwhelmingly critical, as 565 people opposed this project and 83 people supported the project.

This project as it currently stands would be a majority unaffordable luxury development in the heart of working-class Astoria. If this project were to move forward, market-rate apartments would be completely out of reach for my neighbors in the area, where the median rent is currently $1,686.

A market-rate two bedroom in Innovation QNS could cost $4,000 or more, affordable only to families making over $158,000/yr. That is more than double the local median income of the local area, and totally inaccessible to nearly all those who live there now.

The testimonies of my courageous neighbors before the Council reflect our neighborhood’s shared identity. Astoria has been the landing pad for immigrants, artists, and working class folks in our city for generations, including my family.

We found our start in Astoria when my uncle moved here from South Korea 40 years ago to work at a dry cleaners. As with countless immigrants before us, our neighbors welcomed us in to build a new life, alongside people from all over the world.

For decades, this community created Astoria’s uniquely diverse and vibrant culture, which evolves with each group of people who join us. Unfortunately, the Innovation QNS project seeks to monetize this very culture, while placing those who shaped it under immediate threat of displacement.

Since Innovation QNS arrived at the City Council this October, I have been in active negotiations with the developers, the Mayor’s team, and the City Council Land Use Division to fight for more affordability.

I have offered alternative solutions to reach the community’s ask of 55 percent affordable units: accept project based vouchers for those currently in our shelter system, repurpose office spaces and parking spaces into affordable housing units, leverage Article XI and 420-c tax incentives, and work with HPD to create permanently affordable apartments for extremely low-income residents.

As we await a final offer from the Innovation QNS team, I remain hopeful that the concerns of affordability from our community will not be ignored.

Allowing developers to build luxury market rate units without proper set-asides for affordability has and will raise rents throughout the city.

I believe that the solution to our affordable housing crisis is simple: build more affordable housing. As a City, we can no longer allow luxury development to outpace the construction of affordable housing.

Our community is asking for 55 percent affordability from the Innovation QNS project, because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t. I call on the Mayor, the Council Speaker, and my Council colleagues to join me in calling for greater affordability—because our city deserves better.

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3 Comments

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Mary Macherini

Eloquent and on point. It is absurd we were asked to vote on “Proposal 3 would require the City to create a true cost of living.” The Mayor, Council and City planning need to open their eyes to developerswho ignore what is needed citywide— Affordable housing tied to the actual income mean where the development is planned. Say no to Innovation Queens.

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Jeremy

There is absolutely no reason why it matters if the rate of luxury/market rate housing outpaces the rate of affordable housing construction. It is a concern that is completely made up and illogical. We need both market rate and affordable housing construction, but the ratio between the two doesn’t matter at all. CM Won’s argument makes no sense. We need to focus on increasing the percentage of PEOPLE who have access to affordable housing, which this project surely will. Market rate housing is good too, even if expensive, because it reduces the demand for existing housing. Does CM Won prefer that higher income people compete for existing units? Because that is exactly what happens when you block new market rate housing, the people don’t disappear because the housing does. The CM really needs to think and read up on how housing market works, she needs better advisors and to stop listening to the anti-housing zealots that are the loudest.

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Jeremy Welsh-Loveman

There is absolutely no reason why it matters if the rate of luxury/market rate housing outpaces the rate of affordable housing construction. It is a concern that is completely made up and illogical. We need both market rate and affordable housing construction, but the ratio between the two doesn’t matter at all. CM Won’s argument makes no sense. We need to focus on increasing the percentage of PEOPLE who have access to affordable housing, which this project surely will. Market rate housing is good too, even if expensive, because it reduces the demand for existing housing. Does CM Won prefer that higher income people compete for existing units? Because that is exactly what happens when you block new market rate housing, the people don’t disappear because the housing does. The CM really needs to think and read up on how housing market works, she needs better advisors and to stop listening to the anti-housing zealots that are the loudest.

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