Jan. 7, 2021 By Christian Murray
A proposal for a seven story affordable housing complex in Sunnyside is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has come out in support of a rezoning application put forward by Phipps Houses, a non-profit developer, which seeks to construct a seven-story, 167-unit building at 50-25 Barnett Ave.
All of the units in the building would be “affordable” and there would be space on the ground floor for a community facility.
The borough president’s recommendation comes one month after Community Board 2 voted to approve the controversial project by a vote of 28 in favor and 13 against—subject to a series of conditions.
Those conditions centered around Phipps Houses’ questionable history as a property manager in Sunnyside, which many say should disqualify it from developing the new building.
One of those conditions requires Phipps to conduct a series of repairs to the 492-unit Sunnyside Gardens Apartment complex it manages on 39th Avenue over the next six months.
The required repairs to its Gardens Apartment complex were spelled out in a building improvement plan, with most having to be completed within a 90-day period.
Richards said that the improvement plan should be adhered to before the rezoning application is approved.
“The applicant should then meet regularly with all stakeholders including the Queens Borough President’s Office, the tenants association, CB2 and elected officials to assure that the short-and long-term milestones outlined in the plan are met,” he wrote in his advisory opinion.
Richards approval also includes the condition that Phipps attempts to lower the income bands for the affordable units.
The top income band is currently set at 90 percent of the Area Median Income, which Richards says needs to be lowered. He did not provide a desired income threshold.
The community board’s approval, which is also advisory, came with the condition that the top income band be reduced to 80 percent AMI, which would equate to $90,960 for a family of four.
The project as it currently stands would see 40 percent of the units, or 66 apartments, being offered at the top 90 percent AMI band. The remaining units would be offered at lower income levels, with 15 percent of the units, equating to 25 apartments, set aside for the formerly homeless at 40 percent AMI.
Richards also called on Phipps to provide as many family sized units as possible and said the community space provided should be offered at a discounted rate to make it affordable to local community groups and organizations.
He said that the complex should include energy efficient technology and sustainable materials where possible. Additionally, he noted, there should be a 30 percent goal of hiring MWBE businesses, local labor and small contractors during and after construction.
The application will now go before the City Planning Commission. A public hearing is expected to be held by the CPC on Jan. 20. The CPC is expected to vote in February and then the rezoning application will go to the City Council for a binding vote, which is the final step.
The application ultimately requires the approval of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in order for it to be approved. It is tradition for the council to vote in lockstep with the local official.
Van Bramer has not said whether he would approve it or not, although he told the Queens Post earlier this week that the project has many positive attributes.
“I think the opportunity to have deeply affordable housing in a 100 percent affordable housing project –that has a set aside for formerly homeless individuals–is one we should take seriously,” he said.
He did note, however, that Phipps needs to fix its 39th Avenue complex and said it must follow the improvement plan.
“I’m not going to say whether I will approve this project [or not] until I see them complete and satisfy that plan.”