March 5, 2021 By Allie Griffin
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards outlined his goals to build more affordable housing, create a connected bike network and diversify local community boards during his “State of the Borough” address Wednesday evening.
Richards promised to add 2,000 units of affordable senior housing, complete the long-stalled redesign of Queens Boulevard and overhaul the borough’s 14 community boards to promote diversity during the virtual address.
The three commitments were just a few of the several topics Richards covered during his speech, marking his first 100 days in office. He also put forward a number of proposals to help Queens recover from the pandemic and end disparities across the borough.
“Our message today to all, hear it loud and hear it proud: Queens will lead the way out of this pandemic,” Richards said. “Queens will lead the efforts to address health disparities, economic disparities, and racial and gender disparities.”
He delivered his speech from the Museum of the Moving Image via a live-streamed video.
He began the speech on a solemn note, stating that Queens lost more residents — roughly 7,500 people died — to COVID-19 than any other borough.
To help the borough recover, Richards promised to increase the amount of affordable housing in Queens to help families struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic — including at least 2,000 units of “truly affordable” senior housing.
He added that he would allocate money from the his budget to invest in public housing and create a working group of NYCHA tenant association presidents to regularly check in with.
To help new immigrants find an affordable place to live, Richards said he would soon open an “Immigrant Welcome Center” at Queens Borough Hall. The center would support immigrants — no matter their immigration status — adjust to life in Queens.
“The Immigrant Welcome Center will serve as a hub, a one stop shop of sorts, for our immigrant communities,” he said.
Bike and Bus Infrastructure
In terms of transportation, Richards committed to an agenda to create more bike infrastructure and safer streets and to improve bus routes in Queens’ multiple transit deserts.
“The safety of our streets will always be a top priority of my office,” he said. “We owe that much to the 25 pedestrians, 33 motorists, and 1 cyclist who lost their lives on our roads last year alone.”
- He promised to complete the long-stalled redesign of Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens, ensure the creation of a two-way bike lane on the Queensboro Bridge, establish a network of bike storage hubs outside subway stations, speed up the boroughwide rollout of Citi Bike, create additional busways along center medians of high-trafficked corridors like Jamaica’s Archer Avenue and expand the city’s Open Streets program.
- Richards also said he would overhaul the borough’s 14 community boards. He said he would make it a priority to ensure that they are more diverse–to be truly reflective of the communities they represent.
He also plans to create a code of conduct and modernize the bylaws of the boards to increase transparency.
- “It is important that the voices of Queens are reflective of the people of Queens – all of us,” he said. “And we will work together to make our community boards more engaging and transparent for all.”
He said he will roll out a comprehensive plan to reform the community boards in the coming weeks.
Pandemic Response & Hospitals
Richards touched on other subjects as well, such as the need for more hospital beds, support for small business owners, aid to both renters and landlords and the creation of more green infrastructure.
He promised to advocate for more COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites in Queens in the short-term. In the long-term, he said he would fight for the construction of new hospital facilities and community-based health centers.
He noted that Queens has the fewest hospital beds among the five boroughs.
“In a borough with 2.4 million people, we have just 1.72 hospital beds per one thousand people — by far lowest in the city,” he said. “That cannot continue.”
Small Business Support
Richards noted the importance of Queens’ mom-and-pops as well and encouraged small business owners to apply for the $17.5 million Queens Small Business Grant program, which his office launched with the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) earlier this year.
“These are businesses that together employ thousands of Queens residents, with thousands of families relying on the job opportunities they create,” he said of the borough’s small businesses. “Helping just one storefront keep the lights on and the doors open is worth it.”
He also plans to host town halls with the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to connect Queens business owners with the tools available to them and expand broadband access, improve internet literacy and offer assistance with digital marketing to businesses that are falling behind.
In line with sustainability goals, Richards added that he would reestablish the Queens Solid Waste Advisory Board to advise him on issues such as waste, recycling, resiliency and environmental equity. He said he would use the borough president budget to invest in solar power at city-owned buildings in Queens and create renewable energy hubs at Rikers Island, the former Edgemere Landfill site and the Creedmoor campus.
Overall, Richards said his office will take the opportunity of recovery to start anew on many fronts that are lacking in Queens.
“The State of our Borough is not where it ought to be — for we have been decimated by the health pandemic, the economic crisis, and racial injustices,” Richards said. “But these issues do not need to define us. We, as a Borough, as a people, have an opportunity to choose how we define ourselves. As a borough, we will not stay down. Queens, we will rise.”
Richards’ current term will end on the last day of the year since he was elected through a special election to replace Melinda Katz. Katz left the office to become Queens District Attorney and Richards will complete the rest of her term ending on Dec. 31, 2021.
Richards must win a June primary and November general election to retain his position.