$2 billion development in Queens approved amid housing crisis

The New York City Council voted on Tuesday to approve another major real estate development, a sign that elected officials are increasingly willing to work with the real estate industry to address the city’s urgent housing crisis.

The project, a massive $2 billion development known as Innovation Queens, will span five blocks and add more than 3,000 homes to Astoria.

The proposal had been mired in weeks of contentious negotiations, as New York City once again found itself grappling with compelling but competing interests: how to balance critical housing need with neighborhood concerns about affordability and gentrification.

Major proposals, like a rezoning of Industry City in Brooklyn and a proposed new headquarters for Amazon in Queens, have been thwarted in recent years; and earlier this year a plan in Harlem to build 900 apartments died after the local council member objected.

Innovation Queens appeared to be heading for a similar fate, with local council member Julie Won objecting to the plan because she said it did not provide enough affordable housing, especially for those with higher incomes. down. She was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district includes Astoria.

But developers and the city’s housing department have agreed to double the allocation of affordable housing to 1,400, or about 45% of the project.

Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who took office in January, backed the project and other recent housing plans in Throgs Neck in the Bronx and Halletts Point in Queens that were approved by the city council after making in the face of opposition from members of the local council.

“This is exactly the kind of historic work we need to do to address the housing shortage at the root of our affordable housing crisis,” Adams said.

But even as elected officials celebrated the victory, there were growing concerns that the city was moving too slowly to tackle the housing crisis and that Mr. Adams was not creating affordable housing quickly enough.

As the Adams administration pushes for changes that could ease construction, such as easing requirements that new buildings provide parking spaces, it is also grappling with a staffing crisis in key departments that oversee housing. . Rents have risen sharply this year, interest rates are rising and a major tax incentive for developers has expired in Albany.

Mr Adams last week announced a deal for a football stadium in Queens that is expected to create 2,500 affordable homes. But those homes aren’t expected to be completed until 2030, and the Innovation Queens project could take a decade to fully complete, though some sections could be completed sooner.

The city’s efforts to build affordable housing have been anemic. Authorities were only able to start building or preserving about 16,000 below-market homes in the last fiscal year ending in June, nearly half the average number of the previous four years.

“We’ve seen the city’s housing production drop 43% in just one year,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference, a nonprofit advocacy group. “There are real big challenges ahead.”

Still, Ms Fee said the approval of the Queens project should be seen as a victory.

“We really need the Council to work with the Adams administration and carefully consider other opportunities across the city,” she said.

The 51-seat city council has an unspoken tradition, known as member deference, which allows a council member to veto land use proposals in their district. City Council President Adrienne E. Adams signaled she was ready to end the practice, saying she valued community input, but not “irrational opposition rejecting desperately needed housing.” .

Ms Adams said on Tuesday that it was important to weigh the needs of each neighborhood when deciding how to shape projects like Innovation Queens.

“We knew this was a critical project that had the potential to create lots of affordable housing,” she said. “It was not something that the city council could not try to negotiate.”

Ms. Won, who is part of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, had opposed the project, which is between 35th and 36th Avenues, just north of Northern Boulevard. But it announced its support on Monday after developers agreed to build more than 1,400 affordable units – around 45% of the total – and double the 700 units originally offered.

“From day one, I have supported my community in demanding greater affordability from this development,” Ms. Won said.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a left-leaning Democrat who represents Queens and the Bronx, said the developers’ concessions send a “strong message that when it comes to new housing, our neighborhoods don’t have to settle for crumbs of affordability”.

Jay Martin, a partner at BedRock Real Estate Partners, which is one of the developers of the project, said on Tuesday that “the city’s housing crisis will not be solved by the public sector or the private sector alone.” Other developers are Silverstein Properties and Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Housing has become an increasingly pressing issue in New York — part of a national housing shortage in which Americans are struggling to afford a home.

A typical household spends nearly 35% of its income on rent, up from less than 30% in the mid-2000s. The median rent for newly rented apartments in Manhattan hit a record high of $4,000 this year. Homelessness has also reached an all time high with more than 61,000 people.

Many of the city’s problems, including the high cost of living, stem from the shortage. The New York metro area needed more than 340,000 more homes in 2019, according to a May estimate by Up for Growth, a Washington policy and research group. The shortage is most acute for low-income New Yorkers, many of whom spend more than half their income on housing.

Mayor Adams released his housing plan over the summer, but he declined to provide a specific goal for affordable housing. His predecessor, Bill de Blasio, made investing in affordable housing a cornerstone of his efforts to reduce inequality, and his administration preserved or built more than 200,000 affordable homes, including about 30,000 during the 1990s. fiscal year 2020.

The Adams administration saw thousands of city workers resign, slowing work at agencies. The city’s workforce has shrunk by 19,000 employees over the past two years, according to a recent state comptroller report, which found the building department’s vacancy rate was nearly 25. %.

The project designs include glass buildings, public parks, a playground, and a “community center” for non-profit organizations. But some have disputed the inclusion of Gucci and Chanel stores in these designs, fearing it will become another neighborhood for the wealthy.

Ms Won said in a TV interview on NY1 last month that there were more than 20 homeless shelters in her district and a huge demand for affordable housing.

“There are more parking spaces offered by this than affordable units,” she said.


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