BY LYNN EDMONDS
The long arms of gentrification are tightening their grasp on Flushing, the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance fears.
Last Thursday, the housing advocacy group outlined steps that they believe could help slow or reverse that process, and protect the elderly, immigrants, and low-income residents from being displaced as the real estate market becomes increasingly hot.
Their recommendations are largely a response to the Flushing West rezoning, an initiative which would see a portion of Flushing along the creek developed for residential use. If the plan is approved by the City Council, the area will become one of the first in the city to institute Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing initiatives, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability.
While MIH is designed to protect low-income renters, housing advocates are worried that the rezoning will drive up property values, putting renters at risk of displacement.
Standing on the steps of St. George’s Episcopal Church, Pastor Pedro Rodriguez said that residents in rent-controlled units were particularly vulnerable.
That included his 88-year-old aunt, who he says has been living in the same apartment for 40 years. But now that “rich people are moving in,” everything is getting harder, he said.
“Nobody wants to fix her leaks. Nobody wants to paint her apartment. Nobody wants to help in anything at all. Sometimes the hot water disappears. Sometimes there is no water in the building,” Rodriguez said. “Why do you think those things [are] happening?
Because they want her to leave.”
New York City law allows landlords of rent-controlled apartments to raise the rent by a certain percentage each time that a tenant moves out. And once the rent exceeds a certain dollar value, the unit becomes market rate and restrictions on the rent are removed. That incentivizes landlords to mistreat or neglect tenants in hopes of creating turnover in their building.
FRCA wants the City Council to enact a law requiring landlords to get a “Certificate of No Harassment” from the Department of Buildings before they can complete renovations on their property. Because landlords sometimes use renovations as a reason to evict tenants or increase the rents, the law would have the DOB check landlords against a database to see if they had a history of harassment before approving their plans.
The FRCA also said they wanted to see Municipal Lot #2, which is adjacent to St. George’s Church, developed into 100 percent affordable housing.
The group said they were slated to have a meeting with the Department of City Planning on the matter, but DCP confirmed they cancelled the meeting so that they could focus on “the core proposal for Flushing West.”
The agency said they were still open to having future discussions on the matter.
“Any proposal for the Muni Lot, if desired by the community, will be developed through a public engagement process,” a spokesperson said.
With the notorious parking situation in Queens, it’s likely that Community Board 7 would raise objections to any reduction in parking spots.
But Rodriguez said now was not the time to get hung up on parking.
“Did we lose the parking when we built the hotel across the street from us? Did we lose the parking when we built the other hotel on the left hand side of us? Did we lose the parking when we had another hotel on the right hand side of us?” he said. “Did anybody question the parking? No. Nobody said anything about it.”
The group also raised concerns about the speculative nature of real estate transaction in Flushing. They said that since the possibility of a rezoning became public knowledge in 2011, 42 rent stabilized buildings, containing 1,800 units, were sold.
“Within these transactions, some disturbing trends have arisen,” the report stated. “Rent stabilized buildings have been targeted by international investors, often shielding their investments with layers of shell companies.”
In addition to these concerns, the FRCA reiterated the following goals: That the most deeply affordable MIH option is used in the neighborhood, that the city work to increase enrollment in SCRIE and DRIE – programs that protect seniors and disabled folks from rent increases, that local workers are hired for construction jobs, that more senior centers are built, that improvements are made to the no. 7 train, that the city build a bus depot, and that the city clean Flushing Creek and beef up sanitation services.
Asked to comment on the white paper, the DCP said they shared common goals with FRCA and “look forward to working the Flushing community to develop a comprehensive neighborhood plan that addresses Flushing’s needs and supports its quality of life, vitality and diversity.”
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana