By JON CRONIN
The city will break ground on affordable housing at Willets Point in 2020 that will include 220 apartments between the income brackets of approximately $17,000 and $35,000, which was not featured in the 2008 or 2013 plans for the site.
The six acres set aside in the 62-acre site will be home to a total of 1,100 affordable apartments, with 297 units set aside for a family of three making less than $42,950. The 1,100 apartments will be located in three separate standalone buildings. The site will also include public open space as well as a 450-seat elementary school.
The project will include the remediation of an area that has historically been the site of commercial properties, and is expected to be completed with the building by 2022. The city will remain the owner of the six acres through a long-term lease, as opposed to a 2013 plan in which the city would sell 23 acres to a developer.
The mayor’s office announced that there will be a task force led by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) to help identify community priorities and give feedback for 17 acres of the site.
“The city has immediate, desperate needs for affordable housing units and school seats, especially here in Queens. This agreement to build 100 percent affordable housing at Willets Point is the right plan at the right time,” Katz said.
The mayor’s office stated that the Queens Development Group—a joint venture by Wilpon, Sterling Equities and Related Companies—has set a goal of 25 percent Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise participation, and will take part in HireNYC, a city program that connects local residents to jobs. The developer also intends to get the “highest standards of environmental sustainability through either LEED Gold USGBC Certification or Enterprise Green Communities,” the mayor’s office said.
“After years of false starts and controversies, this is a thoughtful way to get shovels in the ground, keep our promises to this community and begin building an affordable neighborhood for seniors and working families,” said Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he is pleased to hear that affordable housing is coming to Willets Point, but is concerned by the 7 line’s operating over capacity. He added that he is not allayed by Katz’s announcement that the Long Island Rail Road will be reactivated at Willets Point.
“People who live in those apartments will not be able to afford the Long Island Rail Road prices,” Avella said.
Avella is also concerned that a confusing traffic pattern around Willets Point will not be redesigned and noted that the original plan failed as a result of it.
Professor Tarry Hum, the acting chairwoman of the Department of Urban Studies at Queens College, conducts research in immigrant urbanism, transnational capital and real estate financialization, and recently wrote Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. She said that she was concerned about “the destruction of an industrial ecosystem that employed immigrant workers that is now gone from Willets Point.”
“I understand [the Economic Development Corporation] had a workforce retraining program for displaced workers, but I don’t think I ever heard what happened to these workers,” she said.
She noted that the EDC relocated an auto company, Sunshine Collective, to the Bronx, “but the last news coverage I saw about their new location is that the businesses were not doing well.”
“Affordable housing is critical for immigrant and working-class New Yorkers, but so are jobs and, so far, I don’t see any accounting of the small businesses and 1,000-plus jobs that were destroyed as a result of the Willets Point rezoning and redevelopment plans,” Hum concluded.