BY LYNN EDMONDS
District managers and Community Board Chairs pleaded with the city for more infrastructure improvements at a borough board meeting on Monday.
A detailed presentation by John Young, Queens Borough Commissioner for the Department of City Planning, made up the bulk of the meeting. Aside from giving a general overview of the DCP’s mission and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing initiatives Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, Young touched on specific hot spots for Queens’ development, namely Long Island City, Flushing and Jamaica. He also spoke about resiliency plans for areas of Queens that face a risk of flooding.
The presentation zoomed in on the DCP’s efforts to create more affordable housing, especially in Long Island City. Close to 13,500 new units of housing are either occupied or in construction in the area, Young said, but all save 500 of them are market rate – something the DCP plans to change with current zoning initiatives. A large private development in the works, Steinway Square, is expected to have an affordable housing component.
Florence Koulouris, district manager for Community Board 1, which covers Astoria and Long Island City, said affordable housing was vital for her constituents, who call her “screaming” every day because they cannot afford to live in the neighborhood anymore, even as huge developments are going up all around them.
“You have the baby boomer generation and the millennials coming together like this right now,” she said, bringing her hands together.
“You have the two largest generations of people ever on the face of the earth with completely different needs. The prices for the housing are not realistic for either of them. Baby boomers are becoming senior citizens; their kids ate all their money. And the kids have student loans starting at $100,000 on their back,” she stressed. “When is it going to get real?”
DCP estimates that 57 percent of Queens’ residents are rent burdened, meaning they pay 57 percent or more of their income in rent.
Koulouris also emphasized that CB 1, along with CB 3, were the only two Queens community boards to vote for MIH and ZQA.
But that didn’t stop her from worrying about infrastructure challenges.
Specifically, she said she was worried about the impact of Steinway Square, a potential 5-block development, on transportation.
“If that does come to fruition, we have a huge problem as [CB 10 Chairwoman] Betty [Bratton] said, with the changes in travel. The F train is there and the other train is there, but they’re all crowded. You go to the very first stop of any of the trains in my district, you can’t get on,” Koulouris said.
Bratton and CB 7 Chair Gene Kelty shared Koulouris’ concern.
“What isn’t happening is the infrastructure that is necessary,” Bratton said after hearing about the new housing developments planned. “We have to find ways to ensure that robust infrastructure actually gets into place at the same time or before the development.”
Young said his agency had gotten that message loud and clear.
“We agree wholeheartedly, and I think the good news is that there is a greater focus on that alignment than in my long career in city government that I’ve ever seen before,” he said.
Sewer systems and electrical grids came up as two infrastructure system that were overburdened, but transportation systems, including roads, subways and buses, topped the list, with Kelty lamenting the Department of Transportation’s absence at the meeting.
“We just ran through a gauntlet of traffic on the Van Wyck Expresway,” Kelty said. “It’s abysmal what’s out there.”
Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) called another main thoroughfare, Jamaica Avenue, “the wild, wild west.”
Young offered the consolation that car ownership has been plateauing in recent years.
“Our strategy as planners is to try to create other options for people to get around,” he added.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana