BY JAMES FARRELL
Several community groups gathered at Willets Point Tuesday to rally against redevelopment plans that they say do not guarantee enough affordable housing for the community.
The rally was a response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced plan to build 90 new homeless shelters and cut the homeless shelter population by 2,500.
The Willets Point redevelopment has a checkered history of legal battles and controversy, with different community groups and elected officials fighting for their vision of the area’s future.
In 2008, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city proposed plans for a 62-acre development with retail and 5,500 housing units— of which 1,925 units were designated for affordable housing. But Tuesday’s protestors, led by former Councilman Hiram Monserrate, who had rallied for the 2008 plan, said that the plans have changed and affordable housing is no longer guaranteed. They called on de Blasio and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Elmhurst) to adhere to the original proposal.
“Over 10 years ago, myself and others fought, spent blood sweat and tears to come up with a redevelopment plan for this area,” said Bertha Lewis, president of the Black Institute. “But this area was an area of promise. Now, here we are, over 10 years later and guess what ladies and gentlemen. We’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been hoodwinked.”
The protestors carried signs that read “Affordable Housing!” and chanted, “affordable housing now” and “shame.”
According to the protestors, recent revisions to the original 2008 plan have caused consternation. In 2013, the City Council approved the revised plans, which included the controversial addition of a mega mall on the Citi Field parking lot—which was struck down by the courts and is marred in a legal battle since the parking lot is technically public parkland. The protestors reiterated their opposition to the mall, but also expressed frustration over a clause that could allow the developer—the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Related and Sterling Equities, which is affiliated with the Mets—the opportunity to provide zero affordable housing.
“For a $35 million fee, the developer has to build zero housing. Zero. Not one unit,” said Monserrate. He also expressed frustration that no affordable housing would be built until 2025.
Additionally, Monserrate said he was upset due to a 2013 transaction, in which the city sold a 23-acre parcel of land to the developers for $1 to begin development. That land had been acquired at cost to the taxpayer, Monserrate argued, and shouldn’t have been given away so easily.
The former councilman spoke on behalf of his former district, which included the immigrant-heavy communities of Elmhurst and Corona, and disparaged the mayor’s plan to build new shelters as an inadequate solution to the overarching affordable housing crisis.
“The mayor speaks to the fact that we have a housing crisis,” said Monserrate. “Most recently, he announced that he would be opening 90 shelters to deal with the housing crisis. Well, East Elmhurst and Corona, in particular, we know about the housing crisis. We know because black and brown people are being pushed out of their very neighborhoods.
And yes, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a very real racial component to all of this.”
The protestors also slammed other proposals for the area—including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’ recent suggestion that Willets Point could house a new sports stadium— arguing that affordable housing should be the priority.
“We fought for our community because we understand that government must stand up for the people,” said Monserrate.
“What we have here, ladies and gentlemen is a bonanza for the developers and nothing for the community.”
Neither the mayor’s office nor Ferreras responded to requests for comment.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.