BY LYNN EDMONDS
The industrial western edge of Flushing could be one of the first neighborhoods in the city to institute the Mayor’s new affordable initiatives– Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability – if they pass a City Council vote, as they are expected to, on March 22nd.
That could mean up to 3,316 new housing units in the blocks adjacent to Flushing Creek, in an area that is bounded by Northern Boulevard to the north, Prince Street to the east and Roosevelt Avenue to the south. Currently, there is little housing on these blocks.
For months, the Department of City Planning’s voice has dominated the subdued conversation about the potential rezoning and development in the area. Since May 2015, they’ve hosted half a dozen public meetings to solicit community input and present on how the proposed rezoning would create more affordable housing, especially for seniors, improve access to the waterfront and create more open space for recreational use.
At a meeting in September, DCP representatives seemed to outnumber residents. But as the rezoning comes closer to becoming a reality, the voice of one community group that is critical of the rezoning, the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance has grown stronger.
Last Thursday, the alliance held a town hall meeting at St. George Church in Flushing that was attended by over 100 people and featured Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) as a guest. The audience, comprised of Chinese-, Korean-, Spanish- and English-speakers, exerted pressure on Koo in the form of pointed questions, punctuated by cheers and applause, to negotiate in the City Council for a deal that included more “deeply” affordable housing.
In response to audience questions, Koo said that he would vote against MIH if it did not include housing affordable for those who make 40 percent of the City’s Annual Median Income. The original plan’s cheapest housing was geared toward those making 60 percent of the AMI.
On Monday, the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance had their wish. The City Council agreed to a version of MIH that includes an option for developers to allocate 20 percent of a building to households making 40 percent of the AMI.
With the median income in Flushing about $40,000 for a family of three, or 51 percent of the AMI, only the newest option would be affordable to the average Flushing resident. If every new housing development in Flushing West set aside 20 percent of units at this affordability level, that would mean 663 new affordable units.
Fears of working-class residents getting displaced drove much of the conversation, but many of the speakers expressed concerns about the urban landscape. They brought up overcrowded sidewalks and infrastructure that was lagging behind population growth. They said that more development would only exacerbate problems with overtaxed school, transportation and sewer systems.
Another attendee said Flushing was desperate for more green space.
“It should be guaranteed by the law,” an elderly man said through a Korean interpreter.
Straining infrastructure was also a central concern for state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), who announced their opposition to the Flushing West plan in a joint press conference on Friday.
Avella said Flushing West was chosen as a development site because it was accessible to public transportation. But, he said, there was something wrong with that line of thinking.
“Anybody who lives in this neighborhood, who gets on the number 7 line, or any of the bus lines, knows how overcrowded the transportation system is,” Avella said.
Avella and Kim introduced a bill in the Senate and Assembly, respectively, which says the city must conduct studies in areas being rezoned to determine whether the transportation system can handle increased development.
“We cannot even think about adding even one additional person to Downtown Flushing without really taking a proper assessment of the infrastructure and transportation system down here,” Kim said.
The assemblyman added that Flushing West was unsuitable for residence.
“Why are we going to put people over there in College Point when we haven’t even invested a dime in cleaning up Flushing Creek? Are you telling us that if you can’t afford to live in a good environment, you get to live next to an environmentally hazardous place?” he said.
“We just can’t place people in inappropriate places just so the Mayor can have a press conference,” Avella said.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana