Rent Prices Rise, but Fall in North Queens, Reports say

By Jean Brannum | jbrannum@queensledger.com

Real estate reports show that rent in the city continues to increase with little end in sight, and the number of apartments available is decreasing ahead of the busy summer moving season. 

In Brooklyn, the median rental price for April rose about four percent in the last month, according to a Douglas Elliman report. This increase was slightly less than Manhattan, which rose 4.2 percent in April. 

Molly Franklin, a real estate agent for The Corcoran Group, said that while the Brooklyn market has always been hot, the number of affordable units, especially in Greenpoint, is dwindling. 

“Brooklyn isn’t an affordable borough anymore,” Franklin said. 

The Corcoran Group released a report with similar findings. According to its report, rent in Brooklyn increased ten percent since April 2023. One and two-bedroom apartments increased by over ten percent in the last year. 

Real estate agents are noticing more competition for places. While April is typically busy, this year’s market shows uniquely high competition. 

“I like to call it the Hunger Games,” Elina Golovko said, referring to the fierce competition for places in the summer months. Between new people moving to the city for jobs or school, and people looking to upgrade or downgrade within the city, there are so many people looking and fewer units available. Golovko is a real estate agent for Elliman. 

And she does not see it improving in time for summer, or even in the slower fall and winter months. 

Golovko said that the decrease in inventory has led to tense bidding wars between buyers and sellers. She has seen apartments rent for twenty to thirty percent over the asking price because the area is in high demand. She also noticed that more people are renting to move in up to 90 days in advance, the average earlier was up to 45. 

Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel who created the Elliman report, said that since mortgage rates in April were the highest they have ever been, would-be home buyers are “camping” in the rental market. This increases competition for everyone looking for a place to rent. Those wanting to buy a home also have to afford a down payment and interest, which drives more people to rent, according to Golovko. 

“High mortgage rates are not the friend of would-be homebuyers, but they’re also not the friend of renters,” Miller said. “Higher rates push more people from the sales market to the rental market and the economy.”

Surprisingly, average rent in Northern Queens, which includes Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Woodside decreased slightly. Miller suspects that it is due to the expectation that prices will be lower. The number of units has remained steady in the area. 

But even though rent prices are declining in the area, many units rented for about 20 percent over the asking price, indicating another area for tight bidding wars, according to Miller. 

Miller clarified that he can only make educated guesses for the future, but he does not see rent prices declining or more home buying in the next season. As long as mortgage rates are high, more people are likely to stay in the rental market. 

“It’s become clear that we’re not expecting mortgage or interest rate cuts, imminently, as was the thinking just a month ago,” Miller said. 

For those looking to rent or buy, the realtors shared some helpful tips. 

Start early, Golovko said. Due to the competition, starting earlier and creating a game plan will allow you the best chances of finding a place by the time you need to move. The summer rush is starting now. She also advises looking specifically for apartments available on your start date. 

Before you start searching, get documents ready and find a realtor. Co-op units usually have a longer approval process, while rental properties have the fastest. 

Franklin advises her clients to keep an open mind when looking for a place. Don’t be afraid to look into areas you never thought about, or consider moving to commuter cities if you work from home or don’t commute to the city daily. 

Franklin had two clients, a couple, who were dead set on living in Astoria. She found a place for them in Jackson Heights, and they were happy with their choice to live in a spacious apartment in the neighborhood. 

If you want to stay in an area with higher rent prices, be ready to downgrade or live with a roommate. 

Overall, Franklin emphasized that a “strong stomach and an open mind” will make the process survivable. 

 

ODTA and NYCHA sued for discrimination after deprioritizing residents for rent assistance

By Jean Brannum | jbrannum@queensledger.com

The Fordham Law Clinic filed a lawsuit on April 30 against the New York City Housing Authority and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance due to its deprioritization of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds for people in subsidized housing.

The complaint alleges that even though federal guidelines made many NYCHA residents eligible for Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds, tenants were left with pending requests for two years or told they were not eligible due to being in subsidized housing. In addition, NYCHA did not reevaluate the income of families who lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“You could either apply and be put at the back of the line, or you were discouraged from applying at all at the point where the money was dwindling,” said housing advocate and Fordham Professor Norrinda Brown. 

According to the complaint, the ODTA was in charge of distributing ERAP funds to people who were having difficulties paying rent after pandemic-related job loss. The ODTA was supposed to help people regardless of whether they were in subsidized housing or not. 

Danielle Johnson, who lived at Astoria Houses in Queens and is one of the plaintiffs, met the federal eligibility criteria for ERAP.  She was laid off from her role as a medical biller during the pandemic. The widow was the only source of income for the unit she shared with her son.  She was allegedly discouraged from applying and never told she was eligible, according to the complaint.

ERAP applications opened in June 2021 and most of the funds were committed by October 2021. Brown said that while the amount of money was significant, there was not enough left for those receiving housing assistance. 

“It was no surprise that the money would run out, and the money did run out before subsidized tenants could receive any aid,” Brown said

Out of the 39,000 applicants for ERAP from NYCHA housing, only 15,000 were approved as of April 2024, the complaint says. 

The lawsuit also alleges that the ODTA’s and NYCHA’s prejudice was a violation of the state’s lawful source of income protection. The lawful source of income protection means that people in New York cannot be discriminated against due to receiving government assistance, including housing assistance. 

People can also not be discriminated against due to race, which is another part of the suit. 

As of February 2023, rental data says 44 percent of NYCHA tenants are black and 45 percent Hispanic. Brown said that since most residents affected by the deprioritization of ERAP were of this demographic, this is grounds for racial discrimination. 

“If what happened was that NYCHA and the state had said, all black people will have to wait until whites and others are paid, and if there’s any money left, your hardship can be considered,” Brown said. ” We all have a gut reaction to that and realize that that was illegal and against the law.”

Tenants Were Expected to Pay Rent Based on Income They No Longer Had

In addition to being denied assistance available to everyone else, the complaint alleges that NYCHA did not adjust the rent for many residents who lost their jobs due to pandemic layoffs. 

According to the NYCHA FAQ page, rent for residents is adjusted based on income to no more than 30 percent of gross income. If someone is unemployed, then the rent should be adjusted to zero. The rent adjustment is supposed to take effect by the first of the month after the income change if the resident reports the change within 30 days, the NYCHA website says. 

Plaintiff Wanda Baez was a teacher but her school ceased operations during the pandemic. She applied for ERAP but was deemed ineligible to apply due to her living in a NYCHA residence. During this time she experienced illness and her sister died from COVID-19. She applied in August of 2021 not knowing that her application would remain pending until this day. 

On top of that, NYCHA left her responsible for her rent based on a $55,000 annual income, which was no longer the case after she lost her job. She emailed NYCHA twice about her application for rental assistance. The lack of communication and income readjustment left Baez “alarmed, confused, and helpless.”

She eventually heard back from NYCHA but in the form of a consumer debt lawsuit for not paying the rent adjusted to her not-ceased income source. Her case is pending and proceeding to mediation according to court filings in February. She owes over $46,000 to NYCHA for her residence in the Bronx from March 2020 to November 2022. 

Johnson also has a consumer debt case against her for the $28,000 she amassed in rent during the pandemic. Like Baez, her case is pending. 

James Rodriguez from the Residents to Preserve Public Housing, an advocacy group and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that he sees NYCHA “pointing the finger” at residents for many issues they could not help, including unpaid rent and long-needed maintenance. 

Brown also said that NYCHA leaders have blamed residents for unpaid rent when they were ineligible for federal assistance and lost their income source. One of her reasons for filing the class action lawsuit was due to the NYCHA media stories about unpaid rent and debt. 

The State Admitted to This Mistake

A New York State Comptroller’s report from July 2023 said that people in public housing were not prioritized in the rental assistance program. The report acknowledged that many in public housing have not received any funds and that New York was one of the last states to finish distributing funds. 

As a result, the state reportedly provided $356 million in additional funds for ERAP applications existing at the time of its release but said that it may not have been enough to address the high rent burdens affecting residents. 

In June of 2021, the ODTA page for ERAP said that those in public housing would only be considered for assistance after all other applications. This was not consistent with the federal guidelines from the treasury department, which said that public housing residents should be considered along with other applicants. 

The Fight for Justice

The class action lawsuit has only just begun and Brown said that there was a long process ahead, but Rodriguez said that the fight for help has been ongoing to the point that it took time away from other priorities with his organization. 

Brown has filed an injunction to keep ODTA and NYCHA from pursuing evictions and consumer debt cases until after the court reviews the complaint. Meanwhile, Brown said that NYCHA can still recertify income changes and provide retribution for those who fell behind on rent during the pandemic. 

“This whole scheme is sending families further into deep poverty when it could have been handled so so much differently,” Brown said.

NYCHA and the ODTA denied a request for comment citing a policy against commenting on pending litigation. 

Community Rallies in Support of Building Met Park

Community leaders gathered in Diversity Plaza to convince politicians and the community to support building a park on the Citi Field Parking lot

By Jean Brannum jbrannum@queensledger.com

In Diversity Plaza in Flushing, community leaders advocated for the Metropolitan Park to be built on the Citi Field parking lot on May 13. 

Between chants saying “Why not us” and signs with catchphrases like “D13 for Metropolitan Park,” people gathered in support of the parking lot to be turned into a park that will bring jobs, entertainment, and green space to the surrounding neighborhoods. Karl Rickett from the Coalition for Queens Advancement said that the project is estimated to create over 23,000 union jobs.

The proposed Metropolitan Park will include a casino, the most contentious part that has some people against the idea. However, Mets Owner Steve Cohen is moving forward with the project. A survey from State Senator Jessica Ramos showed mixed results of approval and disapproval for a casino in the district. Ramos is undecided about supporting or being against the park, according to Olga Reyes from Voices of D13. 

Reyes, who emceed the rally, wants Ramos and other people to support the project. The casino would bring in the money for the other parts of the parks. She said that she wants more families, including her own, to have more green space. She also wants to have more hotels nearby for visiting family members. 

Attendee Samuel Phuntsog approves of the idea and commented that the casino is only a small part of the park and the project would bring greenery to the “concrete jungle”

“I think even if there’s a casino, at least there’s some better things coming around. That place doesn’t even have trees,” Phuntsog said. 

Jim Burke, a transit advocate from 34th Ave Open Street said that after speaking with officials from the Mets baseball team, he supports the significant infrastructure improvements that would come with the project, including creating safe bike paths around the park, and subway station improvements 

“Going into the Roosevelt station is dark, grimy, and unpleasant. Riding your bicycle on a very narrow bridge and sharing with pedestrians is very unpleasant,” Burke said. “What this is going to finally bring is amazing infrastructure projects.”

Eddie Valentin, owner of the Friend’s Tavern, the oldest active gay bar in Queens, said that he wants the park because it will provide more small business opportunities. As a long-time Queens resident, he was never asked for his opinion on anything until Cohen pulled him into a meeting and asked for his opinion on what he could do for the community. 

“We made suggestions, they were heard, and, what I’m seeing, it looks like they’re being respected. So because of that, I say we do this”

According to the Metropolitan Park website, the company, Queens Metro, has conducted over 500 meetings with community leaders to decide the best uses for the park. 

The casino project is one of eleven potential projects that could receive one of three gaming licenses the state will distribute. 



CM Julie Won Hosts Interactive Town Hall, Residents Raise Bike, Pedestrian Safety Concerns

 

 

Hester Street Executive Director Eva Neubauer Alligood and City Council Member Julie Won give remarks to attendants. Credit: Jean Brannum

JEAN BRANNUM

jbrannum@queensledger.com

Council member Julie Won hosted a town hall where residents floated around interactive stations to express their land-use-related concerns for the community on Monday in Sunnyside. 

Partnering with Hester Street, a nonprofit that plans events to help people engage with their community leaders, Won was able to survey over one thousand people regarding issues including pedestrian safety and protecting small businesses in a series of town halls called “Heart of the District”. Won also said that many people have attended the town hall events

“We’ve seen how currently the city lead land-use process or the developer process isn’t exactly conducive to community feedback and community engagement,” Won said in her remarks to the attendees. Currently, citizens have 60 days to provide feedback for land-use legislative processes. Won’s process of hearing community feedback is a year. 

Residents fill out “Love Letters” and “Break-Up Letters” to highlight things they like or dislike about the area. Credit: Jean Brannum

During the town hall, residents could move to different stations with various activities where they could share their concerns and feedback for the Roosevelt Ave and Northern Blvd area in Won’s district. One station contained “Love Letters,” where residents could write something they love about the area, and a “Break-up Letter,” which was something residents wanted to get rid of. 

Another station had several maps of the Northern Blvd and Roosevelt Ave area. Residents could put stickers and sticky notes to react to top issues in the area and point out places where they thought the issues were of concern.

One common theme among residents was pedestrian and bike safety on Northern Blvd. 

Dirk McCall de Paloma, executive director of Sunnyside Shines, said that he is scared to cross the road on Northern Blvd due to the width of the road, quick-changing pedestrian signs, and fast speed of the traffic. 

Community residents could react to top concerns by placing colored stickers next to issues. Credit: Jean Brannum

Avid bike rider Corey Hannigan said that he would like to be able to ride his bike where Greenpoint Ave and Roosevelt Ave intersect, but worries about his safety due to all the trucks driving on the bike lanes.

Another issue was the lack of transportation. David Morant complained that the buses are usually stuck in the same traffic as the cars. Hannigan added that the construction-related service outages on the 7 train would be fine if the buses ran better. 

Eva Neubauer Alligood, executive director for Hester Street, explained that the goal of her organization is to encourage residents from diverse backgrounds to be involved in their local government. The event included interpreters for Spanish, Nepali, and Bengali speakers. 

Won will host another town hall in June. The online survey where residents can voice their concerns is online.

A New Urban Farm Is Ready For Field Trips in LIC

 

The first spring vegetables are planted on the rooftop of the Standard Motor Products Building. Credit: Jean Brannum

JEAN BRANNUM

jbrannum@queensledger.com

On top of the Standard Motor Products Building in Long Island City awaits an upcoming farm with a view of the Manhattan skyline. 

The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens took over the rooftop from Brooklyn Grange and announced the project to turn the place into an urban farm in August 2023. There is still a long way to go in construction and growing crops, but the rooftop is functional and ready for its first visitors. 

Michael White, a landscape architect, and owner of  Symbio Design, said that it was a challenge to get the project far along enough to meet the visitor schedule and agricultural demands, but the place is ready to welcome field trips which started Monday. His firm has completed many rooftops for human use, but this is his first rooftop farm. 

What was once an uncultivated rooftop garden, now has lines of plant beds and stones to create a landing platform once people exit the elevator. On the east side is a circle that will soon have benches for classes to gather for instruction. On the west side is a long table from when Brooklyn Grange owned the place. The table is made from recycled wood. Classes will eat their lunches with a view of the city around them. 

A table made of recycled wood stands on the west side where visitors can eat and gather. Credit: Jean Brannum

The farm is meant to teach children about growing their own produce and maintaining farms. The farm will host field trips about three times per week until the end of the school year, then summer camps until the next school year starts in the fall. A canopy under the water tower is congested with boxes and wood. But soon, it will be a spot for children to clean their harvested crops to cook them, according to White. Farm Manager Alexa Curnutte is working with the Boys and Girls Club to create a curriculum for programs. 

Many rows are growing the first cool-weather spring crops including lettuce, scallions, and radishes. 

The next phase of the project will work on the west side of the rooftop. White says that a new greenhouse will replace the old one. The current greenhouse is halfway full of the upcoming summer crops, according to Curnutte. 

Curnutte started urban farming in New York City in 2022. She has experience working for nonprofit organizations to connect children to agriculture. 

“I think that giving kids the opportunity to understand where their food comes from, especially in a place like New York is just so exciting,” Curnutte said.” And I certainly wish that I had had something like this when I was their age.”

When asked what he hoped visitors would gain from the urban farm, White responded “to get some insight into how food is produced and the active role they can take in it.”

Assistant Manager Abby Avital prepares the farm for its first visitors. Credit: Jean Brannum

In addition to the farming areas, the farm will also have three bee hives to act as a landing area for the many bees buzzing around New York City. Curnutte said that bees can fly up to three miles to pollinate places, so it is likely that bees will frequently come and go to different landing places including these. She also said that it would allow her to teach ecology and biology. 

 Above all, Curnutte hopes that kids will get to see how they interact with the agriculture industry in their daily lives through this urban farm. 

“I’m really just here to help them steward it into the direction that inspires them and to create a healthy farm for them that will grow healthy food for them to eat and to enjoy and experience.”

Outside of programming for children, the farm will also be an event space, according to White. Phase two includes producing a canopied area to be an event venue. 

 

MTA to Give Discounts to LIRR and Metro-North Users, but It May Not Be Enough for Some

 

Photo from the MTA

JEAN BRANNUM

jbrannum@queensledger.com

 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will provide a steeper discount to residents who use certain commuter rail tickets within the New York City area, according to an MTA press release

Since congestion pricing goes into effect June 30, residents who take the Long Island Railroad of Metro-North rail line within New York City can expect to pay 10 percent

less on their monthly commuter passes. This is in addition to the current 10 percent discount, totaling a 20 percent discount. 

The discount will hopefully relieve the cost burden of transportation for those who live in New York City but cannot commute without the LIRR or Metro-North. 

Congestion pricing means higher tolls for commuters who travel daily to Manhattan below 60th Street. The new toll system is meant to encourage public transportation use and reduce gridlock and pollution in the area. When pricing is fully implemented, small passenger cars will pay up to $15 with the E-Z pass and $22.50 without the E-Z pass. Similar programs exist in other major cities including Singapore, London, and San Diego, according to Smart Cities Dive.  

The program is not without critics. A change.org petition from The Coalition in Opposition to Congestion Pricing said that the increased fare will not reduce car traffic and will instead put an undue burden on people who need a car to get to work in the city. The group also said that air quality surrounding the congestion pricing zone will decrease due to cars and trucks circumventing the area to avoid tolls. 

The MTA environmental impact study reported that air quality would worsen with congestion pricing since traffic between Long Island and Pennsylvania could drive through the Bronx to avoid the Manhattan tolls. 

Jack Nierenberg, vice president for the advocacy group Passenger United, said that while the discount is a good start by the MTA to relieve the burden of congestion pricing, it would not address the issues residents from disadvantaged communities experience with public transportation and congestion pricing. 

The MTA eliminated the Atlantic ticket in 2023, which cost five dollars for one way between Brooklyn and Southeast Queens. Frequent riders could include a $60 weekly pass with a free weekly Metro card. The pass was eliminated in exchange for the City Ticket, which has a peak-time cost of seven dollars and no subway connection. 

“Now, for the MTA to suggest that they’re going to implement a 10% discount for weekly and monthly city tickets without reinstating the free subway or bus transits that they should have kept, that’s ridiculous.”

Nierenberg also said that the potential increase in passengers would strain the current system since there will barely be an increase in service. He added that while other cities have successfully used congestion pricing to decrease traffic and pollution, those cities have also improved public transportation, citing that London added busses after starting congestion pricing to accommodate the increase in passengers. 

Riders can purchase monthly passes starting in July, one day after the implementation of congestion pricing. 



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