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Innovation QNS met with community backlash

The development team of Innovation QNS — a project that seeks to rezone five city blocks to build a mixed use residential and commercial district in Astoria — held a town hall meeting at the Museum of the Moving Image last week to discuss community outreach efforts.

Representatives from Kaufman Astoria Studios, BedRock Real Estate Partners, Urban Upbound, and Silverstein Properties gave a presentation and took questions from the hundreds of guests who attended the meeting.

The presentation was met with mixed reactions from union construction workers seeking employment and protestors who were holding signs and chanting “Our neighborhood, not your playground.”

The town hall meeting was announced shortly after Councilwoman Julie Won demanded more transparency and community outreach in a letter to the Innovation QNS team.

“This project has been in the works since 2020 and claims to have done extensive outreach in the community. Community Board 1, local residents, and housing organizations have all expressed concern about a lack of adequate community outreach especially in Spanish and Bangla,” Won wrote in the letter.

“Thus far, the amount of community engagement is insufficient for a project of this scale that will deeply impact not only those in the immediate vicinity, but also will have lasting impacts on the neighborhood as a whole.”

Despite numerous claims from elected officials and concerned residents of a lack of community engagement, the developers maintain the notion that they have and will continue to perform adequate outreach.

“We’ve tried to put this town hall together, we’ve done street canvassing at subway stations throughout the Community Board district and we went door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood proximate to the sites,” Tracy Capune, vice president at Kaufman Astoria Studios, said.

“We’ve presented a variety of Zoom presentations to over 80 community-based organizations, we’ve held focus groups, we’ve done an online survey that got about 1,200 responses and we’re spreading the word in multiple languages across multiple channels,” she continued. “We are happy to continue to do this outreach, and we look forward to speaking with our local Council Member on how we can address the concerns to the outreach.”

A rally outside the town hall, organized by CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Astoria Not For Sale, Woodside on the Move , Astoria Tenants Union, Justice For All Coalition and Western Queens Community Land Trust , pointed out the flaws in Innovation QNS’ outreach approaches, as well as other reasons why they believe the project would be a disservice to the community.

Evie Hantzopoulos, an Astoria resident, member of Community Board 1 and executive director of the Queens Botanical Garden, referred to their community engagement efforts as “a joke,” citing the fact that the town hall meeting was held during the Orthodox Holy Week, Ramadan, and spring break — a time while many people are unavailable.

“I went to one of those places in the development, talked to the people working there, and they had no idea that their building, where their restaurant is, is part of this proposal and is going to be razed,” Hantzopoulos said.

She added that these types of rezonings are a “ripple effect,” and will further displace local tenants and small businesses in the surrounding area.

“Sometimes the qualifying rent is well above what the median income is for the people who live in that community. The people who desperately need this housing will not be able to qualify, let alone apply — and it’s a lottery system,” she said. “If you are going to construct this huge development, which is going to be over 75 percent unaffordable to the community, you have to know what you’re going to be charging for those. You’re not being transparent about that.”

Tracey Appelbaum, co-founder of BedRock Real Estate Partners, responded by saying that the development team understands the housing crisis present in New York City, and that they would provide 700 permanently affordable housing units. Twenty-five percent of the 2,800+ units would be affordable for those making $50,000 annually, and 60 percent of units would be within the price range of area median income.

The proposed $2 billion development would build 12 towers between Northern Boulevard and 37th Street, ranging from nine to 27 stories tall.

The towers would house over 2,800 apartments, offering more than 100 dedicated homes for seniors, as well as 5,400 on-site jobs and two acres of permanently publicly accessible open space.

NYS Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, who rallied alongside the community groups, said that Astoria is in the midst of a massive displacement crisis.

He argued that developments like Innovation QNS actively contribute to the problem.

“If you have more than 2,000 market rate apartments coming here without a guarantee or commitment as to what those prices will be, we will simply see more and more landlords looking at those projected units as the new going rate for living in Astoria,” Mamdani said.

“I will never stand in opposition to affordable housing. What I will stand in opposition to are projects that masquerade as such,” he said. “That is where the genesis of my critique and opposition to this project comes from.”

Doreen Mohammed, a resident and CB1 member said: “As a working class, first generation Bangladeshi-American who grew up in Queens, I have seen firsthand how luxury developments like Innovation QNS are harmful for working class New Yorkers. They spike up the rents and cost of living in the immediate and surrounding areas. They yield violent displacement of people.”

“We need deeply, truly affordable, and accessible housing for all working class and poor New Yorkers,” Mohammed said.. “Innovation QNS will displace our vulnerable immigrant, working class, communities of color. This is why we must oppose this rezoning and fight to end this project.”

Activist arrested during Myrtle-Wyckoff sweep

Update: Raquel Namuche’s case was dismissed and sealed in the interest of justice.

Ridgewood Tenants Union aimed to protect belongings of homeless

As Mayor Eric Adams’ citywide effort to clear homeless encampments continues, advocates in Queens have stepped up to support homeless neighbors in their communities.

This includes Raquel Namuche, founder of the Ridgewood Tenants Union, who was arrested by NYPD officers on the morning of April 9 during an encampment sweep on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood.

Namuche said that at around 10:30 a.m., as members of RTU attempted to make sure no items of value were discarded, a DSNY worker began to pull away a shopping cart.

She requested a few more minutes to review the contents of the cart, but was instead arrested by two 83rd Precinct officers for disorderly conduct and ​​obstruction of governmental administration.

Namuche was taken to the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, where she was detained for four hours and then sent to Central Booking in Downtown Brooklyn where she spent 10 hours in a cell while waiting to see a judge.

“The commanding officer told me ‘no,’ that they had no time and other sweeps to do, and that they couldn’t give us one more minute. I assumed the cart belonged to Charlie, a homeless individual who stays at that encampment, but is currently at the hospital,” Namuche said.

“We just wanted to make sure that nothing of importance was thrown away, such as documents or ID,” she continued. “For that, I was arrested. This was not planned, and we believe that this was an unwarranted arrest.”

Cellphone video of police apprehending Namuche

Namuche said that a notice of the sweep was posted a block and a half away from the encampment, and that none of the men who stayed there noticed it.
RTU members agreed to store the belongings in their basements temporarily, and communicated with the homeless individuals about how to support them during the sweep.

“In this instance, we weren’t really trying to block anything, because the men told us that they just wanted help with getting into safe shelters,” Namuche said.

She added that one of the men, Michael, was able to go to a shelter in the Bronx where he lives in a single room.

But another individual named Jo Jo lost all of his belongings as a result of the DSNY and NYPD’s sweep.

“They took all my stuff and threw it away. Now I don’t have nothing at all to live on—no clothes, no socks, they took everything,” he told RTU members during the sweep.
“It’s not fair to us.”

At a recent press conference, Eric Adams said that the ultimate goal of his revamped policy is to build trust by engaging with homeless folks and informing them of the alternatives to living on the street.

But Namuche emphasized that the majority of homeless people have the same fate as Jo Jo when it comes to these sweeps.

“It’s very rare that these individuals actually get placed somewhere that is adequate for them,” she said. “The mayor’s office said that in March, 312 individuals accepted shelter placements. That’s not enough.”

“But in the meantime, they also arrested 719 people and gave out over 6,000 tickets during the sweeps,” she continued. “That just shows how violent they are.”
Ridgewood Tenants Union is in favor of using the 2,000 vacant apartments in the city for housing, as opposed to transitional shelters or Safe Haven beds.

The group also actively advocates for issues such as the Good Cause Eviction Bill, healthy living conditions for tenants and safe working conditions.

Namuche assures homeless folks that tenants’ rights organizations, like RTU, will continue to stand with them and advocate for their rights.

“We need to work together to demand the city build and open up housing for every homeless individual,” she said. We have to keep pushing the city to actually do its job in providing the residents with the services, adequate housing, healthcare and work that they need to live fulfilled and dignified lives.”

Schumer joins fight against North Brooklyn Pipeline

National Grid’s plan to build a new natural gas pipeline underneath various neighborhoods in Northern Brooklyn has drawn the ire of locals since its inception.
The energy provider’s fight became much harder this week, however, when Senator Chuck Schumer announced his own opposition to the project. He is the highest-ranking politician to oppose the project, which has already faced opposition from a bevy of local representatives.
“The facts are clear, this pipeline will undermine New York’s climate goals while pumping carbon-based fuel through communities already face high pollution,” Schumer said during a press conference last week.
The North Brooklyn Pipeline project would install a gas pipeline underneath parts of Brownsville, Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Williamsburg. Detractors argue that the pipeline would pollute the ground and water of multiple low-income communities of color.
“When they had to build a highway, when they had to build a pipeline, they didn’t go to the communities where there was power and wealth,” Schumer added. “They went through poor communities, communities of color. That meant more asthma, more particulates in the lungs, it meant more poison in the air. That’s got to stop.”
Just last month, Schumer also spoke up in opposition to a proposed new fracked gas plant in Astoria. Similar to the North Brooklyn Pipeline, the project has been criticized for potentially adding more pollutants into the air of a neighborhood that has already been dubbed “Asthma Alley.”
In addition to the environmental impact of the North Brooklyn Pipeline, local residents are concerned by the increased costs in their monthly bills to pay for it. National Grid hsaid its agreement with the state Department of Public Service would raise their customers’ bills by an average of $5.56 per month in 2021 and then by $4.89 per month in 2022.
The $100 or more price hike added fuels to the flames of an already adamant anti-pipeline movement in North Brooklyn.
Since July 1, over 200 Greenpointers have joined a strike to protest the controversial North Brooklyn Pipeline project by National Grid. The strike asks that residents withhold $66 from their monthly gas bill, and has found support from Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher and State Senator Jabari Brisport.
Lee Ziesche, community engagement coordinator for the grassroots organization Sane Energy Project, offered the following comment about the ongoing strike efforts:
“The state and the city really haven’t stood up to National Grid, it’s really only ever been the community,” Ziesche said. “After almost a year of confidential settlement negotiations that didn’t really involve community members, the plan that National Grid and the state came up with and filed in May just really ignored all the community’s concerns.”
Despite the continued opposition, National Grid defends the pipeline project.
“National Grid shares Senator Schumer’s commitment to transitioning to a sustainable energy future, which we all know will not happen overnight,” a National Grid spokesperson said. “In the meantime, we have an obligation to provide energy to our two million downstate customers until there is a viable, affordable alternative for heating.”

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