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Queens Community Groups Hold Rally Demanding a Stop to ‘Racist Luxury Rezonings’

Seonae Byeon, Lead Housing Organizer at the MinKwon Center, addresses residents from across NYC in front of City Hall Wednesday as part of a new citywide campaign against luxury rezoning. (Seonae Byeon/MinKwon Center)

Dec. 17, 2020 By Allie Griffin

A coalition of community-based groups from across the city held a rally at City Hall Wednesday demanding that the de Blasio administration block all rezonings that would bring luxury apartment buildings.

The organizations called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to end all future rezonings that permit luxury rental and condo buildings. The groups call these rezonings “racist and exclusionary,” saying that they lead to rent increases that price out existing residents– many of whom are immigrants or minorities.

The rally was spearheaded by MinKwon Center of Community Action, a Flushing-based group opposed to the controversial Flushing rezoning project that was approved by the City Council last week. The rally also included groups from Sunnyside and Astoria.

At the rally Wednesday, coalition leaders unveiled a list of demands related to rezonings in a document titled “Community Declaration on the Future of New York.” The document has been signed by more than 60 community groups.

The declaration demands elected officials to stop all future rezonings that would bring high-end housing; reinvent the land-use process so it is led by the community as opposed to developers; and end the use of virtual meetings as a substitute for public hearings.

The groups also said the city must end the practice of allowing luxury developers to construct larger buildings, or upzone, in exchange for so-called  ‘affordable’ housing.” They also said that lawmakers must stop developers from converting manufacturing space into “gentrified housing.”

Seonae Byeon, lead housing organizer at the MinKwon Center, said the declaration was prompted by the city’s decision to approve the 13-tower Flushing rezoning project.

The city council’s approval last week paves the way for developers to create a Special Flushing Waterfront District with 1,725 apartments, 879 hotel rooms, office and retail space, as well as a brand new road network and a publicly accessible waterfront promenade.

“The Flushing community has been bearing the burden of this environmental racism and is suffering from displacement due to this predatory development,” Byeon said. “Enough is enough.”

She said that MinKwon’s opposition to the Flushing rezoning is similar to the opposition of residents across the city to incoming developments in their respective neighborhoods.

“These luxury developments throughout the city have been nothing but a giveaway to the developers. Developers are granted special permits, tax benefits, and deregulation at the expense of the community…,” Byeon said.

Two other Queens groups joined MinKwon Center at the rally Wednesday to oppose rezoning applications within their own neighborhoods.

Emily Sharpe of Stop Sunnyside Yards spoke against a rezoning application put forward by Phipps Houses, a developer that seeks to construct a seven-story, 167-unit building at 50-25 Barnett Ave. in Sunnyside. All the units in the complex would be income-restricted.

“The Sunnyside community is fighting against a spot rezoning that will reward one of NYC’s worst landlords for evicting tenants — Adam Weinstein of Phipps Houses Group,” Sharpe said.

“The 100% ‘affordable’ units provided will not go to anyone earning under $48,000 even though they claim 25 units will go to formerly homeless people,” Sharpe, a candidate for city council, said.

The Phipps Houses application, however, was approved by Queens Community Board 2 on Dec. 3 by a vote of 28 to 12. The project is currently being reviewed by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

Yadira Dumet of the Astoria Tenants Union denounced another Queens rezoning proposal, Innovation QNS — a project that calls for the rezoning of five city blocks on the border of Long Island City and Astoria.

The plan–which is being put together by Larry Silverstein, Kaufman Astoria Studios, and BedRock Real Estate–calls for more than a dozen buildings that would include 2,700 apartments, a school, as well as retail and office space.

“Innovation QNS…will flood one of the few remaining pockets of truly affordable housing in Astoria,” Dumet said. “They will receive enormous tax breaks, make huge profits, and displace the working class and lower income residents who actually built the community.”

The developers, however, argue that the project would bring many benefits to the community. They say that 700 of the 2,700 units would be “affordable” to people who earn up to 60 percent of the median income level.

Additionally, they say it would create 5,400 jobs–consisting of 3,700 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent jobs–and would lead to the creation of 2 1/4 acres of public open space.

The project has yet to undergo the public review process, which is required for a rezoning.

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