The neighborhoods of northwest Queens are among the most ethnically diverse in the world, leading to strong economic growth for multiple years – until the recession, that is.
Based on an economic snapshot, released by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on November 16, Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights have the greatest concentrations of immigrants in New York City, which aided the area in producing several successful economic years directly preceding the current recession.
Elmhurst and Corona have the highest concentration of foreign-born residents, with 65.5 percent, and Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst have the second-highest, at 61.8 percent. In total, immigrants from 71 countries call the neighborhoods of northwest Queens home.
DiNapoli, as well as several local elected officials, credited immigrant entrepreneurship with being a driving force in the area’s economy.
“The streets of Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights reflect the diverse heritage of New York’s immigrant populations,” said the comptroller. “An entrepreneurial spirit is vividly on display in the area’s retail corridors, such as those along Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard. These neighborhoods experienced strong economic growth in the early part of the decade, but have struggled more recently. Public and private investment would create new job opportunities and more affordable housing.”
According to the snapshot, during the years leading up to the current downturn, northwest Queens experienced job growth that outpaced the rest of the borough. The majority of jobs were concentrated in Elmhurst and Jackson Heights and were in the fields of health care and retail.
Although private sector employment in northwest Queens grew by 9.9 percent between 2004 and 2008 – which was significantly faster than the rest of the city – amidst the difficult economic climate of 2009, the area experienced a 2.9 percent decrease in private sector employment, significantly greater than the Queens average of 2.4 percent. Private employment rebounded slightly in 2010, with a 0.3 percent growth.
Highlighted in the snapshot was a population growth in the area of more than 40 percent between 1980 and 2010, considerably faster than the rest of the city, and an 18.1 percent increase in the number of businesses from 2000 to 2009, fueled by small businesses and representing growth three times as fast as the rest of the five boroughs.
Among the bright spots discussed in the report was the Willets Point Redevelopment plan, which could create more than 5,500 units of mixed-income housing, 1.7 million-square-feet of retail and entertainment space, convention center facilities, office space, a hotel, community facilities and new open space improvements.
The report also discussed significant quality of life issues faced by the neighborhoods’ residents.
In 2008, nearly half of the area’s households devoted more than 30 percent of their incomes to rent, considered burdensome, and roughly 25 percent devoted more than 50 percent of what they earned to rent, considered a severe burden.
Overcrowding in the area’s public school system, where 19 of 22 elementary schools operated above capacity last year, was also addressed. According to the snapshot, the number of elementary school students rose by more than 18 percent in the past six years.
“Because of the economic downturn, our immigrant communities continue to face many hardships,” said Councilmember Daniel Dromm. “That is especially true in our area, one of the most densely populated and diverse districts in New York City. Thanks to this very telling report we can determine the current health of our neighborhoods and identify and address the many challenges that still remain.”