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Advocates want lower LIC rents

Members of the New York City Planning Commission were skeptical about how to provide low-income housing at the Hunters Point South development without destroying its financial viability. Photo by Stephen Stirling
By Stephen Stirling and Jeremy Walsh

Expanding the affordable housing component of the proposed Hunters Point South residential development is still on the table after a hearing before the city Planning Commission, but officials there questioned how to make more apartments available for low-income residents.

At a hearing in Manhattan Aug. 13, affordable housing advocates, many from the nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, called for the proposed affordable housing elements in the project to be expanded to include low-income units.

City planning officials, meanwhile, warned that adding more could make the project fiscally unfeasible.

Helmed by the city's Economic Development Corporation, the 37.5-acre project is an offshoot of the Queens West high-rise condominium towers to the north of Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City.

Current plans for Hunters Point South include 5,000 apartment units, 60 percent of which will be affordable housing for middle-income households.

The EDC has defined “middle income” based on median income levels of $55,000 to $158,000 per year, which borough housing advocates say vastly overestimates the earning power of most Queens residents.

ACORN proposed that 60 percent of the affordable housing be set aside for the lowest income levels, saying the goal is to create a “large-scale affordable housing complex.”

City Planning Commissioner Irvin Cantor objected.

“What you just described to me is an exclusionary project and I find that difficult to accept,” he said, noting the development is not a public housing project.

But Angela Battaglia, another city planning commissioner, suggested lowering the percentage of affordable housing units to 40 percent in order to make them all low-income households.

Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, which approved the project last month, said while he supports the project, he has concerns about people in the community being priced out.

He also wants to see greater community involvement in the project as it moves forward.

“When [Borough President] Claire Shulman stood on the shores of Long Island City with Queens West 10 years ago, everyone marveled at the million-dollar views we had of Manhattan,” he said. “Never did we think that in 2008 it would cost $1 million to move into this community. So we're very concerned about secondary displacement.”

Conley and CB 2 got several concessions from the EDC when it approved the plan.

These include having a community representative on the board if a nonprofit group is formed to develop the site, involving the community in the design of the project's parks, setting aside space for a 46,000-square-foot community facility and giving affordable unit preference to certain groups.

Reach reporters Jeremy Walsh and Steve Stirling by e-mail at news@timesledger.com.

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