By Sadef Ali Kully
Hundreds of community members marched alongside religious leaders through south Jamaica Tuesday to protest the lack of affordable housing for lower-income families and employment opportunities in southeast Queens since the launch of the borough plan to redevelop the downtown area.
The demonstration started at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral on Merrick Boulevard and ended at a future development site on 168th Street and Archer Avenue. Police from the 113th and 105th precincts escorted marchers through south Jamaica.
Marchers carried signs that read “Reviving Our City,” “Affordable Housing for All,” and “Solidarity.” Attendees included residents; clergy members; Faith in New York,a Queens-based interfaith federation; Christ Church International; and the Greater Allen AME Cathedral; District Council 9 Painters Union; Real Affordability for All; and elected officials.
Residents and advocates said the current development plans following Jamaica’s rezoning in 2007 under the Bloomberg administration did not include benefits for local dwellers. The 2007 rezoned parts of Jamaica require 20 percent of new housing units built to be affordable, but rally organizers said the affordability is priced at almost 1.5 times the average median income of a two-earner family.
“The people who make development decisions regarding these issues cannot be the people that benefit the most financially,” said Darnel Lyles, a Queens Village and member of Christ Church International and Faith in New York, before the march began.
According to the latest U.S. Census figures, the median household income for Queens is an estimated $57,000. But organizers said the 2007 zoning for affordable housing set the median income over $70,000 for the entire borough.
“It isn’t right that development in our community would not be affordable to the members of the community actually living here,” said Helen Broady, a Jamaica resident and minister at the Greater Allen AME. Cathedral.
When the economy crashed and a foreclosure crisis hit the area in 2008, much of the anticipated development in downtown Jamaica was stalled. But a development boom, initiated by the city and Borough President Melinda Katz, is expected to preserve or build 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years across the five boroughs. This includes the Jamaica Now redevelopment action plan.
The mayor’s office reiterated it would protect existing affordable housing, grant new opportunities for affordable apartments and home ownership in Jamaica.
“We look forward to working closely with this community, its elected officials and all the local stakeholders,” a spokesman for the mayor said.
The Greater Allen AME. Rev. Andrew Wilkes said there are three goals: the first is to use faith to bring change, employ city leverage to start affordable housing projects and ensure legal protection from harassment and displacement among tenants living in downtown Jamaica and surrounding communities. Organizers said Jamaica’s elected officials and the mayor’s office are aware of their demands and concerns for their community.
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