Astoria Houses hopeful Durst Organization can complete Hallets Point

By Bill Parry

While construction on the first building of the massive Hallets Point development continues at First Street and 26th Avenue in Astoria, the rest of the megaproject has been put on hold.

A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio joined a host of elected and community leaders for a groundbreaking at the site Jan. 14, the 421-a tax abatement expired. After the first building with its 405 apartments, 81 of which are affordable units, and a supermarket are completed, the future of the multi-phase $1.5 billion complex is in limbo.

“Building One is being built under the old 421-a, but the next phase that was set to begin in 2017 is contingent on having 421-a or a suitable replacement,” Durst Organization spokesman Jordan Barowitz said. “Without it we can’t continue the project. It is absolutely essential for the construction, and all rental construction in the city as well as affordable housing.”

The deal for the developer tax break collapsed after the Real Estate Board of New York and the Building and Construction Trades Council failed to reach agreement on prevailing construction wages. Without 421-a abatement, Barowitz said the taxes are “just crushing” and completion of the project’s 2,400 units, 483 of them affordable, may not happen.

The 421-a program provides vital tax abatements to residential developers by eliminating property taxes in exchange for a higher number of below-market-rate apartments.

“We continue to believe that an as-of-right program with strong affordable housing requirements is a vital part of combating this housing crisis,” de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norville said. “We need every tool we can get to help families make ends meet. We look forward to our discussions with State colleagues on how best to achieve these goals.”

The impasse disappointed residents at the neighboring Astoria Houses. Hallets Point was expected to revitalize and reconnect the community to the rest of the neighborhood and residents were to have rental preference for 50 percent of all the affordable housing units.

“We were surprised to learn the project was in phases and not all at once,” said Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Resident Association, “The people had hoped that the project would move forward, but now we are hoping for the best. Hopefully, the logistics will be worked out and the Durst Organization can carry out their plan.”

The Durst Organization had also partnered with Urban Upbound to provide access to construction job opportunities for residents of the Astoria Houses, where 47 percent of the residents are unemployed or underemployed. Urban Upbound’s first worker cooperative, On Point Security, was started with an eye on the Hallets Point megaproject.

“This peninsula has been overlooked and underserved for so long, of course, we were excited about this project as it was envisioned,” Urban Upbound founder Bishop Mitchell Taylor said. “Legislators will just have to find some kind of mechanism that can make this happen. We have projected and planned and put businesses in play. We have to keep preparing our workforce as if the project, and other projects, will happen.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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