Residents of Queens’ largest affordable housing co-op complex rallied in Long Island City on Tuesday morning after a series of government missteps caused the building’s middle- and low-income apartment owners to potentially lose their homes.
Dozens of people who live the Citylights co-op complex, located at 4-74 48th Ave., gathered on June 19 in front of Museum of the the Moving Image, where the LIC Summit was being held. They demanded that the state of New York take action to save their 522-unit, 42-story residential complex from mistakes made by Empire State Development (ESD) and their subsidiary Queens West Development Corporation (QWDC).
Lindsey Boylan, the State’s Deputy Secretary for Economic Development, was speaking at the fifth annual summit. Residents said that Boylan is responsible for overseeing the Empire State Development authority. The organization was responsible for establishing Citylights under Governor George Pataki in 1996 and significantly contributed to its financial predicament, according to residents.
Residents charged that the state made deals and decisions that forced them to pay more money in rent and building repairs, including footing the bill for $10.7 million in building repairs; making “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) which raised property tax assessments by 87 percent; and paying for the $85.6 million mortgage taken on by the developer of Citylights.
In addition, the building’s 20-year tax abatement expired in 2016. New York’s Department of Finance assessed the property value over the past three years; the co-op was assessed at $51.7 million in 2016, $96.9 million in 2017 and $101.6 in 2018.
They added that they want the state to extend a tax break on the property to the same terms as other buildings in the area, so that residents can pay the debt they owe and keep costs affordable.
However, the State said that they could not go forward with proposing a viable solution to the residents without the City’s consent, which the State has communicated to the Citylights board. They added that they are willing to come up with a solution, but they cannot do it unilaterally.
“New York State stands ready and willing with a workable solution to address the needs of residents of CityLights and we are waiting on the City’s mandated written consent to move forward,” said ESD.
According to Sherry Amantenstein, a shareholder who has lived in Citylights for the past nine years, the state promised residents that the co-op would be a place for them to “live out the rest of their lives.” But she said that the 87 percent property tax assessment increase, among the list of other costs, have left the Citylights community uncertain of how they will pay the fees.
“Many of the people who live in the building are retirees or have fixed incomes,” Amantenstein said. She added that the resident feel “stuck” by their current situation.
At the protest, residents held up various signs bearing the words “Save Citylights” and “You Promised Us Affordable Housing.” One of the protester’s posters had a photo from the groundbreaking ceremony in October 1996.
Amantenstein said that the people who were at the rally were “pioneers,” many of them having moved in long before the Long Island City development boom.
Less than a year after the groundbreaking, Brett Crandall moved into Citylights during the summer of 1997. The mother of two said that residents have been writing letters to Governor Andrew Cuomo, hiring consultants and writing grievances in an attempt to be heard by the state.
She said that the residents and shareholders ultimately want to be treated “equitably,” adding that they are not looking for “special” treatment from developers.
Edit made at 2 p.m. to reflect comments from the State.