Op-ed: Flushing’s perilous future

Jerry Lo and Syed Armughan Shah, members of Flushing United. (Photos courtesy of Flushing United)

For the last two years the Flushing community has been hurting. First the pandemic hit our neighborhood at an alarming rate, higher than most of New York City and killing more than a thousand of our friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers.

At one point in January, Flushing zip code 11355 led all of New York City with a nearly 30% COVID positivity rate. It’s not just the health of our neighborhood that’s been hurting, there has been an economic impact too in terms of wages, unemployment, inflation, housing and overall affordability. We’re urging the new mayor, Eric Adams, to bring permanent affordable housing into our community with new neighbors instead of a transitional homeless shelter.

The pandemic devastated the local economy in our Queens community. According to the state comptroller, more than 13,000 Flushing residents lost their jobs during the pandemic, and “nearly two-thirds of all rental households in Flushing faced a rent burden in 2019, the seventh-highest share citywide.” What Flushing needs right now are smart long-term investments in our community that will help us rebuild to a better place than before the pandemic. It’s something the previous mayor repeatedly promised but failed to deliver. What we need is more affordable housing that will bring permanent neighbors to Flushing. And any new development comes to our neighborhood must get community input before any shovel hits the ground.

Unfortunately, that’s not what is happening at 39-03 College Point Boulevard. At the end of last year, rumors began to swirl that the City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) reached a deal to turn that site into a transitional housing development. It was a backroom, taxpayer-funded deal reached by Mayor de Blasio’s team that failed to address the needs of Flushing. We and many other people in the neighborhood obviously had lots of questions about the proposal, and we’ve tried to ask the city and the developers. We even formed a petition that more than 54,000 people who live and work in Flushing signed.

We held a press conference and we’ve had widespread support from elected officials and their staffs including Rep. Grace Meng, State Senator John Liu, State Senator Toby Stavisky, City Councilmember Sandra Ung, and Assemblymember Ron Kim have all called for more public input and the public’s questions to be answers about the proposed project. We want to thank the elected leaders who have spoken up on behalf of our neighborhood, as well as Community Board 7, which allowed us to voice our concerns at their monthly meeting. Despite this push from elected and tens of thousands of our neighbors, we still don’t even know if all the proper environmental studies have been completed to ensure this development is safe and according to the developer’s own website, they plan to break ground in February!

Our concerns about the current proposal in the heart of downtown come because we are personally invested in the future of Flushing. We’ve both lived in the community for decades and we’re worried about the impact a temporary housing will have on the neighborhood. A lot of our working-class families have been priced out of their own homes, not able to afford to continue living here. What we need is more affordable housing which already has a long waiting list for those who wish to stay in this neighborhood. The developer has said they considered building affordable housing, but it would cost too much, but there’s already been reports that the city is setting aside nearly $440 million for the transitional housing plan. That’s a lot of money in taxpayer dollars for temporary housing, which fails to provide much-needed stability. This community, like many others, severely lacks affordable housing and a permanent solution to help those less fortunate, allowing them to integrate as a part of our community.

The last mayor did not make many friends in Flushing because he failed to bring affordable housing and pursued other policies that hurt our community. We’re hoping Mayor Eric Adams will be a better friend to Flushing and that we can help him rebuild our community, starting with much needed, permanent affordable housing.

With February just a few days away, it’s clear that the clock is ticking to press pause on this misguided development. We look forward to discussing our concerns with the new mayor’s team. We just want to be heard before it’s too late.

Jerry Lo is small business owner who’s been actively participating in Flushing’s community affairs for more than 30 years and the co-founder of Glow Community Center, which focuses on the multicultural community while enhancing community life.

Syed Armughan Shah has lived in Flushing for over 25 years and is the president of the Black Car Limousine Driver Union.