Op-Ed: Finding a way forward

Corinne Woods-Haynes

As the president of the Queensbridge Houses Tenants Association, I’ve seen how difficult the last several years have been for our community. It’s not just the pandemic, but the now-endemic, long term COVID; a recovering marketplace; the ongoing crises of housing, employment, inflation; and general lack of solutions. That’s the impetus for our clarion call to find a way to move forward.

While the news reports focus on data points, the personal stories I hear from my neighbors make a much more compelling case that something must be done now. It’s encouraging that our elected leaders have said the right things in recent months; the question is, are we now prepared to turn those words into action?

Mayor Adams recently suggested a good place to start when he spoke about making New York a “City of Yes.” This means finding ways to embrace opportunities we’ve rejected so often in the past – sometimes with good reason – to work cohesively together to create new homes and jobs and other wins for our communities.

We have a chance right now to say “yes” here in Western Queens. A plan known as Innovation QNS, which the City is now considering, would breathe new life into a far corner of Astoria near Northern Boulevard and Kaufman Astoria Studios. The development would create thousands of jobs, green open spaces that are in short supply here, and a community hub where non-profits that have served our community for decades will be able to expand their programs to reach more of our young people, seniors and immigrant neighbors. Not to mention more than a thousand new affordable apartments, including hundreds of homes that will be affordable to very low-income families.

What’s especially encouraging to me is a promise the developers have made to set a goal of awarding 30% of contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses. With a $2 billion development, that’s a ton of economic opportunity for people who look like me and who too often are left behind.

We’ve heard very vocal public discussions about the Innovation QNS project. Skepticism of developers certainly is warranted, and as a community we need to hold this team to its commitments. But we are deeply concerned when we see some fighting for a “no” – whether by saying it outright or by making unrealistic demands with a clear unwillingness to compromise – rather than working collaboratively toward a “yes.”

This is the right time – and the right project – to try. So let us link arms, put in the work, and channel our passion and energy toward maximizing the benefits of this project for the community. By pushing for a greater number of more deeply affordable homes. By making sure as many jobs as possible are filled by people who live nearby – including our young people – and that these folks receive the training they need to succeed in those jobs. By seeing to it that contracts go to local small businesses, especially Black- and brown-owned businesses.

Saying “no” will only protect the status quo, which hasn’t worked for most of us in a long time. One hundred percent of nothing will always be nothing, and blocking a development to claim an empty ‘victory’ against businesses that wish to invest in our community will not pay our rent or put food on our tables. If we can’t even try in good faith to get to “yes” during these circumstances and with a $2 billion opportunity in front of us, we’ll have truly failed each other. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, even our neighbors, to do better.

So let’s start by saying “yes” to giving it a shot.

Corinne Woods-Haynes is president of the Queensbridge Houses Tenants Association.