Mayor joins borough president in voicing support for Innovation QNS project ahead of City Council hearing

Innovation QNS project
Mayor Eric Adams stated his support for the Innovation QNS project during an unrelated press conference Monday. (Courtesy of Mayor’s office)

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has modified his stance on the massive $2 billion Innovation QNS in Astoria just a day before the project goes before the City Council for its first public hearing at City Hall.

Richards ruled against the proposal in August citing affordability concerns, but his role in the city’s public review process is advisory while the City Council can kill the project altogether.

“With Queens in the throes of a housing crisis and asylum seekers by the thousands being directed into our homeless shelters instead of housing, now is the time for real solutions, not rhetoric,” Richards said Tuesday. “By creating 1,100 new affordable units in a community where affordable housing is essentially nonexistent, we must seize this opportunity to set a new standard when it comes to securing critical public benefits from private development. I encourage all involved in this process to not let this opportunity slip away.”

Pressure will build on Councilwoman Julie Won, who is an outspoken critic of the project and demanded more affordability from the developers on Oct. 14.

Councilwoman Julie Won sought input from the Council Land Use Chair Rafael Salamanca during a walking tour of Astoria in February. (Courtesy of Won’s office)

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Eric Adams announced his support for Innovation QNS during an unrelated news conference.

“We can’t continue to acknowledge that we have a housing problem and then every project that pops up, we vote against it,” Adams said. “We have a housing problem, and so I’m hoping that just as we’ve done with others, we can sit down and find a place that the councilwoman can understand that this is part of addressing the housing problem we have in the city. And we’re engaging in real conversations with her and we’re talking to our colleagues. Our colleagues are starting to see, I believe, that we have to address the housing problem.”

He added that addressing the housing problem means building more housing, and the Innovation QNS proposal would do that.

“There are things that the councilwoman wants to talk about to get to a good and comfortable place,” Adams said. “We’re open to doing that, but that project should move forward. We can’t continue to stop these projects as we are dealing with the housing problem we’re facing.”

Won responded to the mayor Monday by standing by her demand for more affordability.

“My position on Innovation Queens remains the same: as long as the developers are not providing the deep affordability that our community needs, I will not support this project,” Won said. “We are in-midst of a housing crisis. We have more than 20 homeless shelters in this district. Building market-rate luxury housing is not going to solve this crisis. There isn’t enough deeply affordable housing in our city.”

The developers behind the proposal — Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios — are seeking to build 12 buildings, with eight standing at over 15 floors and the two largest at 27 floors that would rise on a five-block area of southwest Astoria centered on Steinway Street and 35th Avenue. Won raised the stakes on Oct. 14 by demanding the developers come up to 55% of the units for affordable housing, up from the proposed 40%.

“We cannot continue to build luxury apartments for people who make over $100,000 and expect those benefits to trickle down in a few years,” Won said. “I am committed to securing as much affordability for my constituents and stand firm in my call for 55% affordability from this project. My community’s needs will always take precedence above real estate interests.”

QNS reached out to the Innovation QNS team and is awaiting a response. Meanwhile, the Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will hold a hearing on Innovation QNS on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 11 a.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

“As long as the extra 15% remains undefined and uncommitted, this project remains at 25% affordable by the developers,” Won concluded. “A $2 billion project can provide more than the bare minimum for affordability.”