While breaking ground on affordable development in Far Rockaway, borough president remarks on ‘crazy discussions’ over Innovation QNS project

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards helps break ground on a new 100% affordable development in Far Rockaway and draws a parallel to the controversial Innovation QNS project in Astoria. (Photos by Sylvester Zawadzki)

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined elected officials and developers in Far Rockaway on Oct. 28 to break ground on the $97 million Beach Channel Drive 100% affordable housing development that will include 157 deeply affordable apartments as well as 100 shelter units with supportive services for single women.

While Richards never mentioned her name during his remarks, Richards hinted a message directed at Councilwoman Julie Won and her continued opposition to the $2 billion Innovation QNS project in Astoria. The two clashed during an Oct. 19 City Council hearing on the proposed rezoning after Won said she would not support the project unless the developers commit to providing another 15% of affordable units, bringing the total share up to 55% of affordable units.

“We can not talk our way out of this [housing] crisis; we have to build our way out of this crisis,” Richards said during the Far Rockaway groundbreaking. “We’re having this crazy discussion about Innovation QNS. I would love to have as much subsidy to be poured into Astoria as there is in Far Rockaway, but it’s not a reality.”

The Beach Channel Drive project will be built by BRC and Camber Property Group on the site of the old Driftway Mall, a blighted section of the neighborhood for more than 40 years until the 2015 rezoning of Downtown Far Rockaway.

“Today is a great day to make sure that folks understand that every neighborhood across our borough deserves to ensure that we’re building affordable housing for everyone, so I wanted to put that on the record,” Richards said. “Not just in Astoria and Long Island City, every neighborhood must share in sheltering those in need and not treating folks like they don’t belong in their own neighborhood.”

Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson grew up just up the street from the Beach Channel Drive site and he said the vulnerable population in the neighborhood would benefit from the services provided at the development.

“With so many families and individuals suffering from chronic and mental illnesses, the public health crisis we face is across the board,” Anderson said. “We must expand the supportive housing model equitably and responsibly, prioritizing wraparound social and healthcare services. Residents will also benefit from structured programming to ensure that the most vulnerable New Yorkers can have a safe environment in which to live. I look forward to ensuring that this development is a success and that we can get more unhoused Rockaway residents off the streets and into safe, decent and affordable supportive housing.”

Resident amenities at the building will include full-time security and maintenance staff, on-site staff offices, a social service programming space, a community room, an outdoor recreational space, bike storage and a laundry room.

“Providing housing to our community’s most vulnerable residents can be a launching pad to their success and it must be done through the lens of equity,” Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers said. “With the housing crisis in New York City reaching a tipping point, this development with new housing, much-needed community space and wraparound services, provides my community with vital resources that will help continue Downtown Far Rockaway’s renaissance.”

BRC is one of the city’s largest, most experienced providers of housing and shelters for homeless adults, while Camber has made an impact since 2016 by developing projects and preserving much-needed affordable housing.

“Providing a pathway for New Yorkers to secure permanent and stable housing is critical to addressing the most pressing needs of our city. We’re thrilled to partner with BRC, an outstanding provider of transitional and supportive housing, and the Adams administration to construct 147 units of housing together with a 100-bed transitional housing facility for women,” said Rick Gropper, co-founder and principal of Camber Property Group.

Camber Property Co-founder and Principal Rick Gropper. (Photo by Sylvester Zawadzki)

State Senator James Sanders said the project checks a lot of boxes.

“Now, more than ever we need affordable housing in Queens and especially the Rockaways,” Sanders said. “I welcome this new site, which is an excellent example of what can be accomplished when private industry works with government partners and the community.”

On Monday, Richards took Mayor Eric Adams on a walking tour of the proposed Innovation QNS site in southeast Astoria. Won was not invited but she says she’s communicating with the mayor’s office.

“Securing the greatest amount of affordable housing remains our top priority for Innovation Queens. We are actively negotiating with the mayor’s team and developers to reach the 55% affordability that our community needs. We are in daily conversations to ensure the community’s voice is heard and their concerns are met,” Won said. “The number of evictions and homelessness is growing by the week in our district as well as the city. We welcome 100% affordable housing in any empty lot in our district.”