Councilwoman demands even more affordability from Innovation QNS team days before proposal goes to City Council

Innovation QNS
Councilwoman Julie Won demands even more affordability in the Innovation QNS proposal to get her support when it comes before the City Council on Oct. 19. (Photo by Julia Moro)

With the $2 billion Innovation QNS proposal set to come before the City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 19, Councilwoman Julie Won is raising the stakes after an internal email she sent to council members and staff was leaked to the public Friday afternoon.

Late last month, the Innovation QNS team offered an improved plan to make 40% of the project’s 2,800 apartments permanently affordable as opposed to the initial 25% in the original proposal.

Won has been critical of the proposal since taking office in January, and after the City Planning Commission approved the plan last month, she said she would not settle for a proposal that was less than 50% affordable. Now that her email was leaked, in which she said the developer’s changes were insufficient, according to POLITICO.

(Photo courtesy of Innovation QNS)

“The developers now claim they will provide 40% affordability, but the 15% increase would have to be funded entirely through taxpayer subsidies,” Won said in a statement Friday. “As council member, I stand firm in demanding that Innovation QNS provide more affordable housing — 40% funded by the developer, and if the city were to fund an additional 15%, it would mean a total of 55% affordable housing units.”

Won added that the Innovation QNS project would be the largest rezoning in Queens history.

“My district has seen that luxury development built with insufficient affordability only serves to accelerate rent increases and displace working-class residents and people of color,” Won said. “The project area is home to hundreds of immigrant families and is one of the few remaining corners of my district where housing is still relatively affordable — despite this, nearly half of the residents here are already rent-burdened.”

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.

(Photo courtesy of Innovation QNS)

“Innovation QNS would be the largest privately developed affordable housing project in the history of Queens, creating 1,100 affordable homes including 500 deeply affordable homes for New Yorkers most in need with incomes starting at $28,000. In both the overall number of affordable homes and the number of deeply affordable homes at 30% AMI, Innovation QNS would by a large margin dwarf all other recently approved rezonings in New York City,” Innovation QNS spokesman Sam Goldstein said.

“Rejecting Innovation QNS’ 1,100 affordable homes would severely worsen the gentrification and displacement that has been underway for years in Queens Community Board 1 – where just 102 deeply affordable homes and 475 affordable homes total have been added since 2014 – and that can only be stopped by building vastly more housing,” Goldstein continued. “We remain committed to working to earn the City Council’s support.”

Won says her duty is to advocate on behalf of her constituents, and they demand more affordable housing.

“Astoria residents, the local community board, and the Queens Borough President all voted ‘No’ on this plan, calling for more affordable apartments.” Won concluded. “If the developers cannot meet my community’s needs at this time, I am willing to work with them in the future, in partnership with local residents and the city, as part of a community-led neighborhood rezoning. I am committed to ensuring that my residents can afford to live in their own neighborhoods, and will always center my community’s needs above real estate interests.”

The Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will hold a hearing on Innovation QNS on Wednesday, October 19 at 11 am, in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

“The Council will hear from stakeholders and members of the public at this Wednesday’s hearing,” a Council spokesperson said. “The Speaker’s office will continue working with Council Member Won and all partners during the review of this application,”