Council subcommittee approves $2 billion Innovation QNS proposal after developers make modifications

Innovation QNS
The $2 billion Innovation QNS project has cleared another hurdle in the city’s public review process. (Courtesy of Innovation QNS)

The $2 billion Innovation QNS mixed-use development proposal is a step closer to the finish line after the City Council zoning subcommittee voted to approve 7-0 on Thursday, Nov. 17, sending the project to the Land Use Committee next week, and if it gets the green light, the project will go before the full City Council for a final vote in December.

The Innovation QNS team added modifications to the proposal to reduce the amount of office and community space to accommodate an increase in the number of affordable units, bringing the full complement of residential units to over 3,000, according to Councilman Kevin Riley, the subcommittee chair.

The amount of affordable housing has been under intense negotiation in recent weeks after Councilwoman Julie Won announced last month that she was demanding 55% affordability from the developers. Mayor Eric Adams and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, citing the ongoing housing crisis in the borough, announced they were in favor of the project going forward after Innovation QNS agreed to increase the number of affordable units to 40%.

“Progress. I’m grateful to Chairman Riley and the entire Zoning Subcommittee for their work and their vote to advance Innovation QNS,” Richards said. “With more than 63,000 people in shelters, including asylum seekers, we must continue to do everything in our power to both preserve and build affordable housing, especially in communities with little to none of it. Queens can and must be the borough of yes.”

According to the City Council, after the modifications were made to the proposal, Innovation QNS would create nearly 3,200 new units of housing, more than 1,400 reserved as affordable, creating more than 500 extremely low-income units for individuals earning $28,020 and a family of three earning $36,030.

Won said she will continue to negotiate.

“This vote is only a preliminary approval of this project. We’ve been negotiating daily to secure unprecedented levels of affordability for my immigrant and working-class community,” Won said. “Our wins include 1,436 permanently affordable units, double the developers’ original offer; 500 units at 30% AMI; 157 units for our unhoused neighbors that will also cover the difference between the voucher subsidy and market rate rent; and a $2 million anti-displacement and anti-tenant-harassment fund that will provide legal representation to renters in the project area. I am diligently finalizing negotiations for commitments from the developer and the Mayoral administration. As the council member, I will utilize every accountability measure to ensure that our community wins are actualized.”

Councilwoman Julie Won continues to negotiate for more affordability in the project. (Photo by Adrian Childress)

During a seven-hour-long public hearing before the zoning subcommittee on Oct. 19, 553 people testified against the proposal, while 83 supported the project.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighed in on the controversial plan with a statement released Wednesday, Nov. 16.

“I support Astoria community members in their push that any new major housing development be majority affordable. The vast majority of the Innovation QNS units will be at a luxury rate, and the developer has only guaranteed that 25% of units will be permanently affordable – far below the 50% of Astoria residents whose incomes fall below affordability guidelines,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Promises of a 40% affordability rate rely on the City subsidizing 15% of those units, to which the City has yet to agree. Substantial public subsidy of affordable housing would be an historic and welcome investment in Western Queens.”

While the Innovation QNS proposal is not in her district, Ocasio-Cortez is a powerful voice among progressives in Astoria who stand against the project.

“We must move forward with a transformative vision of affordability in New York that makes major, strategic, and bold public commitments to housing,” she continued. “Our approach must be guided by tangible solutions in the short term — penalizing long-term warehousing of over 88,830 currently vacant stabilized apartments and strengthening enforcement of the illegal short-term rentals that are keeping units away from New Yorkers.”

QNS reached out to the Innovation QNS team and is awaiting a response. Meanwhile, the project has gotten major support from unions, who were set to rally at City Hall prior to Thursday’s subcommittee vote, but postponed it until a later date.

“We urge Julie Won and the entire New York City Council to vote yes on Innovation QNS,” Laborers’ Local 79 Business Manager Mike Prohaska said. “We’re proud to have been involved in the campaign for Innovation QNS from day one. We rallied, we organized, and we lobbied tirelessly for Innovation QNS. Innovation QNS is a shining example of what real progressive development looks like: more than 5,000 jobs, will be created, including many union jobs. Local residents in Queens will help build this much-needed affordable housing — and many will live in these new apartments, too.”