Queens residents, leaders sound off on housing crisis

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards delivers remarks before the Rent Guidelines Board in Jamaica Monday.
Photo courtesy of BP’s office

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) got an earful from Queens residents during a June 12 public hearing at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.

Landlords and property owners were advised to steer clear of the hearing by the Rent Stabilization Association of New York which has a membership of more than 25,000 warning of recent “tenant activist aggression and violence” since the RGB proposed increases on rent-stabilized apartments across the five boroughs of up to 5% for one-year leases and 7% for two-year leases.

“Asking people to choose between rent and food and medicine is beyond unfair. It’s obscene and amoral and a driving force in the housing crisis today, and if I get squeezed anymore, I’ll be living out of a cardboard box on the street,” Flushing retiree Douglas Ostling said without a hint of malice. “I urge this board to put a moratorium on rent increases or at bare minimum, return them to pre-COVID levels in the range of one to 2%. Anything more will only reward unscrupulous landlords and poorly run properties and revert and convert them into veritable slot machines best regulated not by you, but by the State Gaming Commission like all the casinos.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards evoked the legendary housing activist Jimmy McMillan, who came up short in mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns before retiring to the state’s veterans nursing home in St. Albans.

“I’m here to say the rent is too damn high,” Richards said. “Queens and all of New York City are in the throes of a housing crisis unlike any we’ve experienced before. The number of families that are in homeless shelters and the overall cost of living from food prices to utility bills and transportation costs continue to rise rapidly. We must move with the urgency of now to keep families in their homes, keep the cost of living in check and ensure our communities remain healthy, affordable places to live.”

Richards added that the proposed rent hikes before the board “couldn’t be more misguided and dangerous.”

Councilwoman Julie Won attended the hearing with Woodside on the Move and a busload of her constituents from across western Queens.

“It would be unconscionable for the mayor’s appointed Rent Guidelines Board to vote to increase rents when nearly half of all New Yorkers can’t make ends meet. Forty-five percent of renters in western Queens are paying more than a third of their income in rent and 20% of renters are paying half of their income,” Won said. “These rent increases would mean more evictions and homelessness for our neighbors. The RGB must freeze rents now to make sure that New Yorkers can stay in their homes, not raise them to maintain landlord’s profits.”

Councilwoman Julie Won joined Woodside on the Move for a bus trip to the RGB hearing in Jamaica. (Photo courtesy of Won’s office)

Meanwhile, on June 11, more than 1,200 Queens residents rallied outside the old Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village to renew their call for Governor Kathy Hochul to transform the state-owned property into 1,000 affordable rental units and 300 affordable houses.

More than 1,200 Queens residents rallied at the old Creedmoor Psychiatric Center campus in Queens Village on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Queens Community House)

“Our young and talented, hard-working sons and daughters are being displaced. This forced displacement, this reverse migration is unacceptable and unconscionable,” Bishop H. Curtis Douglas, senior pastor of Dabar Bethlehem Cathedral in Queens Village, roared. “This crisis is creating refugees out of our own people. There are New York refugees in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Georgia. They’ve been forced to leave their homes and the city that they love because they can’t afford to live here anymore. That is a shame. It’s a sin and a shame. It’s a sin and a shame and it must be stopped.”

The rally was organized by Queens Power, which is co-chaired by Ben Thomases, the executive director of Queens Community House.

“We need 100% real affordability because this is a housing emergency and, in an emergency, we need the state to use every tool at its disposal to respond,” Thomases said. “We were over 1,200 people strong on Sunday at the Queens Power Rally and we will continue to organize and push for 100% affordability at the Creedmoor campus.”

Queens Power Co-Chair Ben Thomases speaks to the crowd at Creedmoor. (Photo courtesy of Queens Community House)

Empire State Development rolled out a master plan for the redevelopment of portions of the Creedmore campus in the coming years, while the need for affordable housing services in the borough is more immediate, according to Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH), who joined the congregation at St. Pius V Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica for an affordable housing workshop on June 11. CUFFH serves thousands of at-risk families each year at offices across the city, operating in neighborhoods that are most at risk from displacement and gentrification. CUFFH announced $1.2 million in federal funding allocated by Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand.

CUFFH held an affordable housing workshop at St. Pious and announced $1.2 million in federal funding had been secured by Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. (Courtesy of CUFFH)

“This support from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand will provide critical support to Churches United For Fair Housing’s citywide expansion of affordable housing services to help families find and maintain affordable housing, combat landlord harassment, displacement and access resources that help prevent and fight back against other threats to housing,” CUFFH Services Director Jacqui Rodriguez said. “CUFFH is incredibly grateful to the Senators for this powerful commitment towards housing justice for our communities.”

CUFFH members join a procession through the streets of Jamaica with the congregation from St. Pius. (Photo courtesy of CUFFH)

Schumer said he was proud to support the organization.

“CUFFH provides housing assistance and tenant protection to the city’s most vulnerable residents, in addition to supporting communities through job training, health services, and other programs,” he said. “CUFFH has a profound impact on our city, serving thousands of at-risk families every year, and I’ll continue fighting to deliver the resources they need.”

Gillibrand echoed his sentiment.

“Churches United for Fair Housing has been a leading advocate dedicated to empowering and assisting New Yorkers in acquiring safe, affordable, and dependable housing,” Gillibrand said. “I am proud to have helped secure $1.2 million in federal funding that will go toward expanding CUFFH’s affordable housing services, and I will continue to fight for resources to make housing more accessible to all.”