Astoria residents and activists loudly voiced their opposition to QNS Innovation on Wednesday night outside the Museum of the Moving Image where developers held a town hall showcasing the project, which would add a set of 12 high-rise buildings luxury homes centered on five blocks around the intersection of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue.
The $2 billion project, led by Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties and BedRock Real Estate Partners, is being touted by developers as a community benefit, adding 711 affordable apartments and “much-needed” open space. However, residents are convinced that the QNS Innovation will increase the cost of living, completely changing the economic and cultural makeup of their neighborhood.
Innovation QNS will reserve approximately 25% of its residential spaces for affordable housing, which would leave 2,120 units at market price: ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 per month for a studio to $4,000 for a two-bedroom.
Innovation QNS consists of 12 buildings, eight of which are over 15 stories high and the two tallest are 27 stories tall.
About sixty inhabitants chanted with passion “Innovation QNS is gentrification QNS”, outside the town hall where the promoters presented the project inside. Protesters, many of whom were immigrants, said these luxury buildings will inevitably drive up rents in the surrounding area, forcing longtime residents to move out – as seen previously in gentrified neighborhoods like Long Island City and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
Hazra Rahman, a resident of Queensbridge Houses for two decades, said the project would move her and her husband.
“Astoria has been a landing place for working class Bengalis and we have a right to stay,” Rahman said. “Our family should be able to live and thrive in Astoria, but it’s getting further and further away. There are no deeply affordable apartments for us. Our beloved small businesses are also going to have a bounty.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, QNS Innovation partner and CEO of Urban Upbound, said that instead of these luxury buildings increasing the cost of living in the area, it would instead reduce rents in Astoria – which the angry protesters called it a lie.
“Create 700 affordable homes and then create additional supply that will drive up the prices of existing homes [housing] declining inventory, I think that creates a tremendous opportunity for us, especially black and brown communities that have historically been excluded from this part of Astoria,” Taylor said.
As the protesters made their way inside the Museum of the Moving Image towards City Hall, they had the opportunity to directly confront the developers during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani stood with disgruntled residents and directly responded to Taylor’s comments.
“Bishop Taylor, you were talking about the impact of what that 25% affordable units would do – that it would lower rents around – I have a different analysis on the 75% market priced units where they drive up rents,” Mamdani said.
Other residents echoed those concerns during the town hall.
Matt, a tenant from Astoria asks, “can you give me an example of a development like this that has lowered the cost of living?” They had NOTHING pic.twitter.com/n3mMk9Wk4z
— CAAAV #StopTheTowers #SaveOurHomes (@caaav) April 20, 2022
Mamdani said Astoria is in the midst of a massive displacement problem and QNS Innovation’s plan to add 711 affordable apartments masks the detriment to the community.
“What we are planning will only accelerate the displacement that so many of my constituents are facing,” Mamdani said. “If you have more than 2,000 market-priced apartments coming here, we’ll see more and more landlords looking at those units as the new going rate for living in Astoria.”
This local problem in Queens is indicative of a larger problem present throughout the city: New York is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rents in New York rose 33% between January 2021 and January 2022, nearly double the national rate. As luxury skyscrapers increased, social housing and affordable neighborhoods became scarce.
Although some argue that luxury developments, like Innovation QNS, have caused this housing crisis, others say the high-rises help satisfy the market, instead of alleviating the problem, as demand to live and invest in the city has increased considerably.
Despite the complicated debate over how to solve the city’s pervasive housing crisis, many Astoria residents are sure of one thing: they don’t want this 27-story development in their neighborhood.
Mackenzi Farquer, small business owner of We Heart Astoria and Lockwood Shop located a few blocks from the proposed development, said the project didn’t fit her community.
“Those of us who are raising families and believe in the connected nature of our neighborhood, who want to see fair and equitable housing built, that’s not going to help any of us,” Farquer said.
Lifetime Astoria resident Jannatul Ahmed said it broke her heart to see so many residents displaced by gentrification and luxury developers.
“This neighborhood has helped me and my family build our lives, and in turn, we’ve helped build this community,” Ahmed said. “Immigrants built Astoria. The billionaires are trying to take over and we won’t let them. We must ensure that the very people who love, build and live in this community are prioritized.
Other residents supported the plan, saying the development would bring new businesses and more spending to the neighborhood. Innovation QNS estimates the new annual expenditure of businesses in the neighborhood at $50 million.
Claudia Coger, past president of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association, said she supports QNS Innovations.
“We advocated for these types of equipment that are not here in our area,” Coger said. “People have to leave and get on a bus to get what they need, and that shouldn’t be the case.”
QNS Innovation would provide 250,000 square feet of space for local small businesses, startups and nonprofits. It also plans to dedicate space to restaurants, entertainment, state-of-the-art cinema and wellness facilities.
The project is approaching the city’s public review process in the coming months. The Planning Department will hold a hearing to determine the environmental impacts prior to certification.
QNS Innovation hopes to get final approval by fall 2022. Ultimately, the decision to approve the project will come down to a vote by the New York City Council.
“Critically, this community faces a significant housing shortage, and Innovation QNS will create over 700 permanently affordable apartments in our community that do not exist today, with over 75% of them for less. of $1,500 a month,” Tracy said. Capune, Vice President of Kaufman Astoria Studios.