November 16, 2022
I appreciate the opinion of 32BJ SEIU president Kyle Bragg regarding the controversial proposed Innovation QNS development, especially in terms of a desire to produce specific temporary construction jobs, ergo income for the union workers he represents.
Yet I disagree with President Bragg’s assertion that “the only option” is to build Innovation QNS and that there is absolutely no other choice or action to be taken, for the construction of new homes in this huge five block span.
A massive luxury complex is no answer, let alone the sole answer.
The IQNS site is next to where I have lived in Western Queens for a quarter of a century, within an active, gently dense and mixed-use neighborhood of working class residential and commercial manufacturing structures. This area, including the always family-packed and newly renovated Playground XXXV, is not an “underutilized corner” as Bragg ignorantly and falsely portrays.
The site’s immediate surroundings include many score of long enduring rent stabilized buildings which have housed thousands of individuals and families, many for decades, some for generations, yet Bragg refers to the (potential) creation of 500 deeply affordable homes as some “watershed” moment in this city, dismissing the existence of the housing which is already there and will be now threatened by this gratuitous rezoning.
And, per their own testimony at City Hall last month, the billionaire development trio of Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties and BedRock admitted to joining forces in 2017 to combine all their land wealth in the pursuit of a rezoning pitch to the city.
Starting back five years ago, the lots on the IQNS site were speculated by this Billionaire Three: their mutually owned property, both occupied and not, from 37th Street to Northern Boulevard and from 35th Avenue to 36th Avenue, were deliberately held off the market, some for half a decade, so to allegedly substantiate neighborhood “distress.”
President Bragg reveals his lack of current intel about Steinway Street: businesses are already being pushed out in anticipation of IQNS’s desire to attract big box retail, like Amazon’s expensive Whole Foods. The expanse of Steinway Street from 35th Avenue to 36th Avenue reveals shuttered storefronts next to the barely remaining and frightened commercial tenants who have already been told they will be displaced so Bragg is incorrect, maybe intentionally, to say this project will help area small businesses. I recommend he read up on community center cum globally recognized billiards hall Steinway Billiards to better understand the price our local businesses have already been paying because of the Innovation QNS developer landlords.
Like the developers, I also testified at City Hall last month, about five hours after they had pled their case. I relayed to the land use committee that Queens Borough President, and REBNY darling, Donovan Richards had called local IQNS protesters, like my neighbors and me, “weirdos” and “frauds” for demanding better affordability from the Billionaire Three.
I also addressed how the entire area of the Innovation QNS had been speculated as all those lots, land and buildings should have been allowed to develop organically, by different developers, instead of being scooped up by a monopoly of three billionaires and held off the market so to construct a luxury bubble.
President Bragg is only half correct to say there is a housing crisis but it’s a crisis of affordability not a dearth of units or space, a reality Bragg knows well as his union workers have never been busier. There is certainly no lack of work or jobs for any construction worker in New York City, union or not. He’s fighting for more income while we’re fighting to stay housed.
Just a mile south of IQNS, at Queensboro Plaza and Court Square, sit a whole bunch of freshly created glass towers, with many more still under construction: unchecked vacancy with likely thousands of empty or unused brand new units located right on top of public transit.
Why don’t we as a city fill those structures first before allowing even more vacant residential skyscrapers to be erected, as these only benefit their subsidy-receiving developers and never any needy tenants.
The uproar against Innovation QNS is because this area’s residents and their city-wide supporters aren’t stupid and have already lived through, many times over, the broken record of tax money going to billionaires instead of being used to help actual tax payers, as pointed out by Evie Hantzpoulos’s op-ed in the Queens Post.
The PR team for the Billionaire Three were so enraged and embarrassed by this piece, they tried unsuccessfully to force the Post to take it down. They couldn’t stand hearing no.
But when a proposal is this bad, the only answer is no.
Innovation QNS, a ploy for billionaires to get billions more dollars, is no answer, no good and no help.
Working class families and individuals in Western Queens deserve better than being priced out of their long term homes for an empty demand to accept any bad deal offered to them.
Being forced into saying “yes” to everything and never being given the option to say “no” lacks all nuance and reflects an abusive, conditional and one-sided dynamic.
There’s good reason to say “no” to bad ideas.
And Innovation QNS is one of the worst.