QUEENS TAKES ON TAX BREAKS

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Roughly 50 Queens residents gathered on April 4 along 108th Street in Corona to protest a city program that grants developers tax breaks for the construction of new housing without requiring the inclusion of affordable units. The rally was the first action by a coalition formed last fall, Queens for Affordable Housing (QFAH), that includes citywide organizations like the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development and local groups like Centro Hispano “Cuzcatlan.” QFAH takes issue with the program, known as 421-a, which has helped fund projects like Corona Towers, an 87-unit development with condos selling for $250,000 to $410,000. The NYC Department of Finance estimates that the total subsidy for the developers of Corona Towers will reach $14.5 million over its 25-year tax exemption period. Corona Towers is also one of ten buildings analyzed in a report released last week by the Pratt Center for Community Development–which is providing technical assistance to the coalition–in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity-NYC. The report criticized the 421-a program as a waste of public funds with little benefit to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. In 2006, for example, the city will lose $320 million in tax revenue through 421-a, but according to the Independent Budget Office, only 8 percent of the roughly 100,000 units that have been subsidized through 421-a are affordable. Bloomberg has already formed a task force to examine the program, which held its first meeting on April 12. “Queens tends to be very neighborhood focused,” said Marnie McGregor of PICCED. “But this effort [QFAH] is borough-wide, addressing a critical need.” Jamie Weisberg of the Queens Congregations United for Action, a coalition member that includes 15 religious organizations, agreed. “Across the board, people are telling us that affordable housing is difficult to find—it’s not just one or two congregations. In Queens, this is a huge issue.” (G. Thompson) [4/17/06]