The ULURP clock is ticking for the Far Rockaway rezoning, and Queens Community Board 14 is gearing up for a vote. A rezoning-focused committee that met Thursday plans to recommend a more modest upzoning than currently proposed, investments in infrastructure and an affordability mix that encourages a mix of incomes.
Though the recommendations may seem par for the course amid the proposed de Blasio rezonings citywide, the discussion was somewhat different than in some other rezoning neighborhoods. Recently, an equivalent task force in East Harlem wrestled with how to get the city to provide more and deeper affordability. A community board member in Bushwick mourned the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing requirement as “not enough.”
Some Far Rockaways board members, however, seem to be working from the assumption that if the city had its druthers, it would saturate the area with as many low-income people as it could. One wonder if it’s a fear rooted in regret at the way the beach-town community changed after Robert Moses built public housing developments there in the 1950s. Or perhaps it’s just that the area has long been so neglected by both developers and the city that—like in so many community boards throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn pre-gentrification days —there’s just a lot of excitement about garnering investment, and no sense of the danger that investment can sometimes bring.
One board member, Stephen Cooper, was particularly vocal about it.
“It’s just plugging in so many people in that area that the revitalization could be bogged down by all the very low-income people being put in,” he said at a board meeting on Tuesday night. “It’s putting pressure on minority communities to have less of an opportunity to burst out economically.”
He repeated those comments at Thursday’s committee meeting, arguing, “Let’s emphasize that the 20 to 30 percent [Area Median Income units] should be as minimal as possible so there can be some quality of life in the stores that we need so desperately.”
Even board member Felicia Johnson, who went to battle against Cooper’s complaints about too much affordable housing, shared his desire to attract more moneyed people to the area. On the one hand, she stressed the necessity of affordable housing, noting that market-rate rents in the area are already unaffordable to many, and that over 50,000 people applied for just 101 units of rent-restricted housing in a recent affordable housing lottery on the peninsula. Yet on the other hand, she said the area needed a “tax base”—market-rate renters—and she reminded Cooper that “affordable” doesn’t mean “low-income,” but could include housing for city employees.
Ultimately, the committee decided to recommend that 40 percent of the housing be market-rate and 60 percent rent-restricted, with 80 percent of the housing for families of three making $48,960 and above, and no more than 20 percent available to families making less than $24,480—with the expectation that the city would push for more low-income units. They also want 40 percent to be homeownership opportunities, at the least.
on the Far Rockaway Rezoning
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It is not clear that everyone in the Far Rockaways agrees with the committee members. Only eight were present for the discussion on Thursday night, though they said their thoughts were also informed by roughly 25 board members and Far Rockaway community representatives who were invited to participate in two past meetings. The committee members in attendance said most or all of them lived in Far Rockaway, though other members of the community board live in the richer, more conservative west side of the Rockaways.
Still, does the committee represent the one third of Far Rockaway’s population that makes less than $35,000—some of whom may be living in increasingly expensive housing, and others who may be NYCHA residents looking to move out?
Glen Collins, tenant association president of Redfern Houses, tells City Limits that public-housing tenants are looking for new housing opportunities and for jobs in construction projects.
“There is no NYCHA representation on Board 14. Who’s thinking about us?” he asks, adding that it bothers him that people assume “when you have Section 8 [tenants] you have ruthless killers and people like that coming to your community, which is not the case.”
Market-rate rent is already out of the affordability range for many Far Rockaway residents. More than half of Far Rockaway residents make less than $50,000, but the average market-rate rent for a two bedroom apartment is $2,007, which by federal standards means it is affordable to families making $80, 280 or above.
In the event of a rezoning, 20 to 30 percent of the housing will be rent-restricted under the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) policy. MIH permits the Council to choose from a menu of affordability structures, and Councilmember Donovan Richards has not yet announced which affordability level he will pick. The city says 100 percent of the housing on two public sites will be rent-restricted—but the income levels they will serve are not yet known and will depend on the agreement reached between developers and the city. Richards has committed to ensuring there are some units for families of three making below $24,480.
Because the market for new construction is weak, the city predicts that developers will turn to subsidy programs and there will be additional affordable housing. The city’s conservative prediction is about 50 percent of the total units created through a rezoning will be affordable, while Richards says at least 50 percent. The outcome depends on how much subsidy the city has to offer, and how fast the market heats up.
The city predicts any new market-rate construction that occurs will likely be affordable to moderate-income people (in the $80,000 range), though over the years it may grow more expensive and attract higher-income residents. Once again, this will depend on how fast the market heats up.
Predicting just how fast things will take off is where things get tricky. Some argue that rezonings and accompanying investments draw developers’ attention to an area, which can cause a rapid increase in land values and ultimately drive up the costs of housing in the surrounding area. Furthermore, last year, District Manager Jonathan Gaska told City Limits there was a new crew of hipsters flocking to the peninsula.
At the same time, it’s hard to imagine higher-income residents will have as much interest in the Far Rockaways as in some place close to the city’s center. Perhaps there’s another question worth asking: if the city creates an affordable development in the Far Rockaways, will those residents be vulnerable to isolation as sea levels rise?
All are questions for New Yorkers to ponder in the months to come.
In addition to its recommendations on affordability, the committee plans to recommend a maximum of eight-story building, with shorter buildings in other parts of the rezoning, improvements to traffic and sidewalks, the creation of a park and playground, a new elementary school with pre-K seats, the creation of a clear evacuation route, a requirement that 75 percent of apartments must have a parking spot, and retail limited to ground floors.
The rezoning committee will present their ideas to the Land Use Committee on Monday March 6 at 7 p.m. at the Bayswater Jewish Center, which will be followed by a public hearing and board vote on Wednesday March 29 at 7 p.m., at the Bayswater Jewish Center.