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Council Member Julie Won: Innovation Queens Leaves Neighborhood Behind

Council Member Julie Won (Photo courtesy of CM Won)

April 21, 2022 Op-Ed By Council Member Julie Won

In my letter to the Innovation Queens development team dated March 8, 2022, I laid out very clear requirements to ensure that the community was informed and empowered in the decision making process for this project before certification. After hearing from my community, it is clear that Innovation Queens has not met those requirements.

At last night’s town hall, we witnessed deeply troubling behavior from the development team.

Community advocates attempted to enter the town hall, but the IQ team refused to let them enter, falsely claiming that the event was at full capacity. However, members of my team were inside and saw a mostly empty venue.

It was only after the intervention of other elected officials that the tenant advocates were allowed to enter. These attempts to silence residents who would be affected by this development are unacceptable and show a deep contempt for our neighbors. Troublingly, the large police presence both inside and outside of the venue demonstrated the IQ team’s total distrust and even fear of our community members.

When members of the community were finally able to speak, we did not hear calls for more luxury residences or luxury retail. We heard the need for greater affordability above the bare minimum set by Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) to ensure that future development does not further raise rents and displace the working-class. 75% of the apartments here would be market rate, with many of those set aside as “affordable,” yet still astronomically out of reach for most people in our district.

According to the American Community Survey (ACS) for the project site and surrounding neighborhood1, 87% of residents are renters, 46% of whom are spending at least 30% of their income on rent, and 23% are spending over 50% of their income on rent. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies individuals spending 30% or more of their income as “rent burdened” and those spending over 50% as “severely rent burdened”. Almost 70% of the area fits those classifications.

Attendees at the Innovation QNS Town Hall Wednesday (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

We also heard the need for a hospital with a trauma center to serve communities that need complex and fast care. We heard the need for maternity care and birthing centers, both of which are greatly lacking in our district.

The developers claimed that they have been in conversation with hospital providers, but have provided no details to the community, the community board, or our office. They also claimed to be providing a school, a claim which was proven false when I asked them directly about their plans during a community board meeting. Further conversations with the School Construction Authority revealed that they were aware that no school would be built before they presented their plan to the community board.

Local small businesses owners were not made aware of the potential for their businesses to be demolished and the need for relocation. The development team would not commit to concrete relocation assistance for these businesses, only promises to have conversations. There was also a clear lack of commitment to build this project with union labor, again with promises to have communication and conversation but no clear cut agreements. If this team has been working on this project for 2 years, they should have already committed to hiring unionized and local labor during all phases of the project.

Language access was another key complaint among residents. According to that same ACS data, 56% of residents speak a language other than English, with 25% reporting that they have limited English proficiency. Our team was able to independently verify that Bangla and Spanish interpretations were sub-par and only partially translated, with certain words being repeated verbatim in English.

This follows a trend of using Google Translate over community integrated translation services for printed materials, websites, and notices in advance of this meeting. We’ve also received a report that a deafblind constituent requested CART services directly from the IQ team and was left without confirmation of services to be provided, and none were available at the event.

Cultural and religious concerns of our community were also ignored. We received complaints from our Muslim neighbors observing Ramadan and Orthodox Christians observing Holy Week about the timing of this event. April 20th was the start of the final 10 days in Ramadan, which are the holiest and most solemn this month for Muslims.

Many expressed deep disappointment that they were unable to attend, as well as their frustration with the organizers who did not consider their needs in planning this event. Those who did attend made clear that they were fasting and how difficult it was to attend during this time. When I requested community engagement, I was clear that the needs of the community must be recognized and incorporated. This engagement plan has shown little consideration for the local community.

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani speaking at the protest Wednesday (Photo by Michael Dorgan, Queens Post)

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani speaking at a protest outside the town hall meeting Wednesday (Photo by Michael Dorgan, Queens Post)

Last night was the first time that many of our neighbors were able to engage with the development team and their message was loud and clear: this project does not meet the community’s needs and they have been excluded from the over 2 years of outreach that the Innovation Queens team claims to have done.

I was clear that this project should not certify before aligning with the needs of the community and I stand by that today. I laid out a clear path for the developers to show themselves to be good faith partners in this plan, and they have decided to move ahead before meeting any of my requests. The Innovation Queens development team must delay certification and work to remedy the litany of complaints and issues from the community before this project can be not just viable, but a true benefit to our neighbors.

Council Member Julie Won represents the 26th Council District. The district incorporates the area where the development is proposed.

1) Data taken from the NYC Population Fact Finder American Community Survey Data from 2015-2019 from census tracts 171.01, 171.02, 31 ,51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 157, 155, 159, 153,161

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