Jamaica residents gathered at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York on Wednesday to demand that the city and developers capitalizing on the available space in the area “build it right.”
The rally, which began at the church and ended at a proposed mixed-use development on 168th Street, was meant to educate people about the current state of development in southeast Queens and provide a background on the rezoning that led to a construction boom.
“We are simply demanding that local electeds and city officials use their membership to assure that the coming development in this area prioritizes deeply affordable housing, to make sure that we have protections for existing tenants and to make sure that we have family sustaining union careers for local residents in this neighborhood,” said Andrew Wilkes, pastor of social justice and young adults for the church.
Minister Helen Broady spoke on the 2007 rezoning of 368 blocks in Jamaica and the recently announced Jamaica Now plan, a $153 million action plan that aims to create more than 3,000 units of housing, 500,000 square feet of commercial space and 800 new hotel rooms in the next five years.
A special inclusionary housing program incentivizes developers to build affordable housing around downtown Jamaica and Hillside Avenue, but only 20 percent of the units in the designated area are required to be affordable.
Broady argued that the 20 percent of affordable housing may not actually be affordable for Jamaica residents. The area median income (AMI) in New York City is determined by taking the average of median income of all five boroughs and several suburban counties. Developers can rent out their units to people making the maximum income level allowed.
For a family of three looking to rent in Jamaica’s inclusionary zone, the maximum AMI is capped at $62,150, according to the Department of City Planning. In Community Board 12, which includes Jamaica, the AMI for a family of three is about $50,000.
“We are not here to say don’t develop, but to say build it right,” Broady said.
Jobs were also a topic of discussion Wednesday night, as 400 construction jobs and 80 permanent jobs are estimated to be generated through the 168th Street development. Broady said that though developers are required to hire locally, that requirement is not enforced. She also pointed out that a salary of $11.50 per hour, a “living wage” for construction workers mandated by the city for this project, would not allow local residents to afford rent.
Ricardo Louis, a southeast Queens resident for 20 years, said he should be included in any plans to build in his community.
“If you’re going to come to my neighborhood and build in my area, why can’t I be a part of it?” Louis said.
Members of the District Council 9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades came to show their support as well as Andy Lane, a representative from Councilman I. Daneek Miller’s office who read a statement from the councilman.
“As chair of the civil service and labor committee, one that is dedicated to economic development and community, we are committed to responsible development. This includes continuing to host MWE forums that provide opportunities for local businesses, good jobs through project labor agreements and developers and creating careers, not just jobs,” according to Miller’s statement.