Tag Archives: Mayor Bill de Blasio

Women’s homeless shelter to open at former site of LIC hotel

| amatua@queenscourier.com

Photo via Google Maps

The second homeless shelter in New York City erected during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure will open its doors on Oct. 9 in Long Island City.

The Verve will be located at 40-03 29th St.,  the former site of The Verve Hotel, and will serve 200 single women. The shelter is opening in response to a 9 percent increase in single adult women coming into the system, according to the mayor’s office. Community Board 1, which includes Long Island City, is home to one other shelter, Westway in East Elmhurst.

The shelter will provide several onsite support services including clinical services for mental health treatment, health and home coordination, supportive housing and employment services. Programs will include money management and independent living skills.

De Blasio’s office held a meeting on Oct. 1 to notify community members about the opening.

“This administration has invested over $1 billion in new funding over four years to address homelessness in New York City, with a focus on preventing homelessness by keeping families and individuals housed, moving individuals from our streets to shelter, and helping New Yorkers move from shelter into permanent housing,” said Ishanee Parikh, City Hall deputy press secretary. “We’re seeing more single adult women entering our shelter system and we want to ensure we can provide shelter and services – including employment services and clinical services – to these women as they rebuild their lives.”

The facility will be supervised around the clock and will have security staff stationed on all six floors, including the courtyard. The front entrance to the shelter is equipped with an X-ray scanner, hand wand scanner and three security personnel. All floors and public spaces are monitored with cameras, and staff at the operations reception desk oversee two large video monitors from inside the front lobby.

There are currently 57,237 individuals in the city’s shelter system, including 12,316 single adults.


City opens new homeless shelter at former East Elmhurst hotel

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Updated Monday, Aug. 24, 11:57 a.m. 

Queens has become the home of yet another homeless shelter.

Starting Monday, homeless families with children will begin to move into a new shelter that has opened at the former site of the Clarion Hotel, located at 94-00 Ditmars Blvd. in East Elmhurst.

The shelter, the city’s first this year, is expected to have a total of 169 units and comes as the city continues to deal with an increase in the number of homeless people.

Since the end of June, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has seen a 20 percent increase in families entering the DHS family shelter intake center, with over 5,750 over the last two months. The agency has almost reached capacity with only .05 percent of space remaining.

“This administration has invested over $1 billion in new funding over four years to address homelessness in New York City, with a focus on preventing homelessness, improving conditions in shelter, and helping New Yorkers move from shelter into permanent housing. While we’ve moved over 13,000 individuals from shelter to permanent housing since January 2014, eviction continues to be the main cause of homelessness in New York City, and we’re now seeing the summer uptick of homeless families entering our shelter system,” a DHS spokesperson said. “In order to ensure we have the capacity to house those in need, we’re opening a new shelter — the first new shelter to open this year — at the former Clarion Hotel in Queens.”

The nonprofit CAMBA will provide various on-site social and re-housing services to the families to help them move to self-sufficiency and house permanency.

Meals will be provided at the former hotel and DHS will work to help the families have “adequate” transportation to and from appointments and schools.

DHS will also develop and implement a security plan through meetings with the NYPD and community affairs to ensure safety for both shelter residents and the surrounding community.

The agency also held a community meeting last week with local community leaders to discuss community concerns.

State Senator Jose Peralta, who represents East Elmhurst, voiced his outrage on the announcement of the new homeless shelter which he said again was implemented without any real community input.

“Here we go again, another permanent homeless shelter coming into my district, which makes it the second one under this administration. But the real kicker here is the so-called use of their emergency authority which is a cover for just bringing a homeless shelter into the community without any community input,” Peralta said. “My constituents are very understanding of the necessity of the city’s obligation to house the homeless, as well as understand that anyone is a paycheck away from being homeless. But, the fact that the city seeks input after the fact is nothing but a Bloomberg or Giuliani tactic of shoving a homeless shelter down a community’ s throat.”

The Clarion Hotel shelter will be only 2 miles away from the Westway Motor Inn, located at 71-11 Astoria Blvd., which last year outraged the local community when the city transformed it into a shelter housing over 100 homeless families.

In nearby Elmhurst, the community continues to fight against the city’s proposal to convert the site of the former Pan American Hotel, at 79-00 Queens Blvd., into a permanent shelter.


$100M transformation to turn Queens Boulevard into ‘Boulevard of Life’ begins

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

For Lizi Rahman and all other family members who have lost loved ones on Queens Boulevard, their dream of putting an end to the “Boulevard of Death” is finally starting to become reality.

Rahman — whose 22-year-old son Asif was fatally struck while riding his bicycle home in 2008 — joined Mayor Bill de Blasio, Department of Transportation (DOT) representatives and local elected officials and community leaders on Thursday morning in Woodside to announce the beginning of the $100 million redesign of the busy thoroughfare which has claimed 185 lives since 1990.

“I decided to do everything in my power to get a bike lane on Queens Boulevard so that bicyclists would feel safe and no mother would go through this pain of losing a child,” Rahman said. “There were times when I was discouraged. I almost gave up but then I saw light at the end of the tunnel when Mayor de Blasio was elected. Now my dream is not a dream anymore; it became a reality.”

The first phase of the redesign project, which was unanimously approved by Community Board 2 last month, will focus on the 1.3-mile section of Queens Boulevard between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street, an area which saw six deaths, 36 severe injuries and 591 more hurt in traffic accidents between 2009 and 2013.

“Here is a lesson if ever there was one, on the fact that we had to change things here on Queens Boulevard. We were losing too many good people, and we could avoid those losses. And finally, the actions are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard that should’ve happened long ago,” de Blasio said on Thursday.

Lizi Rahman lost her son in 2008 after he was fatally struck by a truck on Queens Boulevard while riding his bicycle home.

Lizi Rahman lost her son in 2008 after he was fatally struck by a truck on Queens Boulevard while riding his bicycle home.

The redesign of the thoroughfare is expected to decrease drivers from switching repeatedly between the main line and service road. The overall plan will be to get rid of the “highway-like design features” which encourage drivers to speed.

The improvements on the stretch, which will be installed through October, include safer crossings installed along the corridor; pedestrian islands and new mid-block crossings constructed to give pedestrians more time to cross; and the addition of high-visibility crosswalks and new signals.

“We have an obligation to make sure that not one more person loses their life on this boulevard,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. “We will transform Queens Boulevard into that ‘Boulevard of Life.’ We will make it safer for everyone, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, all living in harmony and in safety.”

The DOT will also add protected bike lanes with buffers and new pedestrian space along the median next to the service lane in both directions. A raised, concrete bicycle path will be constructed under the overpass on the eastbound service road from 67th to 69th streets.

The project will also include pedestrian ramps being upgraded to be ADA-complaint improving accessibility to those with disabilities, and service roads will be reduced to one moving lane in each direction.

The DOT plans to soon begin the phase of the redesign of Queens Boulevard from 73rd Street to Eliot Avenue, and after from Eliot Avenue to Jamaica Avenue.

“So for all the people who depend on this crucial road, life will change for the better. And we’re going to use every tool we have to continue that work — not just on Queens Boulevard, but all over the city,” de Blasio said.


Tour bus celebrating Americans with Disabilities Act stopping at Queens Borough Hall Monday

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of The ADA Legacy Project

A traveling exhibit – raising awareness and celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — is rolling into Queens Monday afternoon.

The ADA Legacy Tour, which includes a “Road to Freedom” tour bus, a traveling exhibit displaying iconic photos from photographer Tom Olin and more information educating the public on disability rights, will stop at Queens Borough Hall between 2:30 and 5 p.m.

The traveling exhibit, which began last year, is produced by The ADA Legacy Project, Disability Rights Center, ADA National Network, and the Museum of disABILITY History.

Once the bus makes the stop, visitors will be able to learn about The ADA Legacy Project and its efforts to preserve disability history, celebrate disability milestones and educate the public. Visitors can also add their signatures to the ADA quilt and take part in giveaways, workshops and other programming.

In 1990 the ADA was signed into law, prohibiting discrimination based on disability – both mental and physical. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.

In 2008 the ADA Amendments Act was signed into law, broadening the definition of “disability” to extend the law’s protection to a larger group of people.

Prior to the signing of the amendment act, the “Road to Freedom” tour bus was driven across the nation by Olin, known for his involvement in the disability rights movement, and sought to gather support for the ADA Amendments Act. In the end it garnered thousands of signatures calling on the amendment.

Monday’s Queens stop is one of four throughout New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month declared July as “Disability Pride Month” and on Sunday, the city also held its first-ever Disability Pride Parade in Manhattan.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act is one of the most important civil rights laws in history,” de Blasio said. “By designating July as Disability Pride Month, we are celebrating and commending the fierce advocacy of those who have fought for equal rights for decades and reaffirming our strong commitment to making New York City the most accessible city in the world.”


VIDEO & PHOTOS: Thousands flocked to LIC waterfront for Fourth of July fireworks

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Rafael Gonzalez/Video courtesy Mike Graver, IG: @jacksonheightsny

The Long Island City waterfront exploded with life this past weekend as thousands of people from near and far traveled to the neighborhood to catch the 39th Annual Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks.

This year the fireworks — the nation’s largest Independence Day pyrotechnic display — were launched from two locations in the East River: in Midtown and within the South Street Seaport historic district.

As the light show made its return to Queens, Hunters Point South Park was used as Macy’s private viewing and NBC’s broadcast compound.

Although Hunters Point South Park was closed off to the public, spectators filled Gantry Plaza State Park to watch the fireworks light up the sky over the East River.

The big day also brought in big business for local establishments in Long Island City, as some venues — such as Penthouse 808, Riverview Restaurant/Lounge, Z NYC Hotel, and Vista Sky Lounge and Rooftop Bar — held events and specials to celebrate the Fourth of July.

The LIC Flea & Food also ran a Night Market, extending its house from 6 p.m. until 10:30 p.m., where visitors were able to hang out at the LIC Flea Beer Garden and purchase food from vendors.

“The Fourth of July is a day for family, friends and fireworks. It is also a day to celebrate the freedoms we have earned through our commitment to the Declaration of Independence that promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to every American,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Let us also rejoice in the special knowledge that in this nation each and every one of us is entitled to equal opportunity and equal protection under the law.


LIC’s Silvercup Studios to expand into Bronx next year

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

With the film and television industry continuing to grow in the Big Apple, the city’s leading independent film and television production studio is making sure to keep up with the demand.

Silvercup Studios, located at 42-22 22nd St. in Long Island City, announced Monday it will be expanding into the Bronx with a $35 million project that will turn a modern warehouse into a 115,000-square-foot full-service production facility called Silvercup North.

The new building, located at 295 Locust Ave., will be Silvercup Studios’ third location and is expected to be completed by June 2016.

“For more than 30 years, Silvercup Studios has been an integral part of New York’s film and television production industry, which has never been more active that it is today,” said Alan Suna, Silvercup CEO. “The Bronx is undergoing a tremendous revitalization right now. We’re excited to expand our studios here as the industry continues to grow and to bring with it high-quality production jobs and the resulting benefits from having this production work remain in New York.”

Silvercup North will feature four production studios with 50-foot-high ceilings – the highest of any film or television production studio in the city. There will also be on-site shops, offices and other support space needed.

The $35 million project is also expected to bring about 80 to 100 construction jobs, along with later providing about 400 production industry jobs.

“The film and television industries have historically offered good jobs with pathways to success for New Yorkers, and the expansion of this thriving industry will be hugely meaningful for Bronxites,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The new facility is close by to several major expressways, the RFK (Triborough) Bridge and the 6 line.

“With additional studio space, more television shows and feature films that may have been filmed elsewhere can now take advantage of all the benefits of filming in New York,” said Stuart Suna, president of Silvercup Studios. “The central location and nearby access to highways and public transportation, as well as the incredible soaring ceilings at this Locust Avenue location will surely be a draw for producers. The height and size of these new sound stages will allow us to attract television and feature film work to New York that we have heretofore not been able to accommodate at our other facilities.”


Construction on Cornell Tech campus begins on Roosevelt Island

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre. Renderings courtesy Weiss/Manfredi

Construction kicked off Tuesday on the $2 billion Roosevelt Island Cornell Tech campus, which many predict will be a feeder of skilled entrepreneurs for the western Queens technology community.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, were both in attendance to support the building of the applied sciences campus, which will span 12 acres on Roosevelt Island and house 2,000 graduate students and hundreds of faculty and staff. The first phase of the campus is expected to open in the summer of 2017.

“Mr. Mayor, you remember a phrase from a great American movie, ‘if you build it, they will come’? I think this epitomizes it,” de Blasio said to his predecessor. “I think Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to create an environment for the tech sector had an extraordinary impact. This is one of the signature elements and we are proud to be building upon that tradition.”

Cornell Tech, which was selected by the city’s Economic Development Corporation over 17 other proposed schools in 2011, has been running out of Google’s Chelsea building since 2013.

In May, 73 master’s students in computer science and business and two Ph.D. students graduated from Cornell Tech. More than half of the graduates stayed in New York for jobs or to begin their own startups, which lends to the belief that the new school will energize the growing tech community in the city, which has spread to Long Island City.

Just south of the Queensboro Bridge, the 2-million-square-foot tech campus will have four buildings with innovative technology in the first phase of development.

Bloomberg, who pushed for the tech campus on Roosevelt Island during his tenure, donated $100 million through Bloomberg Philanthropies to help build the school. Cornell will rename the First Academic Building, which will now be called The Bloomberg Center.

The center, which is designed by Morphosis Architects, will have classrooms and private work spaces.

Another building on the campus called The Bridge at Cornell Tech, which was designed by architecture firm Weiss/Manfredi and built by Forest City Ratner Companies, will house startups and established companies.

The 26-story residential building on the campus, designed by Handel Architects, will be the tallest building on the campus and it will meet strict international energy consumption Passive House standards. Faculty members and students will live in the 350 apartments in the building.

The campus will also have the Verizon Executive Education Center, which will be used for conferences and meetups, and there will be 2.5 acres of open space for the school community.



Crucial housing laws to expire as state legislature negotiations continue

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Laws that keep rents regulated for millions of residents in the city and help build more affordable housing will expire at midnight Monday unless state legislators reach an agreement to extend or reform them.

State politicians could extend the deadline to Wednesday — when this year’s legislative session comes to an end — giving them time to work on more comprehensive reforms.

One of the laws provide guidelines in rent control and stabilized apartments throughout the city, and many fear without them hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units around in the city will be lost.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who sent a proposal to the state legislature last month, has urged members of the Assembly and Senate to come to an agreement to protect renters in the city.

“This is just unacceptable,” he said, according to The New York Times. “There are over two million New Yorkers right now who woke up this morning not knowing what was going to happen to their future because Albany is not acting.”

De Blasio’s proposal would stop landlords from deregulating vacant apartments when rents go above $2,500. The proposal also seeks to remove the allowance that landlords can raise rents on vacant apartments by 20 percent and end permanent rent hikes when landlords maintain or improve apartments.

Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that they should avoid “mayhem” and not let the law expire. There is a belief that landlords could threaten rent hikes or evictions while the state works on reforming the law, but Cuomo and de Blasio has warned property owners against this.

Public Advocate Letitia James has set up a hotline at 212-669-7250 to field questions to assist rent regulated tenants who have questions or need legal help in the event that the rent laws temporarily expire.

Last week, Cuomo promised to call state legislatures beyond the end of their session until they worked out a deal, according to published reports.

The state Assembly has introduced a bill that will extend current protections until Wednesday, while they look for a more permanent solution.

Also on the table for Monday is the 421-a tax abatement, which grants developers tax breaks in exchange more affordable housing. Critics have called for reforms to this law because many critics of the program say it current allows developers to build more market-rate housing.

De Blasio revealed a proposal that will revitalize the program to and give developers 35 years of tax breaks instead of 25, but with the trade-off that projects must include 25 to 30 percent affordable housing. It also suggests a mansion tax for condos or co-ops valued at more than $1.75 million.

Reportedly, Cuomo supports a short-term extension and a revamp of the program over a straight extension of the current plan.

“I would not want to see the program expire, because then you have no construction, so, depending,” Cuomo told the New York Observer. “But on these facts, I would favor a short-term extension, so you still have the pressure on people to get a new agreement done, but you don’t actually stop producing affordable housing.”


PHOTOS: Jackson Heights celebrates 23rd annual Queens Pride Parade and Festival

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office/Gallery by Angy Altamirano

Under sunny skies, Jackson Heights was filled with color and music Sunday afternoon as the neighborhood celebrated this year’s Queens Pride Parade and Festival.

Kicking off the parade, which ran down 37th Avenue from 89th Street to 75th Street, was Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made history by becoming the first New York City mayor to serve as a grand marshal of the parade. He joined APICHA Community Health Center, which was also one of the grand marshals.

“This parade stands for a rejection of any bias and prejudice against the LGBT community,” de Blasio said. “We will not stand in this city for anyone who would harm our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. And this parade stands for that resolute value of New York City.”

De Blasio became the first mayor to march in the parade last year, and even marched in 2013 while still serving as public advocate.

Joining the mayor were local elected officials such Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Council members Daniel Dromm – who founded the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee over 20 years ago – Jimmy Van Bramer and Julissa Ferreras, and other city and state officials.

The theme of this year’s parade was “Pride – Strength – Unity,” according to organizers.

“We know what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us – ‘The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice.’ This parade epitomizes that constant movement towards justice. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep marching on until the day when everyone is truly embraced,” de Blasio said to paradegoers.

At the end of the parade, which featured colorful costumes and even four-legged participants, visitors were able to enjoy the Queens Pride Festival, which ran along 37th Road from 74th to 77th streets.

The festival featured about 100 vendors, community and social group booths and two stages of entertainment with performances that went on throughout the day.


City budget tops Glendale Property Owners meeting

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo by Anthony Giudice

At the Glendale Property Owners Association’s (GPOA) final meeting before the summer break, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley gave members an update on the city budget on Thursday night at The Shops at Atlas Park.

“We are in the middle of negotiations, as we are every June because we must pass a budget before July first,” Crowley said. “This year the budget has grown to $78 billion. The mayor has proposed $500 million in new programs, but he has a plan to roll over approximately $2 billion into the next fiscal year.”

The City Council’s plans for the budget differ from those of the mayor. For example, the City Council is proposing to hire more police officers.

“[Mayor Bill De Blasio] would like to hire 500 police officers. The Council is calling for 1,000,” Crowley said. “The [Police] Department spends approximately $700 million a year on overtime, which is too much money on overtime. If you had more of a force you would spend straight-time and less overtime if you had the resources to deploy.”

Although the crime in Crowley’s district is low, other areas of the city are seeing a rise in crime, and the legislator believes hiring more police officers would help alleviate such problems around the city.

“In addition to hiring more police officers, I have been working with the mayor to get more resources to improve our emergency medical services,” Crowley said. “The Fire Department runs most of our ambulances in the city, and the response times, especially in Queens, are too high. For life threatening emergencies, it takes over 10 minutes if you look at the past three months, on average, and that’s far too long.”

The councilwoman also touched on some of the city parks that are getting renovations thanks to City Council funds. Frank Principe Park and Juniper Valley Park are both slated to receive renovations to improve their infrastructure.


Plans for future Astoria ferry dock revealed

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre /Renderings and charts courtesy NYCEDC

City officials revealed renderings and information about the planned Astoria ferry dock in Hallets Cove at a meeting Thursday to hear residents’ concerns about the landing, which is expected to be complete in 2017.

The new dock will be located off the promenade across from the Astoria Houses complex and will consist of an approximately 3,000-square-foot floating pier with two slots for ferries. The floating pier will have an attached, sloped walkway that connects to the promenade.

Astoria’s ferry dock will be included as part of a new citywide ferry service that Mayor Bill de Blasio first introduced during his State of the City address earlier this year, and seeks to ease public transportation issues for current and future residents of the neighborhood. More than 600 people are expected to ride the Astoria ferry each day by 2025, according to stats from the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

“Ferry service is going to provide a reinvigoration of our waterfront, but more importantly a vital transportation option,” Councilman Costa Constantinides said at the meeting. “This is not to be a luxury; we are not here tonight to talk about pleasure boating.”

The proposed ferry dock is about a 20-minute walk from the nearest train station, the N and Q at Astoria Blvd., and often residents in the western Astoria area need to ride a bus to the train. Economic Development Corp. representatives said the ferry will cut commute times down for those that live in the most western part of the community and want to travel to Manhattan quickly.

To alleviate residents’ concerns about security, gates to the dock will be locked when ferry service is closed.

Parking, which some residents believe could become a possible issue, may not be drastically affected by the addition of the ferry, according to results of an Economic Development Corp. survey.

The data shows that 90 percent of people will walk, bike or take the bus to the ferry, while only about 30 people would park in the neighborhood to use the water vessel.

Not everyone was convinced. Some believe it may give an option for residents who live further east to use Astoria as a parking lot and take the ferry when going to Manhattan.

“If they’re interviewing ferry riders in Manhattan, yes, no one is driving to ferries in Manhattan, but it’s a little quieter around here,” said Astoria resident Jonathan Corbin. “There is parking available, although minimal. There is some concern that it’s going to be very disruptive for residents.”

Another possible issue brought up was the potential clash between ferries and kayaking in Hallets Cove.

Constantinides said they are looking very closely at this situation and want a lively waterfront with a variety of uses, although little information was given at the event about how kayaking would be affected by ferry routes as well as what protections might be put in place for kayakers.

“That river belongs to everybody,” said local kayaker Jean Cawley. “Kayaks are often called speed bumps by ferry operators. I don’t want there to be a Vision Zero in 20 years for the river.”


Photos: Queens honors and remembers soldiers with Memorial Day parades

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy Dominick Totino Photography/Gallery by Robert Pozarycki, Anthony Giudice, Liam La Guerre

Nearly a dozen Memorial Day parades were held in Queens over the weekend as the borough paid tribute to military men and women who protect the freedoms residents enjoy today.

Mayor Bill de Blasio marched in the Little Neck/Douglaston Memorial Day Parade, which began at 2 p.m. on Northern Boulevard and Jayson Avenue, alongside U.S. Representative Grace Meng, Borough President Melinda Katz, Public Advocate Letitia James, Councilmen Paul Vallone and Mark Weprin and Assemblyman Ed Braunstein.

Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Loree Sutton, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, served as the parade’s grand marshal. Sutton hailed Memorial Day as a sacred time.

“It is a day that we come together to commemorate and remember and to think about all that we share in this great country and to remind ourselves that the cost and price of freedom is never free,” Sutton said. “That we are so blessed to be in the land of the free because of the brave.”

Parades were held in Woodside/Sunnyside, Whitestone, Laurelton, Howard Beach, Glendale/Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Forest Hills, College Point and Woodhaven.

New military recruits, veterans in vintage cars, fire fighters, police officers, JROTC members, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and marching bands participated in the borough’s parades while parents and children donned red, white and blue and waved the stars and stripes from sidewalks.


Flushing public forum reveals planning study

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo by Alina Suriel/ Gallery courtesy of the NYC Department of City Planning

The NYC Department of City Planning publicly revealed Thursday night details of a Flushing West planning study which will result in large-scale re-zoning in line with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year plan to increase affordable housing.

The study area is a 10-block zone bounded by Northern Boulevard to the north, Roosevelt Avenue to the south, Prince Street to the east and the Van Wyck Expressway and Flushing Creek to the west. Underutilized commercial and industrial land uses will be re-examined for changes which aim to allow for new residential, commercial and community facility uses alongside the eventual redevelopment of the area.

This will be accomplished by increasing allowable residential density, providing a public space amenity plan, and rethinking the height and massing of new buildings, as well as several other aspects of study.

“I hope that you can see how comprehensively we’re trying to think about Flushing, and yet how innovative this process is for this community,” said John Young, director of the City Planning Department in Queens.

Officials, community organizations, and residents were outspoken about their concerns for plans intended to bring major change into their area. Councilman Peter Koo remarked that the rapid growth of Flushing puts a strain on its existing community and infrastructure, and said more has to be done to preserve affordable housing, support small businesses and improve stormwater systems before increased development results in a possible population influx.

Among residents, the creation and preservation of affordable housing was cited as the biggest priority. According to a report circulated by the office of the mayor, between 2005 and 2012, rents rose by 11 percent while renters’ incomes stagnated, and to combat this trend the inclusion of affordable housing units is a condition of any new development.

While opportunity for affordable housing creation in Flushing is limited under the current zoning, any new re-zoning under the Flushing West study will fall in line with the new affordable housing requirement. Planners undertaking the Flushing West study are also being guided by other city agencies on how to adapt the affordable housing requirements to the area in a way that is financially feasible.

Grace Shim, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, was fearful of the possibility of residents being displaced in programs which do not address the needs of the population with the lowest income.

“We don’t want them to be priced out of here,” said Shim, who added that the most vulnerable sector consists of senior citizens and recent immigrant with limited English proficiency. “We don’t want them to be pushed out.”

In addition to preserving affordable housing, expanding waterfront access to Flushing Creek is also targeted as a specific objective of the study. Planners will work to find ways to provide pedestrian access to the waterfront by creating a street network leading to the area, which is now difficult to access due to narrow sidewalks and closed-off street networks.

Open walkways and green areas are eyed for the waterfront’s future, as well as affordable housing developments to utilize some of the open space.

The community input process of the Flushing West planning study is ongoing, and previous public presentations as well as additional information can be found online at nyc.gov/flushing-west.


De Blasio to be grand marshal of Queens Pride Parade

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio will make history in Jackson Heights next month as the first New York City mayor to serve as a grand marshal in the 23-year span of the Queens Pride Parade.

De Blasio will join APICHA Community Health Center as grand marshals of the 23rd Queens Pride Parade, which will be held on June 7 and runs from 89th Street and 37th Avenue down to 75th Street.

“When I founded the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee over 20 years ago, I was hopeful that we would increase the visibility of the LGBT community in Queens in a positive and impactful way,” Councilman Daniel Dromm said. “Having the mayor of the City of New York as our grand marshal shows just how far we have come.”

De Blasio became the first mayor to march in the parade last year, and even marched in 2013 while still serving as public advocate.

“The mayor’s presence is an acknowledgment that the LGBT community in Queens and throughout the city is visible, welcome and included,” Dromm said.

Councilman Daniel Dromm and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Photo courtesy of Queens Pride)

Councilman Daniel Dromm and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Photo courtesy of Queens Pride)

The theme of this year’s parade, which kicks off at noon, is “Pride – Strength – Unity,” according to organizers. Also at noon, the Queens Pride Festival begins along 37th Road from 74th to 77th streets.

The festival features close to 100 vendors, community and social group booths and two stages of entertainment with performances throughout the day until 6 p.m.

One of the day’s featured performers includes multi-platinum artist CeCe Peniston known for her hits “Finally,” “We Got a Love Thang” and “Lifetime to Love.”

“This year’s theme, Pride – Strength – Unity, highlights the diversity that is Queens. Queens has the largest number of language/ethnic groups in the whole U.S.A. Despite the linguistic and cultural vastness, we all come together to celebrate our accomplishments and continue to work towards further advancements,” said Alan Reiff, co-chair of Queens Pride.

Days before the parade on June 4, Queens Pride will collaborate with NYC Pride, Brooklyn Pride, Staten Island LGBT Community Center, Bronx Pride, Chutney Pride and Out Astoria, to host a Pride Kick-Off Party at Studio Square, located at 35-33 36th St. in Long Island City. The event will benefit Queens Community House.

For more information, visit www.queenspride.org or email info@queenspride.org.


Mayor de Blasio promises NYCHA overhaul to fix finances, repairs

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo via NYC Mayor Office's Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan Tuesday to help revitalize public housing and fix financial problems of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) by using the housing complexes more efficiently and reducing expenses.

The plan, NextGeneration NYCHA, involves various initiatives targeted to save the reeling city agency, which has only “one month remaining of surplus cash on hand and after that will go into deficit,” de Blasio said.

This includes leasing land in public housing complexes to developers to build more units, half of which must be used for affordable housing for families earning no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income, or about $46,600 annually for a family of three.

Also, 10,000 completely affordable units will be created in complexes in Brooklyn and the Bronx on underutilized, street-facing lots currently used for parking, trash or storage sites. These programs will cross over with de Blasio’s goal of creating 80,000 affordable housing units in 10 years.

“I believe that NYCHA began as a national model, and as a national model I believe it began as an idea that was so powerful because it was a place for hard-working people to find a decent home in the midst of an economic crisis,” de Blasio said. “Well today we find ourselves in a different kind of economic crisis for so many of our families and they need that decent home and they need it to be protected.”

After losing federal subsidies since 2001, NYCHA has ignored the need for repairs and renovations, and will need approximately $17 billion for repairs and capital expenditures in five years without the plan.

The city calculates NextGeneration NYCHA will generate annual operating surpluses of more than $230 million over 10 years for the city agency.

To cut expenses, the city will send about 1,000 central office NYCHA workers to other city agencies by 2018, so the housing authority can save $90 million.

In addition, starting in fiscal year 2015 the de Blasio administration and the City Council agreed to waive the $30 million in payments NYCHA gives the city each year— a fee that dates back to 1949.

Created in 1934 during the Great Depression under Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, NYCHA now has more than 403,000 residents in nearly 178,000 apartments around the five boroughs. The city agency has 22 developments and 17,126 apartments in Queens, including the Queensbridge Houses, which have the largest development in the borough with 3,142 apartments.

Also in the plan, NYCHA is hoping to do a better job at collecting rents. In 2014 NYCHA was owed more than $56 million in total back rent from prior years. The city agency currently collects about 74 percent of total rents each year, while there are about 54,000 families that are at least one month behind in payments.

The agency will also begin charging more for parking spaces. Currently they are about $300 a year, but will be up to $150 a month for tenants, who will be offered the spaces first. Unclaimed spaces will be offered to the public after.

Other upgrades to NYCHA will come with technology enhancements and customer service. There will be a new repair tracking system, where residents can go online a see the status of their repairs, and there will be a one-week deadline for basic repairs.

Also, in July, the agency will release its mobile app, MyNYCHA, where residents can, among other things, view, schedule and reschedule requests for maintenance service.

“We have got to have a better quality of life for our residents,” de Blasio said. “It’s long overdue.”