Tag Archives: MinKwon Center for Community Action

Residents focus on affordable housing during Flushing West rezoning meeting


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Community stakeholders attended an open house Wednesday night focused on the ongoing Department of City Planning rezoning study of the Flushing West area.

This was the second open house event held by the Department of City Planning for the Flushing West planning study. For most of the participating community members, the hottest topic of the night was affordable housing and how much of it would be available with an increase of residential development.

Hyun-Jung Kim — an engagement coordinator at the MinKwon Action Center, a Korean-American community-based organization — said the center’s biggest priority is to fight for the affordability of housing for the most vulnerable populations. This includes senior citizens struggling to remain in their homes, low-income families being priced out of the neighborhood and community members with limited English skills.

“I think the communities here in Queens are sometimes forgotten in conversations about the need for affordable housing. There are a lot of very vulnerable populations here,” Kim said. “We’re concerned when those folks might get swept under the carpet when Queens is just seen as a hot market, the next Brooklyn.”

John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said that he believes changes in Flushing West are long overdue. According to Choe, many issues in the area — from transportation upgrades to affordable housing — have not been adequately addressed over the past two decades.

“Affordable housing, for example, that could have been addressed in many different ways much earlier by the city,” he said. “To me, the demand far outweighs the investment that the city has put in over the past 20 years of affordable housing, and that’s just one area.”

Ken Cohen, president of the NAACP’s Northeast Queens division, added that although the Flushing West planning study has shown that 71 percent of the target area is of Asian descent, there are still issues which concern his organization.

“Flushing is a diverse place where people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds live,” Cohen said. “Affordable residential housing is much needed, jobs are much needed, so there is a call for a number of things that we would like to see as the NAACP.”

While affordable housing is a priority for many of the forum’s attendees, there are also environmental factors involved in the Flushing West Planning Study.

Alexandra Rosa, consultant for Friends of Flushing Creek, was there to talk to representatives of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about increasing efforts to clean up Flushing Creek. According to Rosa, one billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater runoff is dumped into the creek each year — and the group takes issue with a DEP plan that would continue the practice of releasing sewer overflows into the creek.

“Friends of Flushing Creek is committed to help publicize the need for and to get projects that will actually make Flushing Creek a recreation destination, and to clean up the pollutants,” Rosa said.

Information on the study’s progress can be found on the Department of City Planning website. The next open forum on the Flushing West study will reveal the results of public feedback received by Department of City Planning from previous open house events, and is planned for Aug. 20.

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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.

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40th District assembly hopefuls square off in first debate


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Six out of seven Assembly hopefuls running in the 40th District race mulled over their top legislative priorities, plans to stir job creation and stances on affordable housing before each were stumped by questions on immigration policy.

The would-be state assembly freshmen — Democrats Ethel Chen, Yen Chou, Myungsuk Lee, Ron Kim and Republicans Phil Gim and Sunny Hahn — deliberated on hot-button state issues for the first time together during an August 16 candidates forum in the Flushing library branch.

Democrat Martha Flores-Vasquez was a no show.

The candidates relatively shared the same answers — each agreeing their top concerns include protecting seniors and education and making sure small businesses thrive. They were also united in their matching confusion on the federal immigration reform and enforcement program called Secure Communities, and were similarly vague when explaining how they would balance the state budget.

Secure Communities prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and repeat immigration violators — and “causes discontent” largely within immigration communities, as was described in the prompt by a forum panelist. But while each candidate said it was important to protect immigrants, they said in contrast they would support the Secure Communities program.

After an audience member’s question called them out on their opposing statements, each finally admitted they did not know of the program and said they would have to study it more before answering.

Some of the candidates’ hazy answers on how they would balance the state budget during a brutal session beginning in January also seemed to frustrate audience members and panelists who had to continuously ask speakers to be more specific.

Lee and Hahn stood by generically repeating they “believe in balancing the budget,” without issuing many specifics. But Gim said he would do so by not raising taxes for small businesses and the middle class and cutting wasteful spending in the state by first finding where money is being misused.

Kim said he would fight for tax breaks for small businesses and working families.

Job creation plans ranged from Kim’s idea to work with state leaders to secure funding and make sure the government does not neglect the downstate area, to Chen’s proposal to focus on development in Willets Point, which she called “that triangle place.” Gim said his priority would be instead to help people keep their jobs in the first place and give small businesses incentives to encourage new hires.

The future of Willets Point came back into conversation when candidates discussed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans to increase affordable housing by 2014. Kim said he would push for more affordable housing in the redevelopment site than the 30 to 40 percent slated to be built in there. Lee also agreed the Iron Triangle would be a good location to plant more affordable housing.

Gim said the Flushing Waterfront, once redeveloped, would be ideal for affordable housing if the state could first stop lobbyists from getting zoning to build high-end luxury condos instead.

The six candidates were also prompted to debate what they would do differently than current Assemblymember Grace Meng, who is making a run for Congress in the 6th District.

Chen said she would “have a full attendance record.”

The Assembly hopefuls will battle it out in both a Democratic and Republican primary on September 13.

 

6th District candidates debate hot-button issues


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The six 6th District congressional candidates mildly duked it out for the first time during a forum in Flushing — addressing hot-button city, state and national issues, like plans to fix the flailing economy and stances on immigration reform.

The hopefuls — Green Party’s Evergreen Chou, Democratic primary runners Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, Assemblymember Rory Lancman, Assemblymember Grace Meng and Dr. Robert Mittman, and Republican contender Councilmember Dan Halloran — split the roughly two-hour meeting, held at Flushing Library on May 21, to introduce themselves and explain the platforms for which they are running.

Each lauded his or her experience, with the elected officials pointing to their plans on advocating for the middle class and improving education, Social Security and the job market, while the two citizen candidates — Chou and Mittman — respectively pushed for peace and change.

The forum was hosted by the MinKwon Center for Community Action. The congressional contenders remained civil, with minor disagreements stemming mostly from the differences between Republican and Democratic philosophies on the economy.

Halloran said the key to reviving the economy and creating jobs is making sure the government “stays out of the way of businesses.” Citing that 98 percent of small businesses in New York have disappeared between 1840 and 2011, he said government should decrease the number of agencies businesses are held accountable to, re-evaluate its tax roles to make sure businesses that are job creators aren’t overtaxed and give incentives to businesses to hire more employees.

Lancman respectfully disagreed, saying deregulating government led to the Wall Street meltdown. He said Wall Street first needs to be reformed — “making it an engine of economic growth, not a potential minefield that could blow up the economy once again” — and small businesses should be provided support and access to credit.

Meng took a different approach and said she believes improving mass transit, highways, roads and bridges would help increase jobs for Queens residents. She also said maintaining “better and closer” partnerships with universities and hospitals would help make Queens a “technology hub” and would stem job growth.

Chou said building more hospitals and engaging in government programs would revive the economy, while Crowley said pulling government spending on Afghanistan would give the country more money to use. Mittman backed Halloran, saying government should be limited and small business should not be overtaxed.

Questions on immigration reform and enforcement directly tied into talks about racial discrimination, when candidates addressed the efficiency of Secure Communities — a federal program that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and repeat immigration violators — and the recent controversial stop and frisk policy.

Crowley — who said she believes in comprehensive immigration reform — said there is a fine line drawn if the illegal immigrant questioned is not a threat. She said she supported a local law passed in the City Council that prevented the Department of Corrections from imposing immigration detainers “on those that were not convicted of any crime and were not doing anything that was considered a serious crime.”

However, Halloran said “being in the country illegally is a crime” itself.

“You cannot reward someone who came here illegally with citizenship, but you can give them a path to permanent residency,” he said.

According to Halloran, illegal immigrants should fill out paperwork, pay the fees and be checked up on 10 years after they are granted permanent status to see that they are paying their taxes and not engaged in criminal activity. In regards to the stop and frisk policy and concerns of racial profiling, he said there is more of a correlation between economics and socio status than race.

While Lancman agreed people who commit serious crimes should not be welcomed in the country and said he is for comprehensive immigration reform, he said Secure Communities became “a mechanism for detaining and deporting” mostly law-abiding citizens and “created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in immigrant communities.”

All six candidates opposed using local law enforcement to deal with immigration issues and said the role should lie in the federal government. They each also expressed support for pulling U.S. troops from overseas — however Halloran and Lancman raised serious concerns over whether or not doing so would gravely impact national security.

Crowley was recently endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 and New York City Building and Construction Trades Council, while Meng picked up support from ATU Local No. 1056 and Lancman from the New York State Public Employees Federation.