Affordable Housing Used as Bargaining Chip Against Development Project in Queens

By Catherine Yang, Epoch Times
October 19, 2014 Updated: October 20, 2014

NEW YORK—The fate of a major Queens waterfront development lies in the preservation of nearly 700 rent-stabilized units in Crown Heights

Ahead of a Monday morning hearing on Alma Realty’s Queens development, Astoria Cove, tenants and elected officials rallied in Crown Heights to “hold Alma accountable” for trying to pull hundreds of units out of rent-regulation in Brooklyn, said Assembly member Walter Mosely. 

Alma Realty owns several buildings with rent stabilized units on a one-block strip on Prospect Place in Crown Heights, a neighborhood where rents and prices have shot up in just the past year. 

Earlier this year, market reports showed that Crown Heights rents had exceeded growth in any other Brooklyn neighborhood. The median price of apartments also shot up at a higher rate than other neighborhoods—58 percent. 

Now, as tenants have realized their apartments are being taken out of rent-regulation one by one, they’ve organized with local officials to send a message. “We have to set a precedent,” said council member Laurie Cumbo, who represents the district the buildings are in. 

Unless the rent-stabilized units are kept as regulated units, Cumbo will push other council members to vote against the Astoria Cove project.

Astoria Cove Project

Astoria Cove is a five-building, 1700-unit development planned for the Hallets Cove peninsula in Astoria. 

The developer is proposing to have 20 percent of the units be affordable. Half of those will be designated for low-income individuals and families, and the other units may ask as much as $2,700 for a one-bedroom. 

The community wants half of the units to be affordable. 

Local organizations spoke out against the project, resulting in the local community board advising against the approval of Astoria Cove unless a significantly higher percentage of affordable housing is promised. 

Borough President Melinda Katz then too advised against the project, but the City Planning Commission approved the project at 20 percent affordable. The upcoming city council vote will decide whether the project is approved or not.

Traditionally, council members have deferred to the representative of the district. In this case, council member Costa Constantinides has said he will not support the Astoria Cove proposal unless more affordable housing units are added.

“Real Astorians have to be able to look at that development and not see it as a castle with a moat around it,” said Constantinides, who has lived in Astoria his entire life, at a City Hall rally in early October. 

Meanwhile, Brooklyn elected officials have said that to let a developer deregulate 700 units in one borough and only build 345 in another would be a huge setback for the city’s 200,000-unit affordable housing plan. 

Crown Heights Affordable Housing

Eleven years ago, Alethea Adsitt moved to Brooklyn. As a working artist—a dancer—the then-undesirable Crown Heights was all she could afford. Before that, she was moving every two years, she said. But after moving to Crown Heights she found a real community. 

Over the years, improvements to the neighborhood came as the result of grassroots community efforts, Adsitt said. 

Then buildings started being bought up by large developers like Alma Realty and BCB Properties. Adsitt’s home, once again, became too expensive for her to stay in.

Then, due to some good fortune, Adsitt was able to get a rent-stabilized apartment just down the block at 545 Prospect Place, the site of the former Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. 

But a few weeks ago when Alma offered her a lease renewal, the lease was for a market rate unit and not a rent-stabilized unit, which is subject to restricted rent increases set by the city’s Rent Guidelines Board. 

Tenants started posting similar stories on the building’s Facebook page and those living in the building realized it was widespread. People were being offered lease renewals with rent increases as high as 20 percent. 

Unregulated units are not subject to any type of rent increase restriction. 

The tenants then started organizing and posting fliers telling others to be aware of the “market rate” leases they may be asked to sign. In return, Alma posted fliers noting all lease renewals after Oct. 1 would be market-rate.

When Alma Realty bought the Prospect Place building, they agreed with the city to make the units rent-stabilized under a J-51 tax abatement. 

While applying for a renewal of the tax abatement this year, Alma did not finish the application procedure before the deadline. 

Public Advocate Letitia James met with housing commissioner Vicki Been Friday and a meeting between Alma Realty and the Department of Housing Development and Preservation has been scheduled. 

According to Alma’s reply to Assemblyman Mosely’s office, they had registered the apartments as rent-regulated in anticipation of getting the J-51 tax abatement renewal. 

The city will work to try to extend the deadline, James said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article gave incorrect information about a meeting between the Department of Housing Development and Preservation and Alma Realty. A meeting has been scheduled, but the date and time is not known. Epoch Times regrets the error.