Queens Waterfront Project Sets Affordable Housing Precedent in NYC

By Catherine Yang, Epoch Times
October 20, 2014 Updated: October 21, 2014

NEW YORK—A major Queens waterfront project is being sent back to the drawing board. 

Astoria Cove developers are reworking their affordable housing numbers in conversation with Astoria council member Costa Constantinides in hopes of getting through the last hurdle before the project is approved.

Astoria Cover developer 2030 Astoria Developers has plans for a five-building, 1723-unit development on the Hallets Cove peninsula in Astoria, Queens. The proposal includes a new supermarket, school space, retail, and waterfront access.

It is also what may be the first major development required to provide affordable housing under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan. The city has set a goal to build 80,000 and preserve 120,000 affordable units over the next decade. 

One of the new rules set to reach this goal is requiring developments involving re-zonings to set aside a portion of the apartments as affordable units. Previously, these units were typically created under an opt-in program where the developer received tax abatements in return for the units.

Thus, Alma has set aside 20 percent of the units for affordable housing and that plan was approved by the City Planning Commission. 

“That has never been done before,” said 2030 Astoria Developer’s attorney Howard Weiss at a City Council committee hearing Monday. The project also needs to pass through City Council to be officially approved. 

But council members argue the units are not actually affordable. 

At a four-hour hearing at City Hall, several interest groups brought up a myriad of reasons to reject the project, from a bad track record to being too expensive.

Traditionally, the council will vote to follow the council member representing the district of the project. In this case council member Constantinides said the project, as is, will be rejected.

Average Income

The community has been divided on the Astoria Cove project. The nearly-2 million square foot project shares the peninsula by Hallets Cove with Astoria Houses, a public housing complex.

Astoria Houses residents have had several meetings with 2030 Astoria Developers and are in favor of the project, which they were told would have affordable units set aside for them. 

However, that may not be the case. 

Copyright ©2013, The Center for Urban Pedagogy
Copyright ©2013, The Center for Urban Pedagogy


The current proposal makes 20 percent (345 units) of the apartments affordable for people at the 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI) level. This means the apartments will be available for households earning about $67,000. 

The developer, when asked by Land Use Committee chair, Council member Mark Greenfield, said they were willing to put that in writing.

Public housing residents often fall under the “extremely low income” or “very low income” bands, according to the mayor’s housing plan, which means they may not qualify for these units. 

Several council members said the number of units planned, and the level of affordability of the units, were unacceptable and not affordable for the neighborhood. Borough President Melinda Katz also pointed out the development would cause prices to rise in the neighborhood in general. 

The developers, who have spent four years doing planning and outreach, said they did not know what the average or median income of Astoria was. 

Attorney Weiss pointed out they were merely following the zoning text, which allows the current plan exactly. He said 2030 Astoria Developers is also able to opt for making 10 percent of the units available for very low-income families (with an annual income of about $25,000–$42,000), and set aside a higher percentage for middle-income families (annual income upwards of $100,000).

At an unrelated press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said conversations with the developer about affordable housing has only just begun.

While the project is not receiving a subsidy for the affordable units they will build as a part of the project, the development site has an as-of-right tax abatement that will last 15–20 years.

Copyright ©2013, The Center for Urban Pedagogy
Copyright ©2013, The Center for Urban Pedagogy

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article listed the incorrect developer for Astoria Cove. The correct developer is 2030 Astoria Developers. Epoch Times regrets the error.