Former Councilman Hiram Monserrate and Elmhurst community leaders gathered in Willets Point to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio honor the original Willets Point redevelopment Plan that guaranteed affordable housing.
The $3 billion plan de Blasio voted for in 2008 as a city councilman included an 850-seat public school, the construction of new access ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway and the creation of 5,500 housing units, 1,925 of which would be permanently affordable. The plan also included a project labor agreement and a relocation plan for displaced businesses and living wage projections, according to Monserrate.
The new plan, a joint venture between then Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sterling Equities, expanded the project onto 40 extra acres of public parkland and put the construction of a mega-mall at the forefront. According to Monserrate, these plans include a contractual escape clause that allows the developers to opt out of constructing any affordable housing, instead of guaranteeing it. The new plan also gives developers 23 acres of property for $1.
Monserrate said this updated version of the Willets Point development plan betrays the community and only appeals to developers.
“We are talking about a bad deal,” he said. “A desperate land grab by developers that hurts the community. In 2008 when I was a member of the City Council representing this district, we had rallies and marches and we fought for our community because we understand that government must stand up for the people, but sometimes that gets lost in the sauce,” Monserrate said. “The mayor speaks to the fact that we have a housing crisis. Most recently he announced that he will be opening 90 shelters to deal with the housing crisis.
“Well, here in East Elmhurst and Corona, in particular, we know about the housing crisis. We know because black and brown people are being pushed out of their very neighborhoods, and, yes, there’s a very real racial component to all of this.”
Monserrate said this development deal would totally gentrify the area and push residents out.
“We’ve seen gentrification in our city and our elected officials need to stand up and say we need affordable housing for our community. We stayed in this community, we never left. We went through the heroin epidemic, the crack epidemic, racial profiling. We’re still here, we want to stay here. I look and I see that the sons and daughters of people who grew up in this community can no longer afford to live here, but we have the capacity in government to hand over 100 acres for a dollar! no way.”
Protesters at the news conference also expressed displeasure with alternate suggestions by lawmakers during the ongoing litigation that still exclude any affordable housing. Borough President Melinda Katz recently suggested a hockey or soccer stadium and Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested converting the area into a parking lot for LaGuardia Airport employees.
Bertha Lewis of the East Elmhurst Corona Alliance said that instead of proposing stadiums and parking lots, the original plan that would have brought 5,500 affordable housing units to East Elmhurst should be honored.
“We’ve been bamboozled, hoodwinked, we have been lied to by this administration and we have been lied to by this City Council,” she said. “Once again the community has been sold out. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We won’t take it anymore, we can’t have corrupt deals, not when we work hard. We want affordable housing, it was promised to us and we want it now.”
Members from the East Elmhurst Corona Alliance, the Black Institute and Monserrate said they would not give up the fight for affordable housing and will show up at the Court of Appeals in White Plains on April 25, the date of oral arguments in the ongoing litigation over the use of parkland for the project. The Willets Point project has been on hold awaiting the resolution of the court case.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart
©2017 Community News Group
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