Rezoning, & Luxury Developments

May 26, 2021
Innovation QNS is a proposed new development on the five blocks west of 37th St between 35th and 36th Avenues. While the developers of Innovations QNS (Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties, and BedRock Real Estate Partners) are making many progressive-sounding promises, there’s little assurance that these promises will yield community-oriented results.

Astoria and NYC in general are booming with brand new luxury housing developments. Almost always, these developments displace longtime low-income residents through direct or secondary displacement (i.e. rising rents in areas surrounding the development). These residents are disproportionately Black and Latinx. Rezoning areas from manufacturing to residential also displaces small business and manufacturing jobs. Rezoning is achieved through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), involving different levels of local and city government.
Rezoning in NYC: Zoning essentially determines what can be built in a particular area and helps preserve land for a specific usage. Rezoning is often a precursor to developments that accelerate gentrification. The Innovation QNS developers are currently lobbying to rezone the area from manufacturing to residential/mixed-used and higher population density.

When an area is rezoned like this, it often happens under the guise of creating more affordable housing. But “affordable housing” is a misleading phrase that often doesn’t align with the incomes of existing residents. Existing rent-stabilized units are almost always more affordable than newly built “affordable” units. Upzoning also displaces low income and BIPOC residents, as well as changing the cultural fabric of the area.

Two case studies from “Zoning and Racialized Displacement in New York City” (2019):
In the early- and mid-aughts, two major rezoning projects took place in Brooklyn: the Greenpoint/Williamsburg Waterfront rezoning and the Park Slope/4th Avenue rezoning. They resulted in:
  • Decrease of ~15,000 Latinx residents in Greenpoint and Williamsburg despite a population increase of over 20,000 during the same time period.
  • Increase of ~24,000 white residents in Greenpoint and Williamsburg during the same time period.
  • Decrease of ~5,000 Black and Latinx residents in Park Slope despite overall population growth of over 6,000 during the same period.

The rezonings eventually resulted in a major loss of rent-stabilized units in those areas, though new laws passed in the last few years, such as capping rent hikes at 2%, will help preserve rent-stabilized units in our neighborhood.
  • 942 rent-stabilized units lost in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
  • 1,470 rent-stabilized units lost in Park Slope.
However, these laws do not prevent landlords from using Major Capital Improvements (MCI) or Individual Apartment Improvements (IAI) to hike up rents in the surrounding area, even in rent-regulated apartments. Other tactics to deregulate units include combining two adjacent apartments into one.

Rezoning also typically results in the displacement of small businesses, an important part of the cultural fabric of Astoria. Commercial rents will rise, and there is no commercial rent-regulation or right to a lease renewal to protect those lessees. The above will only accelerate this wave of gentrification in our neighborhood.

The INNOVATION QNS website describes the project as being in the “Community Engagement” phase ahead of getting the area rezoned. Their website, powered by the company CoUrbanize, is focused on creating a positive feedback loop via community comments. Comments are guided by leading questions such as “Would you support efforts to revitalize Steinway Street, create jobs, and bring more affordable housing and open space to our neighborhood?” Efforts like these have been labeled by some as “community-washing,” in which a company masks its profit-driven motives in a feel-good package, without an ongoing commitment to existing marginalized and low-income communities.

Gentrifiers of this neighborhood must understand how their presence aggravates the economic disparities for longterm, lower-income residents, and in particular communities of color. However, neighbors with disproportionate economic power can wield their influence to prevent further displacement by preserving existing affordable housing and regulated units. Instead of continuing to invest in brand new (luxury) developments, we should invest in existing communities and infrastructure, such as making desperately needed repairs to NYCHA residences.

The INNOVATION QNS proposal was recently filed with City Planning, meaning ULURP (process to approve the rezoning) will begin. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards are key decision-makers on this project at the city level.

Action Steps:
  • Join the ASTORIA NOT FOR SALE campaign and sign their petition at:
  • Watch this space for information on upcoming community board meetings about Innovation QNS.
  • Leave a comment on the Innovation QNS website with your questions/concerns: