Testimony Re: Willets Point Draft Scope for Environmental Impact Statement
Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony today. The Pratt Center for Community Development is pleased to submit comments on the Draft Scope of Work for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Willets Point Development Plan. My name is Mercedes Narciso and I am a Senior Planner with the Pratt Center for Community Development, a university-based center that works for a more just, equitable, and sustainable city for all New Yorkers by helping communities to plan for and realize their future. We are also members of Queens for Affordable Housing (QFAH), a coalition of community-based organizations that was formed in 2005 to ensure that new residential development in the borough creates housing that is truly affordable to a diverse mix of Queens residents.
We believe that the Willets Point Redevelopment Plan has the potential to generate growth in an equitable manner. However, it is essential to recognize that this project -- rooted in large-scale eminent domain & the displacement of 250 businesses, estimated to provide more than 1,000 blue-collar jobs -- must have very substantial benefits for low-income, working-class, and moderate-income Queens residents. We believe the plan should incorporate the following recommendations:
- Require 50% of the units in the Willets Point Urban Renewal Area be affordable at or below the median income for Queens, with at least 20% of all units affordable for low-income families.
- Guarantee living wage jobs with first-source hiring and business opportunities targeted to residents of nearby neighborhoods on economic development projects that are made possible by the plan.
- Apply "LEED" standards for sustainable development; and seek the "affordable housing" points in "LEED" applications
- Address the future growth in Willets Point by providing critical infrastructure, transportation, and community facilities.
The need to create new and to preserve existing affordable housing in Queens is obvious. Over the past three years across New York City, real incomes have fallen, while rents have risen significantly.
The redevelopment of Willets Point will affect two community boards: CB 7, and CB 3. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of these two districts increased at a rate of 10% (by 22,000 persons) in CD7 and at a rate of 31% (by 40,000 ) in CD3, however, housing units increased at a rate of 1.3% (by 686 units) and a rate of 0.7% (690 units) respectively. On the other hand, incomes have decreased. The Median Household Income for each of these areas is $45,000 in CD7 and $35,000 in CD3.
Willets Point is proposed to be developed as an urban renewal area (the Willets Point Urban Renewal Area), under the administration of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The plan estimates the creation of 5,500 new residential units. Thus, we support Queens for Affordable Housing recommendations that require that one half of the units (50%) to be affordable to low and moderate-low income families. For these sites, the City should require that:
- At least half of the units should be affordable to the average Queens resident: At least 50% of the units should be affordable to households earning less than the Queens median income of $48,093.
- At least 20% of the units should be affordable to low-income families: At least 20% of the units should be affordable to Queens’s households that earn less than $25,000.
- The affordable housing units created should be affordable in perpetuity. This will prevent the crisis of expiring affordable units that exists in many programs.
Jobs and businesses for local residents
One of the consequences of the redevelopment of Willets Point is the displacement of stable, blue-collar jobs from this community. Thus, it is critical to give local residents the opportunity to have access to new jobs that pay living wages and provide all the training and education needed to qualify for those jobs.
The Pratt Center encourages the adoption of provisions for all economic development sites in the Willets Point Urban Renewal Area in order to maximize economic opportunities for local residents:
- Require that developers, construction contractors, firms with building maintenance contracts, and major retail and office tenants (a) create first source hiring systems intended to maximize employment opportunities for disadvantaged residents, and especially those from the immediate neighborhoods; and (b) pay prevailing wages and benefits to insure that jobs created through publicly-supported economic development are sufficient to support a family.
- Provide assistance to encourage local business and industries to develop new businesses in Willets Point.
- Provide local residents with training and job placement
Apply "LEED" standards for sustainable development
The redevelopment of Willets Point presents the opportunity to provide energy efficient and green building requirements under the LEED program. LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System of the US Green Building Council. We are encouraged to hear that the City is considering a LEED application for this plan. There are many different ways one can earn points which would make a project eligible for different LEED levels. The Neighborhood Pattern and Design program (NPD Credit 4: Affordable Rental Housing) provide up to 4 additional points toward a LEED ND rating by including the following levels of affordable housing:
- Rental Housing: 15% of units for households earning up to 50% of AMI, 15% for households earning up to 80% of AMI
- Homeownership: 10% of units for households earning up to 80% of AMI, 10% for households earning up to 120% of AMI
We hope that EDC will seek the affordable housing points in the LEED application as an additional tool to develop needed affordable housing.
Infrastructure, Transportation and Community Facilities
The complete redevelopment of Willets Point will require addressing critical infrastructure, transportation and community facilities needs for the existing and future population of the area. This redevelopment plan should include providing schools, daycare centers, and recreational centers for youth, and adequate infrastructure, including parking, traffic control, public transportation and utilities.