Members of an activist group, the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, conducted a "gentrification tour" of a Queens neighborhood on Saturday, reciting facts and figures at various tour stops to recount in stark terms that Government policy was supporting radical changes to Long Island City that was displacing long-term tenants and changing the landscape of Queens. The tour was joined by approximately 50 people.
The Queens Gentrification Tour began outside the former site of 5Pointz, a building complex that was demolished to make way for two luxury apartment buildings. With the rumble of the 7 subway train overhead, a member of the activist group described how, in the time leading up to the New York City Council approval of the rezoning for the construction project, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) accepted several thousand dollars in campaign donations from the Wolkoff family, owners of the site at the time. In advance of the tour, the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project released information in a blog post about real estate industry-related campaign donations received by Councilmember Van Bramer's campaign committee. Some of those figures were recounted during the tour.
For this report, the office of Councilmember Van Bramer did not answer a request to respond to the accusations made by anti-gentrification activists that Councilmember Van Bramer served the interests of his campaign committee's real estate donors.
At various stops of the tour, members of the activist group challenged what they described as the "myth" that real estate development in New York City was driven by the free market. Instead, one activist said at one tour stop that the New York tax policy known as 421-a was responsible for encouraging luxury real estate development speculation by eliminating property taxes to allow real estate developers to construct zone-busting apartment buildings. The annual cost of the 421-a property tax abatement program was reported as $1,4 billion in a report published by The New York Times. At several tour stops, the foregone $1,4 billion in annual property taxes was denounced for the missed opportunities to make strategic investments in infrastructure or public schools.