Four years ago, Phipps Houses withdrew their application to build an affordable housing complex in my Sunnyside neighborhood after I had come out against it.
It was a project that the community board voted against and which faced significant community opposition. I too was opposed, but not because I didn’t want to see affordable housing built here.
As I said then, my opposition focused on four key issues:
1) Phipps’ unwillingness to commit to good jobs, paying good wages, offering real benefits. I have always and will always stand for good union jobs.
2) The “affordable” apartments weren’t truly affordable – income levels were too high.
3) The existing tenants living in the Phipps Garden Apartments across the street complained of serious maintenance issues.
4) The new building would be nearly twice the height of the building across the street
Those were real issues and real concerns. And I wish Phipps had been able to address them then.
But Phipps maintained ownership of the property, currently a large parking lot. They revised their proposal and came back to me and the community with it.
Some of the same voices opposed to the project four years ago are once again demanding that I block it. They say it’s the same project, with the same flaws, and if I opposed it four years ago, I should do so again. But this is a different, and much improved proposal. Here’s why:
Phipps has changed their tune to hiring and now offers good jobs widely, including both in this newly proposed development and the Phipps Garden Apartments. The affordability levels have been lowered dramatically, with 20% of the units at 40% AMI and the highest income band at 80%. We have never seen such levels of affordability in this area.
Phipps is also one of the worst slumlords in the World's Borough. Something Jimmy is willing to overlook to pander for the votes of the rent-burdened.
Here's another thing Jimmy overlooked.
The fashion shoe company Steve Madden is threatening to leave Sunnyside if the seven story, 167-unit building development planned by Phipps Houses on Barnett Avenue goes up.
Steve Madden, which penned a letter to Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer Jan. 14, said that it employs more than 400 people at its 52-16 Barnett Ave. location and it would be forced to relocate if the Phipps development moves forward.
The company says that it rents 120 spaces on the 220-space parking lot where the development is proposed to go. The spaces are used by its personnel and are rented from Phipps. Without the parking spaces for employees, it says it would have to leave.
“Without the public parking lot, Madden will have no reasonable way to maintain its Barnett Avenue presence,” the letter reads.
The letter also notes that its employees help bolster the local economy by patronizing local merchants and eateries.
“In short, Madden and its employees provide substantial economic support for the local community and its retail businesses,” the letter reads.
Phipps needs to get its Barnett Avenue property rezoned in order to develop the site. The application currently rests in the hands of the City Council, having been approved by Community Board 2, the Queens Borough President and the City Planning Commission.
Van Bramer issued a public statement today announcing his support for the project, citing the need for affordable and low-cost housing. He did not address Steve Madden’s concerns in his statement and did not comment for this story.
Steve Madden, however, has done little in the way of outreach to make its concerns known other than the solitary letter to Van Bramer. It did not reach out to Community Board 2 nor did it speak to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards or the City Planning Commission.
The Jan. 14 letter to Van Bramer was also not released publicly but surfaced on social media via the Facebook page Small Town Confidential.
The Queens Post called the attorney representing Steve Madden whose name appeared on the letter. The attorney–Andrew Luskin, of the firm McLaughlin & Stern–confirmed that he wrote it and said the issue was real.