Over the past two days at City Council, Queens representative Hiram Monserrate has been lavished with praise by his colleagues for engineering a last-minute compromise with the Bloomberg administration over its controversial proposal for Willets Point. Much less talked about, though equally significant, was the eleventh hour deal struck by fellow Queens delegate Eric Gioia.
Hunter's Point South, a 30-acre project on the spit of land adjacent to Queens West, was envisioned by the city's Economic Development Corporation as a middle-class haven. Of its 5,000 units, a whopping 60 percent would be set aside for families making between $60,000 and $125,000. "In this city, we make housing for the fantastically wealthy and the desperately poor, but the vast middle gets left behind," Gioia said.
But housing advocates complained because the project included no low-income housing in a neighborhood and borough that is sorely lacking it. Today, Gioia announced he had gotten an agreement from the Bloomberg administration not only to include 200 low-income senior units in the project, but the city also undertook a landmark study of the surrounding area to identify other underutilized parcels in the immediate area of Long Island City as well as throughout the borough. City officials said they project at least 500 units could be built in the former and another 1,500 in the latter.
And so, with their local council members' support, both Willets Point and Hunters Point South passed the council today. The votes were, respectively, 42-2-1 and 45-0. The former received two no votes and one abstention because the one concession that had not been made was to remove eminent domain from the deal.
"I know this is going to pass," Brooklyn representative Charles Barron, one of the two no votes, said of Willets Point. "The reason I will be voting against it is not because I am anti-development but because we cannot allow the threat of eminent domain to continue to be used in this city."
Despite the complaints, Gioia declared it a historic day for affordable housing in the borough. "If you add together Willets Point and Hunter's Point South, this may be the biggest day for affordable housing in Queens history," he said at a press conference.
"Or the city, for that matter," chimed in council speaker Christine Quinn.