Queens Needs a Strong Anti-Gentrification Movement

Queens Needs a Strong Anti-Gentrification Movement

Published: 
December 2016

Protesters outside a real-estate conference in Queens Oct. 25. Photo by Onatah Jeffers.Protesters outside a real-estate conference in Queens Oct. 25. Photo by Onatah Jeffers. On Oct. 5, a group of Queens activists under the banner Queens Is Not For Sale disrupted a conference sponsored by the Real Estate Board of New York. The conference, first held last year, was advertised as an opportunity for real-estate industry leaders to learn of “new opportunities” within the “ever-growing diverse landscape of Queens,” and included opening remarks by Borough President Melinda Katz and City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. It was organized by Schneps Communications, the largest publisher of community newspapers and magazines in the borough. We organized the protest to represent in solidarity the people of Queens that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan has left out—the homeless, working-poor and low-income people, and those who are the most vulnerable in losing their homes.

Speculators see Queens as the “new frontier.” Earlier this year, Cushman and Wakefield sold a 49-unit rent-stabilized building in Jackson Heights that had been valued at $3.1 million for $13 million. “Queens is doing great,” company head of sales Robert Knakal told the conference—on pace for almost $5 billion of sales this year. “That’s a 23 percent increase from last year.”

As curious visitors flock to visit our cultural institutions and ride in on the 7 train to experience our diverse array of food, market forces are pushing prices beyond what residents can afford, and predatory equity and developers want to exploit that and profit from our “diverse landscape.” Neighborhoods such as Rockaway and Jamaica, which have among the highest rates of families going into the city’s homeless-shelter system, are being pumped with millions of dollars for revitalization. That makes them vulnerable to development that will price out current residents and small businesses.   

As a longtime resident who immigrated here from Peru when I was 8 years old, I have noticed that Queens has not yet developed as strong a response to the forces of gentrification as other boroughs have. A study published earlier this year by researchers at John Jay College and the City University Graduate Center may prove this point.  Measuring the impact that community organizing had on the Lower East Side and in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy, it found that the Lower East Side was better equipped to mobilize a strong and cohesive response because it already had a network of neighborhood organizations, a long history of community activism, and was well aware of gentrification threats.

Queens Is Not For Sale wants to build a stronger culture of tenant resistance throughout the borough. Tenants are already fighting harassment, bad conditions, and mistreatment. However, how do we scale up our movement to connect tenants in different neighborhoods and then, together, elevate the citywide housing movement to stop the city from enabling predatory developers and landlords, and keep ALL tenants, rent-stabilized or not, in their apartments?

 

Raquel Namuche is a member of Queens Is Not For Sale and the Ridgewood Tenants Union. To get involved with QN4S, find us on Facebook as QueensIsNotForSale and on Twitter as @QueensNot4Sale.