In the continuing saga of the BQX, NYC’s largest transit workers union recently endorsed the contentious proposal to build a streetcar system paralleling the Queens and Brooklyn waterfronts, DNAinfo reports.
The union joins Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced of his support for the ambitious streetcar plan last year; Friends of the BQX, a nonprofit that helped shape the proposal, whose board includes real estate developers, community development groups, local businesses and others; and the seven developers with projects along the BQX who also happened to donate $245,000 to the mayor’s troubled Campaign for One New York, which shuttered in July 2016 amid investigations of corruption and bribery.
In announcing their support, the TWU 100 transit union said the project would create about 500 permanent jobs for operators and thousands more during construction.
Opposing the BQX: residents all up and down the route, who have voiced their opposition at public meetings all up and down the proposed route areas, from Sunset Park to Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn. The Queens Anti-Gentrification Campaign opposes the BQX as a central pillar of its organizing work.
In April, an internal city memo leaked to Politico revealed that the city’s plan to finance the construction of the BQX may fall short of the estimated $2.5 billion price tag. The city plans to finance the project through “value capture,” or in other words it will sell bonds to investors to pay for the construction, then take a portion of the increase in property tax revenues along the route to pay back investors. The memo revealed that the property tax increase due to the BQX may be less than initially expected.
The city memo affirmed the findings from a separate Village Voice investigation of economic studies around the BQX that concluded the city may be over-estimating the revenues it could capture as a result of the BQX.
While the BQX may boost traffic to retailers and restaurants along the waterfront neighborhoods, manufacturers along the waterfront neighborhoods told Crain’s New York they worried that development pressure may take away what’s left of the city’s manufacturing space.
The fears of waterfront neighborhood gentrification and loss of manufacturing space are deeply connected in the recent memory of long-time residents in the potential BQX neighborhoods. As the Pratt Center for Community Development found, of the 95 New York City rezonings from 2003 to 2008, one-quarter converted manufacturing districts into some other category of land use — residential, commercial or mixed-use zoning, while none added any new space for manufacturing. Many of those rezonings occurred along the waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn as well as Queens, which helped spark the waves of displacement of historically working class residents in those areas, which today are practically synonymous with gentrification: Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City.
And now, residents in many of those same neighborhoods who are living in what’s left of rent-stabilized or rent-regulated affordable apartments are afraid the BQX will only lead to more displacement. The city so far has shown it can do little under current law to prevent developers from harassing low-income tenants until they leave, to be replaced with wealthier tenants paying market-rate rents, or condo buyers.
Oscar is Next City's senior economics correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha, and Fast Company.