BY JAMES FARRELL
As southeast Queens continues to develop, the new faces of in the region’s political sphere are weighing its pressing needs and future growth.
Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) said that his top priority is to make it a more affordable place to live—particularly for younger people looking to start their lives.
Vanel also described his vision of what he called “Silicon Jamaica”—expanding the financial hub of downtown Jamaica to include a technology industry for the area.
“They’re building a number of high rises down there and there’s going to be some office space included and we’re trying to attract bigger companies and we’re trying to attract a tech industry to downtown Jamaica,” Vanel said.
Vanel said that “Silicon Jamaica” was in its “infancy stage,” but that he has passed a bill to study pockets in the city that need better access to high-speed broadband internet. He said that a stronger infrastructure there could help attract those tech companies.
He described his district as a “great community” with a large number of homeowners and a working-class and middle-class neighborhood. For Vanel, increasing affordability starts with expanding job opportunities.
“The next generation and the current generation have to be able to have jobs and businesses and entrepreneurships to be able to afford to buy the houses in this neighborhood and maintain and live in the neighborhood,” he said. “We have to make sure we attract those jobs and we help build the businesses to be able to maintain and sustain the future of southeast Queens.”
The most immediate area for attention, he said, is the future of John F. Kennedy Airport, which recently received $10 billion for redevelopment. Vanel hopes to connect the surrounding community to the possible benefits of the reconstruction.
“We are an airport community,” he said. “We have companies in our neighborhood that are employment agencies that need those contracts. We also have restaurants and restaurateurs coming out of Queens that don’t have any of the retail spaces at the airport. That’s our biggest economic generator in southeast Queens and we are not properly invested in that airport.”
In terms of affordability, he said that southeast Queens’ longtime foreclosure problem has been “slowing down” and that he is trying to keep prices low enough to attract younger people and make sure there is no “exodus” from the neighborhood.
“Our young people go and live in Williamsburg or they move to Harlem or they move to Fort Green or they move to Astoria,” he said. “Part of the reason is that we don’t have rentals here, you have to buy a house—but even when they buy, they buy elsewhere. We want to be able to attract them and keep them here and buy here.”
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) agreed with Vanel’s assessment that southeast Queens is having a difficult time retaining young residents.
“We’re a low density neighborhood, but we’re a neighborhood that young people are finding hard to stay in,” Richards said. “A lot of our young people don’t have [the money] because wages are not as high.”
Richards added that building more affordable housing, senior facilities and revitalizing commercial areas, such as Merrick Boulevard with its empty storefronts, can help.
“One thing I’m looking at is land use and how we unlock potential in my area,” he said. “On average, people in Laurelton earn 80 percent [of the Area Median Income], but the boulevard doesn’t reflect it.”