Real estate insiders like to cite the well-known axiom about the value of land: “They’re not making any more of it.” But that’s essentially what the de Blasio administration and Amtrak aim to do in western Queens by building on top of an active rail yard to create a 115-acre affordable housing development the likes of which the city hasn’t seen in nearly 50 years.
In early March, the city unveiled a master plan to cover Sunnyside Yard and build a whole community, including 12,000 units of housing, plus office and commercial space, schools, libraries and green space, all atop a $14.4 billion deck to be constructed over the still-active rail yard. The total cost of the project is not yet known, but the estimated $6 billion hit the city expects from the coronavirus outbreak could significantly delay or reduce the planned funding for the project.
The vast deck will dwarf the similar platform that was built over Hudson Yards to create the eponymous development on the west side of Manhattan, which is less than a quarter the size of what’s planned in Queens. And it will accommodate the city’s largest affordable housing development since the 1973 completion of Co-op City in the Bronx, which has 15,372 apartments spread across 35 high-rises and seven townhouse clusters.
The Sunnyside Yard project is intended to help address the city’s pressing need for affordable housing in both the rental and sales markets. Under this plan, half of the 12,000 units will be rentals for families meeting certain income requirements and the remaining 6,000 will be for sale. Both renters and homeowners face affordability problems in the city, with roughly 22 percent of each paying more than half of their income on housing costs.
Here is the proposal by the numbers:
The amount of money Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to devote to the project through 2029. Significant public funds are needed to construct affordable housing at scale in weaker markets, and while de Blasio allocated $5.9 billion through September 2019, his successor may not honor additional commitments after de Blasio’s term is up Dec. 31, 2021.
The square footage of commercial space for office, retail and industrial uses included in the plan. This has the potential to create an estimated 6,000 jobs in the metropolitan area when the development is finished.
The number of new housing units the city added between 2009 and 2018 — not enough to keep pace with employment growth over the same period, which was more than 900,000 private-sector jobs.
The area median income for a family of three in New York City. About 3,000 of the rental units will be available to families earning 50 percent or less of the city’s AMI, or about $48,000 per year for a family of three in 2019, while 3,000 will be for families earning less than 30 percent of AMI, or about $29,000.
The number of applicants for each unit in the city’s affordable housing lotteries in 2018. There were about 4.6 million applicants vying for 7,857 affordable homes. The lotteries were open to residents who earned less than $120,615 for a single person or $199,650 for a family of six.
The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City as of February 2020, according to Apartment List — more than twice the national average of $963. Out of roughly 5.4 million renters in the city, 44 percent pay at least 30 percent of their income in rent, according to the latest Housing and Vacancy Survey.
The number of trains that run through Sunnyside Yard every day via Amtrak and LIRR routes, but this number is expected to increase after the completion of the MTA’s East Side Access and Penn Access projects. The plan includes a new regional rail station for LIRR and Metro-North, plus a new subway station at the site.
The homeownership rate in New York City as of 2018, according to data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Homeowners in the city also face affordability issues, as over 40 percent of homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, including mortgage payments.