Emerging from a former industrial wasteland, a series of towering structures promise the most affordable housing units built in one New York development since the 1970s. In a plan reminiscent of Brooklyn’s Starrett City, Hunters Point South will eventually have 5,000 apartments across multiple towers, creating a new neighborhood for New Yorkers of all income levels.
In the current phase of construction, developer TF Cornerstone is adding 1,194 rental units in two new buildings, 719 of which will be affordable. The pair joins the first two towers built on site in 2015 by Related Companies, which include a combined 925 units.
Located along the western Queens waterfront, the mega-project sits alongside the second phase of Long Island City’s newest gem: Hunters Point South Park.
Completed in 2018, the 11-acre landscape is now a central part of life in the neighborhood, with hundreds of locals and tourists pouring into the park everyday. It also serves as an ecologically resilient buffer against future storm surges, and will eventually help protect the 11 new buildings that, when finished, will fill out the southernmost point of Long Island City.
Stretching from 50th Avenue to 57th Avenue where the East River meets Newtown Creek and over to Second Street, the development stems from a Bloomberg-era initiative to create over 5,000 rental units with 60 percent affordable housing for low- to moderate- and middle-income residents.
For decades, the 30-acre area was overgrown with plants, weeds and hundreds of trees that made up a dense waterfront woodland. It was an urban adventurer’s paradise, created from the rubble of demolished industrial buildings, including a Daily News printing plant and the National Sugar Refinery.
After Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg left office, the New York Economic Development Corporation managed the build-out of the second and final phase of Hunters Point South Park; its first section was finished in 2013. The popular park helped lure developers to bid on nine available plots of land as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York Plan.
TF Cornerstone won a bid for one of those plots in 2013 and is now building a pair of towers at 5241 and 5203 Center Boulevard. Zoe Elghanayan, the principal and vice president of company, said she believed the development was handled “exactly the right way,” in a process that required cooperation from the public and private sectors.
“Because the city was able to pay for the land and public infrastructure,” she said, “developers were then able to focus on maximizing the affordability of these projects.”
The first of the two buildings to top out, 5241 Center Boulevard, will open to residents in February. It began preleasing nearly 200 units in late September through the city’s new affordable housing lottery system, NYC Housing Connect. The lottery will be open until Nov. 23.
Designed by ODA Architecture and SLCE Architects, the two-tower development has been in the works now for seven years and the road has been bumpy.
During the initial stages of construction, the project suffered a setback when the New York Power Authority and Amtrak, which owns a rail line underneath the site, wouldn’t allow the building to rest atop the underground infrastructure. Initially, the architects had envisioned one structure that featured two towers joined together by a low-rise building. What stands today is the result of multiple redesigns and years of negotiations with the New York Power Authority to keep weight off the tunnel.
“This element really risked the feasibility of this project to a point where everybody almost gave up,” said Eran Chen, principal architect and founder of ODA Architecture. “It seemed like it was impossible to overcome.”
Finally in October 2017, plans were filed for two separate buildings to rise on the single lot. A new 22,000-square-foot public park designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects would be spread out over a half acre between the towers.
The first building also includes 209 market rate units that will begin leasing later this year. Its sister tower, 5203 Center Boulevard, includes 534 affordable units that will be available in the affordable lottery next spring. Monthly rent for the affordable units in both buildings will vary based on income and will range from $698 to $2,028 for a studio, $883 to $2,544 for a one-bedroom and $1,071 to $2,704 for a two-bedroom. The 266 market-rate units at 5203 Center Boulevard will likely begin leasing next summer and residents are expected to move in next August. Prices for the market rate apartments in both structures have not yet been disclosed.
Half of the affordable units in the two towers are reserved for local members of Community Board 2 in Queens, which includes Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City. There will also be 100 affordable apartments set aside for low-income seniors, as well as a 572-seat school, a 7,700-square-foot community facility, and 8,900 square feet of street-level retail.
“It’s really important for local people to apply,” said Lisa Deller, chairwoman of the community board. “It’s a positive addition to the affordable housing inventory of the city, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need.”
Also under construction at Hunters Point South are two other towers by Gotham and senior housing developer RiseBoro Community Partnership. Designed by Handel Architects, one tower will be 57 stories high and the other will be 33 stories. They will include 1,132 apartments, 75 percent of which will be affordable.