Interview with Robert Fitch

Robert Fitch, author of The Assassination of New York, teaches at New York University.

Discussing the financing for Queens West:

 The problem in New York City is not where rich people could live--rich people have a choice of a lot of neighborhoods--the problem is providing housing for a city in which conditions are getting worse and worse and housing rents are going higher and higher, and the housing policy was only focused on the top 10% of the income bracket, and that it is subsidized.

We are talking about people who are going to have an income that is three times the median (the median incomes are about 23,000 dollars) and incidentally, the median income keeps falling. Its been falling since the mid-Eighties and the reason why it is falling is because of projects like Queens West, which gobble up jobs and displace communties, and as a consequence people are forced more and more into low-paying service jobs and you get a dynamic (in) which there is less and less market for middle class housing and you need more and more subsidies to be able to build projects like this.

This is a big subsidized project, 2.3 billion dollars--and it seems to me to create more problems than it could possibly solve.

The prices for office space have gone down substantially. They keep talking about this big renaissance and that conditions will improve tremendously, (but) it doesnt seem to me that youd constantly be dropping your price if things are that great.

The inference that we can draw is that these people dont know what theyre doing, they are not accountable to anybody--they spend hundreds of millions, of billions of dollars, and it doesnt make any difference, because they dont have to account to anybody for having done it, they just make a big mess and that is it.

Todays New York Times had a piece about how housing rents are going through the roof and what strikes me about it... there is no economic boom in the city... I just looked at the numbers for (construction of) new housing units--its been averaging about 4,000 a year for the last 2 or 3 years... It has fallen to a level that is lower than during the Great Depression... The only units that theyre building are for the upper income groups. With $34,000 to $86,000 (minimum income levels for the Queens West building) --my guess is that it is going to be skewed towards the $86,000."

Is Queens West another episode in the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE) mentality discussed in your book?

 "I think that it is one of the most dramatic examples of the absolute mindlessness in the capacity of the FIRE mentality, because you cant say that Long Island City is a dump or that it is all decaying or that the factories here are blighted. There are 50,000 jobs here... about 1/4 of all the manufacturing jobs in the city are located here and the majority of all the jobs are in Queens. And they dont care... what it does to the families in all those jobs, they simply want to realize the speculative values that theyve invested in over the years. And the former public officials, like Herb Sturz, are able to do the old in-and-out. The moral credentials of this project are not shining."

Discussing future scenarios for Hunters Point:

The institutions that are involved... are able to wait out the community opposition and will eventually get what they want. There is a 1983 Department of City Planning study on Hunters Point that projected a project that is eerily similar to the one that is being constructed now and it mentioned a lot of the same kinds of land uses. What is really striking about it is that Herb Sturz issued the report (as chief of the City Planning Commission) and is now involved with Trotwood Corporation, that is, the general contractor for Phase 1. So he got to shape in the public sector the project he profits from as a private sector person.

What can we do?

In Northern Italy, it is pretty inspiring. They have gone from being one of the poorest regions in Italy to being one of the richest and theyve done it primarily through small business cooperatives. It was a lot like Long Island City and the difference is that they get much more help from the government, and that they cooperate with each other much more... The way they got their support was the old fashioned way. They had public meetings, and it shows that it can be done. You dont need a million dollars, you need people with passion and energy.

I think that it is almost impossible for 5,000 people in a small community... to expect that single-handedly you will be able to stop this juggernaut. I think that what is more plausible is a linkage between different communities that are all facing the same problem... It seems to me that the strength of the establishment is that it is united and that the targets are all disunited and that has to change...

I think that we dont have a neighborhood problem, we have a whole New York City problem. The only way we can deal with problems in the neighborhhod is by attacking it in the city as a whole... there are other communities that are facing the same kind of attack. 

The HPCC welcomes your comments.

To contact the Hunters Point Community Coalition
Call or write:

Hunters Point Community Coalition
P.O. Box 1276
Long Island City, NY 11101

Back to The View - Volume 3 Number 2
Last Update: September 26,1996