Can Amazon and the Largest Housing Project Coexist?

America’s Largest Housing Project

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the largest company is setting up shop practically in the backyard of the nation’s largest housing project. Maybe the relationship will not lead to bitter resentment. The Queensbridge Houses is in Long Island City, New York. Geographically this is kind of tricky to pinpoint. This is not the suburbs of Long Island, but actually part of Queens.

On one side of Manhattan is New Jersey, and on the other side is Long Island City. Besides being one of New York’s best kept secrets to see the Macy’s annual 4th of July fireworks, Long Island City has been valuable real estate, in high demand for a while, but Amazon just sent the community into the stratosphere.

Will Amazon be a good thing for poor people?

Amazon delivered some high-paying jobs in Seattle and contributed to Seattle’s booming economy

But what does this all mean at the Queensbridge Housing Project in Long Island City.

As public housing goes, the Queensbridge Housing is enormous. It spans six blocks and 96 buildings. In the backdrop is a huge landmark which used to be called the Queensboro Bridge, connecting Queens to the busy East side of Manhattan. The Bridge is now renamed after Ed Koch, one of New York’s most popular mayors. Much has been made about the new major neighbor that is coming.

It seems the people with the most to lose or gain, the actual residents of Queensbridge Houses are willing to give Amazon a shot.

April Andrews — Queensbridge Resident

April Andrews has been living in the projects for 3 years, and April proves my theory that a determined person can indeed change the world. It’s what I refer to in speeches around the country as Chugga-Chugga-Chugga. The little engine that could. April’s a very pleasant person that happens to also do tech work for a living. Her pride and joy, besides her 13 year old daughter is the fact that she helped bring Wi-Fi to this entire housing project. Did she have reservations about Amazon? April is a half-full vs half empty type of person. She paused thinking about it, and then responded: “No. I think there are alot of residents in Queensbridge that could benefit from the jobs that it will produce.” Is she worried if the jobs are coming to members of the community?

“Yes. I’m hoping that they give the jobs to the residents in the community because there are so many people here. I work in the community, and there are so many talented people that haven’t just been given an opportunity. This may be their opportunity to get to where they need to go.” April Andrews — Queensborough Resident
Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, NY

So Amazon will literally only be a stone’s throw from the Queensbridge Houses. Walking distance of only three blocks….but there is fear that the close proximity might as well be on the other side of the country if residents are shut out of employment opportunities. April told me: “It will be in walking distance. It would save on transportation for a person who lives here and works there.” I asked as a follow-up: Are you concerned that the residents here will get the jobs?

“I’m hoping that’s the goal because there are a lot of people in the community who have potential and just need a chance, and this is an opportunity for them to provide for their families, where they may not have been able to before.” April Andrews — Queensborough Resident
Albert Carter (Seated) and Windale Tillery

Some elected officials are screaming bloody murder against Amazon. What they refer to as a sweetheart deal in taxpayer subsidies put on the table for Amazon, but I didn’t find that reaction in the Queensbridge Community. I ran into two older men waiting for the Q102 Bus. They seemed to be handling aging quite well. Albert Carter who has a ton of personality, has lived in Queensbridge for more than 40 years. Windale Tillery is another long time resident. Both men were wearing caps with layers of clothing for the cold weather. Carter is no relation to me, even though we both got a laugh and wondered. Carter sat on a bench holding his walking cane in his left hand. His buddy Windale was standing wearing a green Army-like jacket and also had a cane. Albert Carter started…answering on Amazon:

“Well I think so. It’s good for this community, but a lot of people don’t like it here. When you look at the news, you see so much going on! They say it’s no good for the neighborhood. It’s no good. If the people put it here, it has to be good for the neighborhood…To build the neighborhood up for the people. If you got jobs for people, it’s good!!! A lot of people need work, and if it’s going to be where it’s helping people, Fine I’ll go along with it.” Albert Carter — Queensbridge Resident

And then his buddy chimed in immediately:

“I’ll go along with it. I think it would be a good advantage for the community. I think it would be real nice. Get some jobs for the community. There are alot of people that are not working and this would be good for them. Help their families out and everything.” Windale Tillery — Queensbridge Resident

When I asked the men if they were worried people in the community will not get the jobs, that’s when they literally finished each other’s sentences.

“Yea. that could happen. That comes with the territory. Yes. Maybe some people may not be qualified for some of these jobs or whatever. Yea that comes with it.” Windale Tillery — Queensbridge Resident
“What you saying now….A lot of people worried about… people from the outside getting these jobs instead of people in the community. You see…that’s what the thing…..” Albert Carter — Queensbridge Resident
“ If you coming to the community make sure the people in the community get the jobs, not no outsiders. Don’t bring everybody, here and there…and then they don’t get anything you know.” Windale Tillery — Queensbridge Resident

But Amazon has already said some of the jobs WILL require advanced college degrees. A sticky subject with these men

“Yea ok. an advanced college degree, I guess there are some people here that got that!” Windale Tillery — Queensbridge Resident
“Excuse me!!! Ok what you saying, what happens with some people that don’t have the college degree but they want to work, they want to feed their families. Now they fill their applications out. ok. I only went to the 11th grade but I’m willing to work. Now you tell them that they can’t have it. Now what? That’s a double standard. That says your child or your child didn’t finish school and then they go down for a job. They say they can’t get it. You think that’s right. I don’t think that’s right. I think that’s a double standard.” Albert Carter — Queensbridge Resident

Truth be told, Amazon is a hit or miss topic

Daisy Cheese — Queensbridge Resident

One woman Daisy Cheese was just walking past the F Train subway, and stopped to voice her displeasure regarding if Amazon will indeed help the community. “That’s what they always say, but they never come through….never!! She proclaimed. To say that Daisy Cheese has reservations would be an understatement.

“Yes I do. Yes I do. They always promise to do this and to do that. Look at all the new buildings. I really don’t think people from this community are going to be hired.” Daisy Cheese — Queensbridge Resident

As simple as that?

“As simple as that. Their going to move in, get everything all set up, and then other people, not from the community will get the jobs.” Daisy Cheese — Queensbridge Resident

One thing Ms. Cheese is correct about, tall buildings are becoming a norm in Long Island City — -and that was before Amazon. Real Estate prices nearby will likely rise. Go ask folks in Seattle. (FYI. I still have fond memories of high school when I lived in Seattle for approximately a year. The suburbs of Lynnwood and Edmonds) Local residents are worried about their quality of life and being priced out. Concern has also been expressed about mom and pop stores being run out of business.

Ahmed Sulaiman of the Cozy Gourmet Deli inside the Queensbridge Houses

Mom and Pop Stores

When we walked in, Ahmed Sulaiman was cleaning a counter at the popular Cozy Gourmet Deli on the hill and warmly greeting his customers at the same time.

Ahmed is good at multitasking and feels Amazon should borrow a page from that script. Yes, bring in some people with advanced college degrees, but also train residents of Queensbridge Houses. He hopes for the best, but is prepared for what he prays will not be the worst.

“It’s a good and bad thing. Just make sure Amazon does the right thing and hire the people in the community. You understand. It won’t effect us. I don’t think it would. This is a Deli and stuff so… but if they do hire the people in the community that’s the good thing, but not everything always works out that way. They say things on paper and it doesn’t always work out that way. There have been other examples of it throughout the country.” Ahmed Sulaiman — Cozy Gourmet Deli

Are you worried about being squeezed out?

“That’s something that we all have a fear of! You know why… even when Walmart was coming in a few years back, the same thing with them. A lot of stores got nervous. New York City is a lot of mom and pop places. A lot individually owed. Even the pharmacies might get affected. I’m sure Amazon got their hand on everything and it really depends man. Hopefully, they just do the right thing!!! That’s all that really matters. They got to really hire these people that are out here. Try. Train the people from out here. Don’t bring others from other states to come here that are tech genius. People from here! There are a lot of people here that go to school for tech. Hopefully they do the right thing. Is it going to effect us, I hope not. They got to do the right thing. They are a billion dollar company.” Ahmed Sulaiman — Cozy Gourmet Deli
K. Bain is on the left, wearing the NY Yankees cap

A young man by the name K. Bain is a community organizer here and runs the Queensbridge Cure Violence program. Mr. Bain also works with people that have been incarcerated, making sure they don’t return to prison. He is concerned about the politics of the Amazon deal. An ever-feuding Governor (Andrew Cuomo) and Mayor of New York (Bill Deblasio) who don’t agree on much, both Democrats, but yet coming together on this deal armed with 1.7 Billion of taxpayer subsidies and other benefits. The NY City Council was kept on the sidelines and not included on the deal.

“The way that this deal has transpired already has put us on high alert. We know historically resources don’t seem to end up in the hands of those who most need it. So it’s exciting that something as big as this is happening. This is historic, unprecedented…but at the same time when you have a mayor and a governor who haven’t been able to get along or even have a decent conversation about NYCHA, the housing crisis in NYC, public education, all the challenges we face, yet instill, somehow they found the means to have a conversation about this. Then the city council of NY has been usurped, has been left out of this process. So all of these things are red flags, and are very concerning to those of us in the community who want to see what comes next. I think that this move by Amazon should not only include the people, it should be lead and directed by the people of New York City.” K Bain — Queensbridge Cure Violence Program

Full circle with the Optimism

Theodore Miller -Queensbridge Resident

Another man, Theodore Miller was selling some products near the busy F train station.

“I think they should come. I think they should land here, and come to Queensbridge and help us out with our employment issues over here. Yea, sure. And we need the money. We need to be able to be paid a good fair wage for our work….yes.” Theodore Miller -Queensbridge Resident

Miller also declared he did not have any reservations about this: “No I do not,” he said wearing his blue hoodie, black turtleneck shirt, and green cap. He also praised the politicians.

”I believe the mayor has did a good thing by letting Amazon come and the governor also did a good thing by letting Amazon come. If Amazon gets here and we’re able to do a good thing for our area and to promote our area better, more power to it.” Theodore Miller -Queensbridge Resident

Mr. Miller added: “From what I understand, that the whole purpose of their agreement is that they would hire from Queensbridge houses.”

So residents of the Queensbridge houses (mostly African Americans and Latinos) seem to be offering an olive branch to Amazon. The ball is in the court of Amazon Chairman Jeffrey Bezos. The residents say they are not upset the deal even includes a helipad for Bezos. Hey, the amount of trips are capped annually!!! Can you sense the Sarcasm I’m raising here, and Sarcasm is something that I absolutely hate. However it’s fitting for this situation of poor people, just like I grew up, in the same housing projects of the Bronx, New York, contrasted to a CEO’s helicopter that will be landing in the area. Who wants to deal with Manhattan’s notorious traffic. The residents of the Queensbridge Houses just want Amazon to do the right thing. Right thing is defined as with some of those good paying six-figure jobs, employing people that might not have ever had the chance to work for Amazon.

Will Amazon change the world of some residents of the Queensbridge Houses or will it just be the status-quo.

Is it possible we could look back at this deal, a decade later and conclude Amazon was the best thing to ever happen to the Queensbridge Houses?

This may be a tough sell to some, who believe poor communities are nothing but a financial drain on taxpayers. Dare I make this controversial point.

Poor Communities need economic infusion just like communities that flourish, and who knows, that tax base may just start flowing to city coffers. That’s the answer to turning Poor communities into ones that are thriving.

It’s sort of like the Affirmative Action program I proudly went to college on, the Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY- Cortland, out of the Housing projects. A point of reference, the Speaker of the NYS Assembly also went to college on the same exact program.

Taxpayers picked up the cost of my education, but over the last 30 years, I have contributed quite a bit of money in terms of being a taxpayer myself.

In other words, with alittle help, taxpayers helped me turn my personal “negative” into a tremendous positive. A great financial return for taxpayers.

Perhaps the same could be in store for the people of the Queensbridge Housing.

Dominic Carter is the author of the book on his life titled: “No Momma’s Boy.” About Child Abuse, Foster Care, and Mental Illness. Dominic Carter also delivers his own testimony at Churches all over the country and Canada.