She says she’s written two letters to the MTA, and received unsatisfactory answers. And she’s been going to community board meetings to make her voice heard.
But Toonkel’s woes could get much worse when the residents of 11,000 new homes take to the trains in the near future.
Sunnyside, a quiet neighborhood in Queens that borders a nearly 200-acre rail yard used by Amtrak and NJ Transit, may soon be home to a new affordable housing development proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. In his state of the city speech earlier this mont, the mayor said that Sunnyside Rail Yards could easily exist underground, allowing the space above ground to become the “game-changer” in his push for affordable housing in the city.
The population in Queens grew by about 3 percent between 2010 and 2013, making it the fastest growing borough after Brooklyn. Now, with de Blasio eyeing Queens as ground zero for his affordable housing plan, the borough could give Brooklyn a run for its money.
But while many local officials and residents in this tight-knit community recognize the need for affordable housing, many—particularly commuters— worry whether the neighborhood’s busy streets and already overcrowded subway cars can handle an influx of newcomers.
“[The board is] very wary. We are very concerned,” said Patrick O’Brien, chairman of Community Board 2 in Queens, which oversees Sunnyside and other communities bordering the rail yards. According to O’Brien, the board has yet to make up its mind about the proposed housing development.
“That  train is so incredibly overcrowded in our district, not just out district but going east,” said O’Brien. “The reality is that the infrastructure has not even caught up to the more recent population explosion. It’s not fair to anyone, whether it be the current residents or the perspective future residents, to be in a living situation where the infrastructure is going to lag years and years behind.”
Sunnyside residents do understand why affordable housing is needed. Toonkel said she moved to the neighborhood 15 years ago, but, she probably wouldn’t be able to afford it today. “Money is moving in,” she said. Rents in Queens went up by a whopping 30.7 in the past year, according to a report by brokerage Douglas Elliman.
John Melchert-Trembath, 56, who has also lived in Sunnyside for 15 years, is also glad that Mayor de Blasio is addressing housing prices. “We need [affordable housing.] Who can afford Manhattan?” said Melchert-Trembath.
But at the same time Melchert-Trembath is concerned with the scale of the planned housing development that might go up in his backyard. De Blasio’s plan for Sunnyside Yards, he said, “is “too crazy, too big, too much.”
“I’ve watched traffic on a very sleepy street go from easy to cross to today, [where] it’s a big deal. We’ve gone from small-town sleepy to busy,” said Melchert-Trembat, who added he’s worried whether current services and infrastructure in Queens will be able to accommodate a huge wave of new residents. In his view, extending the 7 line should be a priority before building any large-scale new housing.
Others like Marilyn Villacruz, who has lived in Sunnyside for 25 years, worry about something else: de Blasio’s Sunnyside Yard housing plan might block commuters’ view of Manhattan. Right now, the 7 line runs alongside Sunnyside Yards and offers unobstructed views of the skyline.
“The view of the Manhattan skyline from the 7 train – that’s the only relief for Manhattan workers,” she said. “However, if the economic need for housing is dire, then build away.”