Ocean Bay Revamp to Bring Relief to Residents

When asked about the term “food desert,” many people associate the phrase with impoverished corners of the world that lack basic amenities like running water and electricity. Few people would think that “food desert” could describe a place in the United States, much less New York City. However, Far Rockaway has been amid a food crisis for years. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as “vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods” and attributes most food deserts to “a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers”. In the heart of Far Rockaway, there are more than 10 fast food restaurants within a 10-block radius of the epicenter, undoubtedly taking a huge toll of the quality of health for residents.

Far Rockaway’s City Councilmember Donovan Richards has been outspoken on the need for quality supermarkets since he assumed office in 2013. Now, through a collaboration between Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) and Ocean Bay Community Development Corp, Far Rockaway will be one step closer to leaving the “food desert” moniker in the past. The collaboration plans to bring a 21,000-square foot facility to Beach 54th Street. The current site is home to a dilapidated shopping strip, in which many of the store fronts have been shuttered by fire, crime, and lack of development. The new Ocean Bay Retail Center will include a supermarket, hardware store, pharmacy, and office space for the Ocean Bay CDC.

The AAFE and the Ocean Bay CDC are planning to utilize the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program that allows would-be immigrants visas in return for investing in domestic economic development projects. While the AAFE and Ocean Bay CDC’s use of the EB-5 program aligns with the original intent of the law, the program has recently been under scrutiny by Congress due to complaints that the program is essentially a “green card for cash” program. Decades of misuse of the statute triggered Congress’ concern with the program.

Created in 1990, the EB-5 program was enacted to create jobs during the recession. Foreign investors would be able to invest $1 million dollars anywhere in the country that would create at least 10 full time jobs or invest $500,000 million in areas where the unemployment rate was above the national average. Due to lax enforcement of the law, developers could create their own boundaries when utilizing foreign investments. This meant that the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills and high end developments associated with Donald Trump were classified as being in economically depressed areas, reducing the minimum amount that investors needed to provide in exchange for a two-year conditional green card. Congress recently passed a spending bill that extends the EB-5 program until September 30th.

The challenge for residents to find high quality food sources in Far Rockaway is not new. However, it certainly looks as though victory is on the horizon. The Rockaway Advocate will continue to report on updates on the Ocean Bay Retail Center development.