Indian-American organization in Queens, NY, celebrates Amazon’s withdrawal

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Chhaya Community Development Corporation of Queens at a rally opposing the deal with Amazon to build its second headquarters in Queens, NY. Seen in photo, Executive Director Annetta Seecharan, right, addressing the crowd. (Photo: courtesy Chhaya CDC)

An Indian-American non-profit organization in Queens, N.Y., which vehemently opposed the deal to bring Amazon to the city, is celebrating a victory after the giant corporation announced it was withdrawing plans to locate its second headquarters in Queens Feb. 14.

Chhaya Community Development Corporation also wants to hold New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s feet to the fire on creating a strong local economy with the approximately $3 billion in incentives promised to Amazon in exchange for its promise to create 25,000 new jobs.

Chhaya CDC, which was founded in 2000, has over the last nearly two decades, helped low-income South Asian immigrants with housing, loans, and other social services, says its hard work to rally opposition to the Amazon project, bore fruit when the company announced it wanted none of it.

“We worked really hard to fight this. We organized, rallied, partnered, made calls, petitioned. It really felt like a David versus Goliath kind of fight,” Annetta Seecharan, executive director of the organization told News India Times. “It would have had a devastating impact on Queens,” said Seecharan who clarified it was the non-transparent way in which the process of approval of this project had taken place that roused their ire. Besides, the jobs that Amazon promised, she said, “were not designed for people in our communities – those who we help. These are high tech jobs for highly educated people,” but she was quick to add, “Don’t get me wrong, it is not jobs we opposed, everybody needs jobs. But the process was not transparent.” It did not adhere to the regulations laid down in the Unified Land Use Review Process or ULURP.

“We want to work with the Governor to make that same level of investment (promised to Amazon) to our local economy – to small businesses, housing — to make it sustainable and to become the backbone of New York City,” Seecharan said. “That is what I told our activists. This is only the beginning. We need to push forth our vision. If our Governor has shown he is for jobs, let’s hold him to it, to invest in local entrepreneurship, for a local IT sector. We want the $3 billion to be directed to the local economy,”

The Amazon project would have hit local communities and small businesses negatively, according to Chhaya, and other groups in NYC as well as some lawmakers in Albany. “We feel that because public policy has already failed low and middle income people with housing, and small businesses from our community, 30 percent of whom are self-employed,” the impact of an Amazon headquarters would have raised rents, raised costs of living for the whole area.

“Why is it that when we ask for support for tenants, housing, etc. we are told there are no resources?” Seecharan questioned, adding,  “We at Chhaya, have seen the small businesses disappearing over the years. And don’t we all love Jackson Heights and its diversity?” she asked.

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