Skip to main content

Belated density in East New York, a belated revamp of subsidies, and the Atlantic Yards project

Call it the butterfly effect, from East New York to Prospect Heights. Would the Atlantic Yards project be so big--a zoning override favored by the low-income community group ACORN and others--had sufficient affordable housing been built in other parts of the city?

There are several factors at work. One, as city officials have belatedly recognized--and ACORN has pointed out--the city has subsidized lots of luxury housing in Brooklyn without demanding an affordable component. Another is that affordable housing has been built on vacant land at low density, and, "we are paying a severe price,” as author Roberta Brandes Gratz observed during a panel discussion last month.

The products of history

Both are the products of history--a once-weak market for new construction outside Manhattan and a belief that suburban-style housing, with parking, would reestablish once-devastated areas like East New York, where the city took over stretches of land that had been abandoned by landlords. (This was before the public safety improvements of the Giuliani era.) The first phase of 2900 single-family homes built in the Nehemiah project consisted of houses separated from each other; a later phase, at right, attached rowhouses were built.

Gratz, in her book Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown, criticizes the Nehemiah project for "destroy[ing] the remnants of an authentic urban neighborhood where resources remain to build on," citing the unwillingness to take advantage of the city infrastructure. She writes:
In East New York, by contrast, 124 buildings, mostly single-family and 10- or 12-unit apartment houses, were demolished, 102 of which were occupied by owners or tenants... Entire blocks of commercial storefronts were demolished, some containing viable businesses. In place of this traditional urban neighborhood, 650 units of only single-family homes with carports were built, a horizontal housing project for homeowners.

The culprit, to the author: "lowest cost" thinking. (I suspect it's also a reliance on the automobile, which connects to concerns about safety in the streets and subways in the 1980s.)

Now, as the New York Times reported in a 3/26/06 article headlined Long Down on Its Heels, a Community Looks Up, some urban density--at less than five stories--will be restored to East New York. The 2900 single-family homes built by the nonprofit East Brooklyn Congregations since the early 1980s will be joined by... apartment houses.

Returning to an urban scale

As the Times reported, "Not only is most local land now occupied, but demand for housing is still swelling." Now six apartment buildings, at 4½ stories and eight rentals each, are under construction, and the private sector is part of the investment.

The Times pointed out the success of the project, and the lingering deficit:
Emily Youssouf, president of the Housing Development Corporation, credits Nehemiah's work, along with a drop in crime, for East New York's comeback. But Nehemiah's critics say the program chewed up too much city land. A result, said Richard Plunz, an architecture professor who directs the Urban Design program at Columbia University, is that, as the shortage of housing for low-income people continues, the empty land is gone.

Indeed, a city press release that likely generated this story offered this resonant quote:
“When we began building single-family homes in 1983, there were scores of acres of land, thousands of abandoned units, and no need for higher density construction,” said the Rev. David K. Brawley of East Brooklyn Congregations. (Emphasis added)

What if?

A thought experiment: had those 2900 homes been built at urban density, the land could have housed at least three families each (and likely more), and another 5800 affordable units might have been built.

And if the city had reformed its subsidy program sooner, dozens of developments in the more gentrified parts of Brooklyn--which ACORN identified will create nearly 6000 units with negligible affordable housing--might have added nearly 2000 affordable units.

That's assuming 30 percent affordable housing, as recently negotiated in the rezoning in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Forest City Ratner's plan, announced as 50 percent affordable housing, would be 32.7% affordable onsite and, if the developer fulfills its promise to build offsite condos, 38.2% to 41.3% affordable in total.

Add in the other boroughs and the number would be thousands more. But all that would require turning the clock back.

Density at Brooklyn's transit hub

There's a strong case for a dense development near mass transit. But how dense? The Atlantic Yards project has never been debated in terms of zoning, since the Empire State Development Corporation will override city zoning in this state project.

To ACORN's Bertha Lewis, the scale is far less important than the opportunity to provide a significant amount of affordable housing. So she's willing to endorse whatever scale Forest City Ratner proposes as long as it includes the 2250 affordable units. (Those units would be subsidized by the public, not the developer, though the developer might make more of a profit building market-rate housing.)

But the alternative to Forest City Ratner's plan isn't an empty railyard and moribund properties nearby. Extell Development Co's bid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard proposed about 30 percent affordable housing: 573 subsidized apartments out of 1940 units, all this on a site a little more than one-third of the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint.

Another bidder also would have to propose affordable housing. Surely zoning incentives could spur hundreds more units on other sites within the proposed footprint.

Borough President Marty Markowitz disparaged the Extell bid as “minimal affordable housing." Actually, no--several of the developments ACORN identified provide "minimal affordable housing;" Extell simply proposed less. (Extell's proposal of 573 affordable units on 8.3 acres represents 69 units per acre; FCR's proposal of 2250 affordable units on 22 acres represents 102 units per acre, or 48 percent more.) But Extell proposed a development with the tallest building 28 stories, not twice that, and without having to take city streets and create a superblock.

The Atlantic Yards project isn't the last opportunity to provide sufficient affordable housing. And the discussion could proceed differently. Had:
1) minimal urban density been sought in places like East New York,
2) affordable housing required in gentrifying Brooklyn,
3) and had the city called for an RFP and a planning process for the railyards,
we might not be facing a proposal whose size and scale is regulated more by the developer's choice than a public process.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…