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AY snug or stingy? 575 sf for 1BR, 775 sf for 2BR

The Atlantic Yards web site now offers some details that might have further frustrated attendees at the affordable housing information session Tuesday. Half the affordable rentals would contain two and three bedrooms (unlike some other affordable housing programs), but the apartment sizes would be comparatively small. In fact, the minimum size projected for a two-bedroom rental would be nearly nine percent smaller than the standard size for a two-bedroom unit in city public housing.

[Note 7/21/06: I should acknowledge that the sizes are those mandated by city guidelines, not that Forest City Ratner explained that.]

Developer Forest City Ratner and ACORN, the housing advocacy group that has partnered on the affordable housing program, have emphasized that the range of units is aimed to better accommodate families, But the number of bedrooms does not mean a particularly large apartment. Indeed, the small size suggests that affordable housing would occupy an even smaller share of the total housing component than previously thought.

Apartment Sizes:
Studios 400 Square Feet or larger
One bedroom 575 Square Feet or larger
Two bedrooms 775 Square Feet or larger
Three bedrooms 950 Square Feet or larger

By contrast, a 10/04 article in the NYC Housing Authority Journal on the Whitman/Ingersoll Houses in Brooklyn states that "some two-bedroom apartments are less than 500 square feet, compared to the present-day standard of 850 square feet."
(Emphasis added)

A 2005 Report to the New York City Public Advocate: Affordable Housing in New York City, describes (p. 109) two-bedroom apartments as occupying larger spaces: 800 square feet, 875 square feet, and 950 square feet.

Affordable housing percentage shrinks

Atlantic Yards was originally touted as an innovative plan in which half of the residential units--at that point all rentals--would be affordable. (See October 2004 flier at right. Click to enlarge.) When the Housing Memorandum of Understanding was signed in May 2005, Forest City Ratner had accomplished a crucial switch: the 50 percent affordable goal would apply only to the rentals, thus leaving the developer free to soon add market-rate condos, initially 2800, now 2360. (Borough President Marty Markowitz got it wrong at the MOU press conference, claiming "a commitment to build a full 50 percent of Atlantic Yards housing as affordable.")

So, of 6860 total units, 2250 affordable units would represent just under 33 percent. The decrease gets more dramatic if you look at the square footage involved. The average affordable apartment would contain 675 square feet. It's hard to imagine that the average market-rate unit would be that small--Forest City Ratner would have to compete with other developers offering much larger two-bedroom units, for example.

At an average of 675 square feet, the 2250 affordable apartments would take up 1.52 million square feet. The entire housing component would be 6.79 million gross square feet, according to the ESDC's Final Scope of Analysis. That suggests that affordable housing might occupy a little more than 22 percent of the total housing square footage.

22 percent? That number does not mean that the market-rate housing would occupy 78 percent of the space, since the housing square footage invariably includes common spaces not assigned to any apartment. Still, because the affordable units would be smaller than the market-rate units, the percentage of space devoted to affordable housing would not be commensurate with the percentage of units (33 percent of total). In other words, 50/50 has shrunk to 67/33, and then even further.

Note: Forest City Ratner does plan to build 600-1000 for-sale affordable units, which could bring the percentage of affordable units up over 40 percent, but FCR's Jim Stuckey was rather vague about that Tuesday. Faced with a crowd that already thought that several tiers of apartments were geared to those wealthier than them, Stuckey did not mention the language in the MOU: "It is currently contemplated that a majority of the for-sale units will be sold to families in the upper affordable income tiers."

More in the market

The typical market-rate rental unit in congested Manhattan is larger than the minimum affordable housing unit announced by Forest City Ratner. For example, firm Citi Habitats used the following in its 2004 analysis of rentals in Manhattan:

Studios 500 square feet (or 450 square feet in certain neighborhoods)
One bedroom 680 square feet (or 620 square feet in certain neighborhoods)
Two bedrooms 1050 square feet
Three bedrooms 1350 square feet

Across Atlantic Avenue from the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint, the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, now known as One Hanson Place, is offering, for some hefty market-rate prices, one-bedroom units ranging from 722 to 937 square feet and two-bedroom units from 1054 to 1475 square feet.

Other subsidized housing

Other buildings in subsidized housing programs also offer more space, according to a quick literature search. A 2001 New York Times article on Ruppert Yorkville Towers, a middle-income complex on the Upper East Side in the Mitchell-Lama program, cited "studios with 439 square feet to... three-bedroom apartments with 1,253 square feet."

A March 2000 article on Mitchell-Lama housing in Brooklyn Heights cited studio apartments "ranging from 350 to 600 square feet." The upper limit would be larger than an affordable Atlantic Yards one-bedroom unit.

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