Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reality warp: Errol Louis, Daily News praise AY housing info session

Errol Louis continues to warp reality, most notably in his latest "Commerce and Community" column in the black-oriented Our Time Press. In a segment headlined Housing Fight at Atlantic Yards, Louis summarizes the affordable housing information session held on July 11:
A mostly-black crowd of more than 2,500 people packed the hotel ballroom to hear about the housing, which would be the largest influx of low-cost apartments in Brooklyn in decades. According to the project’s plans, 900 apartments would be reserved for low-income households making $35,450 or less for a family of four – basically, families living in poverty.
Another 450 units would be set aside for families of four earning $70,900 or less – the kind of family where two parents are working for low wages. Over 200 apartments will be reserved for needy senior citizens. And another 900 would be for families of four making up to $113,400 – the kind of families where there might be two city workers, like teachers or cops.


Even though Louis wrote that "The high stakes of the fight over Atlantic Yards were on full display," he apparently didn't witness that display. Did he? I asked him via email, and he responded: "I won't be answering any questions from you, as I have serious doubts about your integrity."

Had he attended, he would have noticed that attendees were none too pleased. Then again, he could've read the Daily News (the newspaper where he works), which, in a 7/12/06 article headlined Brooklyn Yards pitch finds few bargains, reported that "the consensus... was: Don't hold your breath." The reasons: "approval... is months away" and "the first of the 2,250 subsidized units won't be available for years - and there's a lottery to see who gets a place."

No skepticism from Louis

Louis criticized me and others for skepticism about the meeting:
The profound need for the housing was, of course, treated with scorn and derision by Atlantic Yards opponents. Blogger Norman Oder was first off the mark, condemning the meeting on his Web site before it even took place. The other antidevelopment regulars like Daniel Goldstein and Councilwoman Tish James dutifully followed suit, dismissing the meeting as a publicity stunt.

First, I didn't condemn the meeting but pointed out that it was premature and most likely a publicity stunt. I acknowledge the need for housing; that's why I pointed out that advocacy for reform of the 421-a tax break would be a better way to produce affordable housing.

I questioned whether ACORN would raise the issue at the session--and ACORN didn't do so. And my skepticism of the meeting's timing was borne out by the attendees' frustration.

Needs of the many?

Louis writes:
It goes without saying that Oder, Goldstein and James will probably never, in their whole lives, arrange a "publicity stunt" involving billions of dollars and enabling thousands of low-income and working-class New Yorkers to have a place to live. But this project has always been about the needs of many against the desires of the few. The thousands who attended the meeting represent the real future of the city; here’s hoping they get the chance at housing they truly deserve.

Louis, of course, ignores that the housing would be subsidized by government agencies, and that the monies might be redirected to build more affordable housing elsewhere--and much faster. He doesn't bother to report on the skepticism raised by many meeting attendees. He doesn't ponder the possibility that the desires of the few might be Forest City Ratner and its stakeholders.

Daily News editorial

The same air of unreality pervades a Daily News editorial published yesterday, headlined Real housing for the real Brooklyn. It criticizes Rosie Perez, a member of the advisory board of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, for saying: "I'm all for development, but I'm not for the betterment of the filthy rich....My nabe was like my private Mayberry."

The editorial states:
Yo, Rosie. This isn't Mayberry; it's Prospect Heights, and Prospect Heights and all of Brooklyn desperately need affordable housing. Those who would benefit are not the "filthy rich." Indeed, that term more aptly applies to smug celebs who are slamming the project from the comfort of their homes in California and the Hamptons.
Last week, more than 2,500 real New Yorkers packed a ballroom at the Brooklyn Marriott to hear a presentation on the estimated 2,250 units of low-cost housing that would be built as part of Atlantic Yards, benefitting families who languish for as long as eight years on waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.


Let's acknowledge that Perez's quote can sound self-serving. Unfortunately, the editorial writer--I suspect Louis wrote it, but can't be sure--neglects to acknowledge the newspaper's own skeptical reporting about the housing session. On the Atlantic Yards issue, the Daily News is approaching a Wall Street Journal-like divide in which the ideologically-driven editorial page disregards the reporters' on-the-ground observations.

Low-cost housing?

It's doubtful that most Daily News readers would consider the subsidized housing uniformly "low-cost." Some 40 percent of the affordable units would rent for well over $2000 a month (for a four-person family). They would be "affordable," given the defnition of "affordable" as 30 percent of a family's income, but they wouldn't be cheap. (Click on the graphic at right for more details.)

Unfair summary

The editorial concludes:
But the naysayers - who have attacked the project from its inception - continue to argue for an empty little underdeveloped oasis. Hey, wait. Maybe Perez is right. You didn't see too many low-income families in Mayberry, did you?

The battle is not over stasis vs. Ratner's plan; it's over appropriate development versus overdevelopment. Any project built over the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard could and should contain affordable housing. But the presence of an affordable housing component shouldn't drive the scale of this project and its extreme density.

Forest City Ratner instantly converted the editorial into an e-newsletter. The news coverage, however, hasn't made it into the FCR press kit.

Housing session vs. rally

It was inevitable that some observers would contrast the turnout for the rally Sunday with the turnout for the affordable housing session, despite the fact that the attendees at the latter aren't necessarily enthusiastic supporters of the project as a whole.

Richard Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, who typically fights big box stores but has signed on as a Forest City Ratner lobbyist, pointed out that, depending on who you ask, generated somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 folks to a rally against AY. If you accept the lower Times estimate there were more people who came out last week to an informal forum of FCRC to discuss the affordable housing opportunities at the development.

Lumi Rolley of NoLandGrab nailed the response:
No one would be "surprised" if more folks flocked to an airconditioned hotel meeting room looking for affordable housing than came to a rally in 90-degree-plus weather, where promoters didn't give out free stuff or the vague promise of "affordable housing." No wonder the seekers of affordable housing went home largely disappointed.

Note that other large gatherings of support for the Atlantic Yards project have involved construction unions, who stand to benefit from jobs, and members of BUILD and ACORN, two organizations that are signatories of the Community Benefits Agreement and recipients of funds from the developer.

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