Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lawyers for the poor charge AY violates state constitution

Does the Atlantic Yards project violate the New York State Constitution? There are some potentially damning charges in the comments filed Friday on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and General Project Plan (GPP) by South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS), which represents low-income residents in the proposed project footprint.

State subsidies, according to the constitution, must go to low-income housing, not the mixed-income Atlantic Yards project, notes SBLS on p. 10 of its filing. Nearly 70% of the Atlantic Yards project would be market-rate housing--though the recent 8% scaleback would shave off some condos and adjust that percentage a little--and, of the proposed affordable housing, less than half would be low-income housing.

SBLS cites the State Constitution, Article XVIII:
Section 1. Subject to the provisions of this article, the legislature may provide in such manner, by such means and upon such terms and conditions as it may prescribe for low rent housing and nursing home accommodations for persons of low income as defined by law, or for the clearance, replanning, reconstruction and rehabilitation of substandard and insanitary areas, or for both such purposes, and for recreational and other facilities incidental or appurtenant thereto.

The clearing of blight, the constitution suggests in Section 6 of Article XVIII, is limited to helping the poor:
No loan, or subsidy shall be made by the state to aid any project unless such project is in conformity with a plan or undertaking for the clearance, replanning and reconstruction or rehabilitation of a sub-standard and unsanitary area or areas and for recreational and other facilities incidental or appurtenant thereto. The legislature may provide additional conditions to the making of such loans or subsidies consistent with the purposes of this article. The occupancy of any such project shall be restricted to persons of low income as defined by law and preference shall be given to persons who live or shall have lived in such area or areas.
(Emphasis added)

SBLS argues:
The GPP, while acknowledging that the Sponsor [Forest City Ratner] will benefit from state aid to finance the construction of residences, fails to comply with the Constitutional restriction that occupancy of such aided land use and civic projects be restricted to persons of low income.

It seems like a strong point, but it's hard to believe that the state didn't anticipate such a challenge, so let's see what the response is.

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