Wednesday, November 29, 2006

HPD foils FOIL (after four months), won't reveal affordable housing subsidies

How much would the city offer in subsidies for the affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards plan?

It's a reasonable question, because the project would not simply "provide 2,250 low-, moderate-, and middle-income rental apartments," as stated in a Crain's poll that's been trumpeted as depicting support for Atlantic Yards, but taxpayers would pay for that housing.

By knowing the city subsidies, we might be able to compare the affordable housing planned for Atlantic Yards with affordable housing elsewhere. After all, that's what Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff did when he said the Queens West project was a better deal than trying to maintain Stuyvesant Town.

Also, the city subsidies are part of a package of subsidies and public costs, yet unknown, that three Assemblymembers cited as necessary to evaluate the project.

FOIL filed

After trying unsuccessfully to get answers via the press office of the city's Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), on July 26, I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, seeking documents regarding the Atlantic Yards project, particularly those regarding the funding and provision of affordable housing.

State law requires that agencies respond within five business days, either offering the records requested or stating "the approximate date, which shall be reasonable under the circumstances of the request, when such request will be granted or denied."

HPD responded within three weeks, saying that I should receive a determination regarding my request within 30 business days. It took much longer, and perhaps HPD wouldn't have responded until I followed up earlier this month. I was told I should expect a final response later this month.

Denied

I got the response in the mail Monday: denied. The reasons: "interference with contracts" and "inter- or intra-agency material." (State law explains the former as information "if disclosed would impair present or imminent contract awards...")

The law provides for an appeal process, and I will file an appeal. Surely the agency must provide at least some information that details the extent of city subsidies for affordable housing.

But consider: had HPD followed the letter of the law in the first place, the denial would have arrived by late August. I would've filed an appeal, and it likely would've been resolved by now.

Why can't government agencies follow the law?

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