Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Queens West less dense than AY--and overall more affordable

How out of scale would the Atlantic Yards project be? Well, much more dense than even the recently announced and highly dense Queens West project of middle- and moderate-income affordable housing.

Queens West, to be built on Port Authority land in in Long Island City once designated for an Olympics Village, would encompass 5000 apartments over 24 acres. That's 208 apartments per acre--significantly more dense than other projects in the city like Battery Park City (152/acre at full buildout) or Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village (141/acre).

Atlantic Yards would include 6430 apartments over 22 acres. That's 292 apartments per acre. AY would also include a significant chunk of office/hotel space. Both AY and Queens West would include retail space.)

If two acres were subtracted for the arena, AY would be 6430 apartments over 20 acres, or 321 apartments per acre. To reduce AY to the density of the quite dense Queens West, or 208 apartments/acre, Atlantic Yards would have to be cut by a third, to 4160 residential units over 20 acres.

(And maybe there's a major scaleback in Forest City Ratner's blueprint.)

Affordability compared

City subsidies would support more than twice as much affordable housing at Queens West than at Atlantic Yards, but there are some twists. A city press release stated: Up to 5,000 units of housing primarily designed to be affordable to families earning from $60,000 to $145,000 for a family of four is expected to be developed on the site.
(That leaves some room for market-rate units.)

At 30 percent of a family's income, the rent would range from $1500 to $3625 a month. Were the apartments evenly distributed--and the ratio is unclear--that would be an average rent of $2562, compared to an average monthly rent of $1542 for the affordable apartments in the Atlantic Yards project.

The difference is that all of the Queens West project would be affordable, but to middle- and moderate-income families, while only about one-third (2250) of the onsite units at Atlantic Yards would be affordable, with 40 percent (900) of the affordable units going to families earning under $35,450.

The average monthly rent or payment in the Atlantic Yards project would undoubtedly be more than $2562, since nearly two-thirds of the households would earn more than $113,440.

Cost per unit

According to a city press release:
In exchange for the land and the Port Authority's other rights at the site, the City will pay the Port Authority $100 million and will fund the Port Authority's remaining obligations for infrastructure and related costs at the site, which are currently estimated to total $46 million.

Add to that $146 million another $270 million, since Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff has said that the Queens West units would be built for approximately $54,000 each in city funds. (By contrast, he put the cost at preserving affordable housing at Stuyvesant Town at $107,000 per unit.)

So, 5000 units at $416 million = $83,200 per unit. How would that compare to the cost for affordable housing planned at Atlantic Yards? We don't know.

Not Jacobs vs. Moses

In an article on Queens West in Gotham Gazette, Brad Lander of the Pratt Center for Community Development, suggested that Queens West doesn't fit the Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses frame. While "the development will likely be in high-rise towers with a master plan created by City Hall," something Jacobs wouldn't have liked, "local residents, community board leaders, and elected officials all praised the proposed development."

That's an interesting contrast with the Atlantic Yards development, which has received much more mixed--and often scathing--reviews, including from the three affected community boards.

Affordable to whom?

Lander wrote:
It is important to note that the proposed development hardly serves the diversity of Queens. More than 60 percent of Queens residents earn less than $60,000 – so most of Queens two million people will not be able to afford even one of the proposed 5,000 “affordable” units. A diverse set of Queens community organizations, known as Queens for Affordable Housing, is calling for a far better mix, with half of the units affordable to families earning less than the Queens median income of $48,000.

(Note that the Brooklyn median income is about $35,000.)

Queens for Affordable Housing pointed out several ways to improve the project, including making the units affordable in perpetuity rather than for 40 years. (The units at Atlantic Yards would last 30 years.)

And by planning for at least 20 percent of the units to be affordable to those earning less than $35,000, the city could gain advantageous tax-exempt bond financing .

Columnist criticism

Curiously, in a Daily News column headlined Build for the middle class, columnist Errol Louis called the Queens coalition "well-intentioned but misguided," saying that a call for low-income housing "misses the important point that working families who have made it a notch or two up the economic ladder supply much of the social glue, political clout, income tax and disposable income that hold communities together."

Louis, on the other hand, has praised the plan for Atlantic Yards, which would have more low-income housing than at Queens West--even though many people at an AY affordable housing information session in July were taken aback by the cost of most affordable apartments.

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