Monday, December 18, 2006

Missing in ESDC presentation to PACB: housing subsidies

For the past week, questions have been raised about the adequacy of the Atlantic Yards fiscal impact analysis conducted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). First, the ESDC, without comment or explanation, revealed a drop of nearly a half-billion dollars in net fiscal impact.

Then the authority released a memo purporting to explain its new fiscal calculations, but the document raised more questions than it answered. (In fact, the inhouse memo is hardly the same thing as the "independent economic analysis" that the ESDC "has performed" but not released.)

Now questions have emerged about exactly how the ESDC accounts for affordable housing subsidies, which are necessary to the project but unspecified in available project documents.

Questions in PACB document

The project is pending before the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which must analyze the finances before approving $100 million in state funds. (The PACB is controlled by departing Gov. George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is under pressure to delay consideration of the project until the administration of incoming Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a fellow Democrat.)

A project summary in the Atlantic Yards Affirmation Document--an overview presented by the ESDC to the PACB--describes "anticipated funding sources" and "funding uses," which both add up neatly to nearly $4 billion.

But there's nothing in there about affordable housing. The document states:
As part of the Project plan, Forest City has committed to develop not less than 2,250 units of affordable housing. It is expected that Forest City will receive customary housing subsidies that are in existence at the time of such development for the development of the affordable housing.

There is no accounting for the amount of those subsidies, which likely would exceed $100 million. But if the subsidies are "customary," can't the ESDC at least offer an estimate?

City resists FOIL, again

Last week, I was stymied again in an attempt to get the city Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) to reveal the amount of the affordable housing subsidies. I had previously been told that such figures couldn't be revealed because of "interference with contracts" and "inter- or intra-agency material."

I filed an appeal to HPD, writing, in part:
My request for the records was denied, as noted on the attached copy, because the records are deemed “interference with contracts” or “inter- or intra-agency material.”
While I recognize that some documents might fall under that rubric, I find it surprising that no documents could be made available to explain to the public how much the city plans to spend to subsidize affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards project.
That is a matter of public policy and thus public discussion.


The response (right; click to enlarge) reiterated the reasoning and added to it. Oddly, however, it seemed superseded by events. On 12/8/06, the ESDC approved the project. In a letter dated four days later, HPD stated:
As you are aware, the proposed Atlantic Yards development is a contemplated development which is being negotiated between the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a entity of the State of New York, and Forest City Ratner corporation, a non-governmental entity. ESDC has already determined that release of data not otherwise available on their website would impair the process of their negotiations with the potential developer...

Negotiations?

First, how can the ESDC still be negotiating? They just sent the project to the PACB. Would they want to have a project approved for which negotiations have yet to conclude?

Is HPD still negotiating? In September, HPD's Rafael Cestero told the City Planning Commission that a funding agreement regarding bonds and other subsidies was in process. Wouldn't that funding agreement be finished by the time the ESDC signed off on the project?

Or should the PACB assume that the sum of city subsidies for housing is a mystery?

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