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On 421-a: FCR won't comment, ACORN calls it "bad public policy," & Lopez gets cover

In a column today headlined Atlantic Yards gets a deal so sweet it's sick, Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez bores in on the special carve-out in the 421-a legislation. The deal could be worth [updated/corrected] $100-$170 million in tax-exemptions for the condos.

(Still, I'd like someone in government to break down the math, since I don't think the bill will, as Gonzalez writes, allow Forest City Ratner to charge an extra $350 a month for affordable units; I think that might apply only to a subset. Doesn't legislation come with official analysis?)

The issue, Gonzalez suggests, is a test for Governor Eliot Spitzer.

ACORN speaks

Gonzalez put Forest City Ratner on the spot. They wouldn't comment.

He asked their partner in housing, ACORN, which had lobbied for an expansion of 421-a, didn't know of the special provision. NY ACORN's Bertha Lewis called it "bad public policy," which is remarkable because it 1) involves ACORN's first public criticism of the developer's machinations and 2) ACORN is required is required by the Housing Memorandum of Understanding, to "take reasonable steps to publicly support the project," including appareances before community organizations. (In this case, ACORN wasn't needed, so Lewis's criticism is after the fact.)

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries illustrates the difficulty of voting on principle:
"It's unfortunate that this developer seems to have an addiction to the government's cookie jar," Jeffries said. Still, Jeffries voted for the overall tax exemption bill. He did so, he said, because it will expand a decades-old incentive program for developers, known as 421-A, to some minority neighborhoods and create more affordable housing.

Little other coverage

Only the Times covered the carve-out today besides Gonzalez. The Times, which covered it yesterday online in the City Room blog, included some of those paragraphs in a broad round-up that mentioned 421-a.

Cover for Lopez

In yesterday's piece, Assemblyman Vito Lopez defended the carve-out, which allowed some of the 20% lower-income affordable housing at Atlantic Yards to be built in separate buildings and to include residents at 70 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) rather than 60 percent, as the law otherwise says. Forest City Ratner, he said, wanted the exemption to be 100 percent.

Not only would that have been way out of line, they didn't need 100 percent; all they needed was 70 percent. The 100 percent number was just to give backers some cover.

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  1. WNYC radio just covered this gift to Ratner as well.

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