Thursday, March 27, 2008

And what about those for-sale affordable units? The fine print is vague

A major question raised about the 600 to 1000 affordable for-sale units, on and off-site, announced by developer Forest City Ratner as part of the Atlantic Yards Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is why they were absent from the General Project Plan approved by the Empire State Development Corporation. That wasn't cause for confidence.

The recently-unveiled State Funding Agreement does, however, mention the pledge that's contained in the agreement FCR signed with the advocacy group ACORN.

However, as far as I can tell, the document has no teeth, since it asserts no deadlines and no penalties, though it does assign deadlines for other phases of the project and penalties for failure to meet those deadlines.

For one thing, if FCR doesn't build as many market-rate condos--and all housing is now on hold--the MOU appears to give the developer an out. Also, the construction of for-sale affordable units depends on unspecified subsidies.

Big pledge?

The developer, in a 12/20/06 statement after the approval by the Public Authorities Control Board, suggested that the total was ironclad, even if some onsite units were a goal rather than a certainty:
As part of the affordable housing program, FCRC has already agreed to build 600 to 1,000 affordable home ownership units on or off site. Today, FCRC announced that it will seek to build at least 200 of these affordable home-owner units on site (they will be part of the proposed 6,430 units of housing already approved as part of the Atlantic Yards FEIS/GPP). FCRC will also seek to build the remaining affordable home-owner units as close to Atlantic Yards as possible.

Has condo plan changed?

Here's the pledge from the MOU for affordable condos:
For sale housing - Pursuant to paragraph 5 of the MOU, Developer and ACORN will work on a program to develop affordable for-sale units, which are intended to be in the range of 600 to 1000 units, over the course of ten (10) years and can be on or off site. It is currently contemplated that a majority of the affordable for-sale units will be sold to families in the upper affordable income tiers.

That ten-year promise has not surfaced elsewhere. Note that the pledge of 600 to 1000 for-sale units, however, was meant to match, at least in part, the 1930 market-rate condos added to the plan, to help achieve the 50/50 affordable housing goal.

But read the fine print: If the projected number of residential units should increase for any reason that the Developer determines to be economically necessary, both the Developer and ACORN will work towards developing a program that follows the same guidelines and principles set forth in this document.

In other words, the for-sale affordable units depend on the market-rate condos. That's logical, but it also means that if those condos don't get built--or are built over a very long period--the affordable for-sale units could lag as well.

What the document says

Perhaps that's why the State Funding Agreement (Part 34) is so vague:
Developer shall provide 600-1000 units of affordable home ownership units [sic] as close to the Atlantic Yards project site as possible, including but not limited to the following neighborhoods: Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Clinton Hill and Park Slope. Developer shall seek to build 200 of these affordable home ownership units directly on the Atlantic Yards project site (assuming the appropriate subsidy required to fund these affordable home ownership units is available and the density levels approved in the ESDC GPP are maintained). Developer shall seek to make the affordable home ownership units affordable to families with income up to 150% of AMI and to make homeownership opportunities available to families with incomes below 100% AMI.

However, despite seemingly forceful language ("shall provide"), the document, as far as I can tell, offers no guarantees or sanctions for failure to meet the target.

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