Saturday, April 26, 2008

De Blasio claims AY would have 3000 low-income units

In an interview in the Spring issue of the Park Slope Reader, City Council Member Bill de Blasio, who's running for Borough President, shows he hasn't improved his due diligence regarding Atlantic Yards.

Notably--unless he was misquoted--he claimed that the project would include 3000 low-income housing units, a significant overstatement.

Actually, the plan is to include 900 low-income rental units--at 30-50% of AMI (Area Median Income)--among 2250 affordable rentals, and 600 to 1000 for-sale affordable units, of which a "majority... will be sold to families in the upper affordable income tiers," according to the Housing Memorandum of Understanding Forest City Ratner signed with ACORN. That means households with six-figure incomes, perhaps needing a boost in New York, but hardly low-income.There are no deadlines for the for-sale units, nor penalties for noncompliance, according to the State Funding Agreement.

Also note that the AMI, $70,900 for a four-person household, is based on a region that includes suburban counties. (The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Yards project, in Chapter 4 (p. 34), cites the median household income for Brooklyn as $32,135 and for the city as $38,293. Those statistics come from the 2000 U.S. Census and thus are somewhat outdated--and also refer to households with an average household size of 2.6 people-- but they still suggest that Brooklyn's median income is significantly less than the regional AMI.)

The Q&A

Q. You’ve been a supporter of the Atlantic Yards project. Not all local residents agree with you on this. How do you see the evolution of this project in the future?

A. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’ve supported Atlantic Yards because it will provide over 3000 units of affordable housing to low-income residents and it will bring more local jobs to the neighborhood. But I’m not happy about many aspects of the project as it exists today. Many of the buildings are too tall and can be lower; the scale of many of the buildings simply doesn’t fit in with the surrounding neighborhoods. A lot of mass transit issues still haven’t been addressed and no specifics have been offered: there will be a huge increase in traffic plus we’ll need additional bus lanes and more frequent subway service. Also, I’m not happy at the way Forest City Ratner has shut out the surrounding communities from the decision-making process. I feel that the Borough President office can have an impact on these issues, and that is one reason why I am running for Borough President.

If the buildings are too tall, the project would likely have to shrink, which would lessen the amount of affordable housing.

(Note that de Blasio has become more vocal in his criticism lately, and will be speaking at the "Time Out" rally next Saturday.)

Bonding delays

And, as de Blasio should know, affordable housing is dependent on a a limited pool of tax-exempt bonds. So a smaller AY or a different project (a la the UNITY plan concentrated on the Vanderbilt Yard) might not mean as much affordable housing at their specific sites--but the funding might be used elsewhere to build housing faster.

One question de Blasio should be asking--and asking himself--is why the project was approved with an "anticipated" ten-year buildout even though the lack of bonding capacity meant the schedule was highly unrealistic.

In other words, 900 low-income units over ten years means 90 units a year; over 20 years, that's 45 units a year, and over 30 years, that's 30 units a year. That's a far cry from 3000.

Other comments on development

Also, de Blasio called "the high-rise development on Fourth Avenue... a huge disappointment" because of the lack of affordable housing he fought for--a lesson the city has since learned, but too late for Park Slope. He did his due diligence on that issue.

On the other hand, he suggested that the office of the Borough President can "intervene case by case" to "negotiate with the developers and make sure their projects truly benefit the community."

Maybe, but wouldn't it be better to set some ground rules at the start?

The importance of context

The potential Borough President seems to be a supporter of context:
We can make changes in land use. With some buildings- and I am thinking about the apartment house on Warren Street and Fourth Avenue that my daughter and I walked by the other day- the architect did a good job; he made it appear that the building is a part of the existing neighborhood.

I am amazed that many developers are not aware of the need to make their buildings fit in to the neighborhood. I also think it’s good business, because attractive buildings promote neighborhood renewal. This, in turn, increases property values.


Frank Gehry's plan for Atlantic Yards (view from Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue, right) is not exactly about context. Supporters of this and other large developments might point out that a slavish adherence to context can be paralyzing.

How to mediate all this? It's not simple, but overblown claims about affordable housing shouldn't trump analysis.

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