Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Elected officials sign development pledge, but the question is money

On Saturday, the highlight of the Peoples’ Accountable Development Summit--part of the Fifth Avenue Committee’s South Brooklyn Accountable Development Initiative--was a pledge from elected officials to uphold a list of Accountable Development Principles, listed at right.

Those signing the pledge included City Council Members Letitia James and David Yassky, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Assemblymen Hakeem Jeffries and Jim Brennan, State Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Eric Adams, and City Council candidate (and 52nd A.D. Democratic District Leader) JoAnne Simon. Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Borough President Marty Markowitz sent representatives to sign the pledge. The principles are honorable; while some, such as the goal of accountable process, do not require more money, others do depend on a commitment of funds.

The main component is a redefinition of affordable housing, calling for making units "truly affordable to people in the neighborhood"--a dig at projects like Atlantic Yards, which contains a significant slice of subsidized units--2250 of 4500 planned rentals, plus 200 of 1930 onsite condos--but which are not necessarily affordable to average Brooklynites. While there's a 50/50 pledge regarding the AY rentals, when that pledge was announced, it applied to the project as a whole; now it would be 38%. Note that "truly affordable" is not defined.

Paying for it

I didn't attend the summit, but I did see some of the videos posted by attendee Raul Rothblatt. Most telling are the comments by Brennan, who points out, at at about 4:15 of this video, that there's no free lunch: "You forgot one thing... The issue of more. We need the city, the state, and the federal government to increase the level of funding for affordable housing... There will ultimately have to be tax increases on the wealthy people of the city and state."

Similar questions about funding affordable housing came up in the discussions of the UNITY plan, an alternative solution for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard supported by many Atlantic Yards opponents.

Note that, while the pledge calls for living wage jobs and support for unionization, it doesn't mandate the latter. Indeed, the Fifth Avenue Committee, in facing its own budget pressures in building affordable housing, has been criticized for relying on non-union labor for sites like its Atlantic Terrace development.

Accountable process

The cartoon at right, from the comic book titled "Our Community Our Future - A Guide to Accountable Development Principles" (and first posted on NoLandGrab), criticizes the Atlantic Yards project for using affordable housing--not so affordable to the community--to win over people who might be opposed to eminent domain for a private developer. It criticizes "stadium" (actually "arena") jobs and nonbinding promises for training as "crumbs" and suggests that Atlantic Yards would suck up a large amount of affordable housing funds, leaving less for community-based organizations that could build at a lower cost.


As the t-shirt indicates, such organizations are FAC (Fifth Avenue Committee) and PACC (Pratt Area Community Council), both of which are part of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition. Perhaps that's why the cartoon ultimately takes a "mend it, don't end it" position toward the development, suggesting that a "true governance structure and oversight mechanism" can lead to changes.

Note that the fourth principle in the graphic at top calls for more transparency and community involvement in planning, as well as monitoring and enforcement of Community Benefits Agreements--another dig at AY.

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