Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Advocates say housing subsidy too high for CityPoint units, urge HDC to reconsider

When the issue is affordable housing subsidies, an applicant shouldn't be asking for more per unit than has been established for other projects.

That was the lesson of a public hearing held yesterday by the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC), a first step to consider $400 million in low-interest financing for some 810 units--perhaps 20-25% affordable--at the the CityPoint tower planned at the Albee Square Mall site in Downtown Brooklyn.

Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), a fierce critic of the effects of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, brought several members to protest the CityPoint plan.

But the most effective testimony came from Paula Crespo, a planner at the Pratt Center for Community Development working with FUREE, who pointed out that the $1.9 million in bonds requested per unit was "extremely high." Some HDC projects have required only $150,000 to $400,000 per unit, she said. (Clarification: The testimony she delivered was on behalf of herself and Pratt Center director Brad Lander.)

Earlier this year, in an effort to make the best use of the limited amount of volume cap to issue bonds, the state Housing Finance Agency, NYC HDC's counterpart, suggested that developers not ask for more than $1.7 million per unit.

Opposing voices

The hearing began with a very brief presentation by James Hedden, senior managing director of development for Rose Associates. He said the developer planned to build 810 units but did not specify a number of affordable units; rather, he said Rose would work with HDC on the issue. Rose aims to begin construction in 2009 and open the tower in 2012.

Theo Moore, FUREE's chief organizer, pointed out that developers were advertising feverishly to fill towers in Downtown Brooklyn and said, "I think you should be putting money into real affordable housing. When was the last time you saw NYCHA advertise?" (NYC HDC, nevertheless, is "the nation's number one issuer of bonds for multi-family affordable housing.")

Crespo, who said the Pratt Center is a longtime supporter of HDC's work, urged the agency not to proceed without establishing a lower per-unit cost, and a higher percentage of affordable housing.

Indeed, the project was described as potentially a mix of 80% market-rate units and 20% low-income units. However, it is the state HFA, not NYC HDC, that sponsors such 80/20 units, while the city agency typically finances mixed-income developments.

(The Atlantic Yards rentals would be 50% market, 30% middle- and moderate-income, and 20% low-income, and financed by NYC HDC, though they haven't moved forward yet.)

"We're in the context of some poor public policy at Albee Square," Crespo added. Advocates have criticized the developers' opportunity to buy public property for $20 million after 25 years of development under the current lease.

City Council Member Letitia James also spoke against the plan, saying, "We cannot settle for 20% [affordable housing] at this time."

More info needed

Crespo also criticized the "total inadequacy of the information being presented to the public," noting that the single sheet of paper provided said nothing about risk analysis, income limits, or construction costs.

FUREE's Ilana Berger pointed out residents were alerted to the hearing only because a sharp-eyed staffer at Good Jobs New York read a hearing notice in the back of the New York Post a few weeks back.

HDC staffers, for their part, said this was a preliminary step and hardly an approval. The record will be kept open until Friday for further written testimony, and the public process will continue through next year.

Clearly, the project is a work in progress. "I believe the developers are seeking financing from multiple sources," NYC HDC executive VP Mathew Wambua said after the meeting. "We don't provide 80/20."

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