Sunday, January 04, 2009

In governors' request for federal infrastructure aid, only a hint of (indirect) help for Atlantic Yards

So New York State Gov. David Paterson, along with governors from other large states, has asked the federal government for a total of $1 trillion in emergency aid over two years for all 50 states.

Could any of that be directed to Atlantic Yards? The news coverage wasn't clear, summarizing the request as including $350 billion for infrastructure; $250 billion for anti-poverty programs; and $250 billion in flexible education spending to maintain funding for programs from pre-kindergarten to higher education; and middle-class tax cuts.

Given that the "ready-to-go" projects are the focus, Atlantic Yards could not be directly affected. However, it's possible that a change in rules regarding the Low Income Housing Credit Program could make it easier to fund affordable housing destined for the project.

Apparently the challenge regarding Atlantic Yards will fall on Mayor Mike Bloomberg; Crain's writes in an editorial that "he has to explain how he will keep such crucial projects as the redevelopment of the West Side rail yards, Atlantic Yards and Willets Point on track."

Overall picture

Paterson's letter sketches the outline:
New York State alone has at least 1,922 infrastructure projects, totaling $11.7 billion that can be “ready-to-go” (i.e., federal funds can be obligated within 180 days). Of these “ready-to-go” projects, 481 are traditional infrastructure projects (i.e., transportation and water), totaling $5.0 billion. Using the broad definition of infrastructure that you have proposed, New York has an additional 1,231 “ready-to-go” projects for school modernization, affordable housing, state parks, rural broadband, and health information technology, totaling $5.3 billion. Finally, as I set forth in greater detail the following section, New York has at least 210 energy-related projects and programs totaling $1.4 billion that are “ready to go.” The economic recovery package must provide a flexible source of funds for these latter two broader categories of infrastructure projects.

Transportation details

Regarding transportation, Paterson writes:
After a comprehensive review of statewide transportation priorities, the State of New York has at least 382 projects totaling more than $3.65 billion that can be obligated within 180 days. These projects are all consistent with our Statewide Transportation Plan:

* Highways & Bridges: 334 projects, totaling $1.83 billion
* Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Transit: 33 projects, totaling $1.5 billion
* Non-MTA transit systems: 12 projects, totaling $220 million for bus replacements
* Rail: 2 projects, totaling $41 million
* Aviation: $110 million in Airport Improvement Program (AIP)-eligible projects

New York State has additional “ready-to-go” transportation needs that extend beyond those funded by traditional federal trust fund programs, such as improvements on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor, at the Port of Albany, and in our State Parks system; development of the Farley Post Office as Moynihan Station; and construction of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel.


Affordable housing details

Regarding affordable housing, Paterson writes:
New York State has long been a leader in affordable housing policy. Our State has a well-established network of affordable housing developers and community-based organizations which will insure that any additional capital funds are efficiently directed to those neighborhoods and communities that will benefit most from an infusion of capital. New York has 202 “ready-to-go” housing infrastructure projects totaling $193 million.

The NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) has an unfunded capital projects pipeline approaching $639 million, comprised of 52 proposed multi-dwelling construction or rehabilitation projects, offering 2740 units of housing. The pipeline includes 14 projects at an advanced stage of readiness, with a total development cost of $117 million. If funded, these projects would commence construction or rehabilitation within 180 days. These projects would construct, rehabilitate and preserve 603 units of affordable rental housing, provide construction and permanent jobs, and stimulate local economies across New York State.

I also urge you to provide our state housing agencies with much-needed relief on low-income housing tax credit regulations. The Low Income Housing Credit Program (LIHC) is the primary tool for leveraging private investment in affordable housing by helping to match private investment with other state and federal resources. To make the LIHC program more appealing to investors, the economic recovery package could:

* Temporarily reduce the credit period from ten to five years
* Permit “carry-back” of the Housing Credit for up to five years and allow these Housing Credits to be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) liability during that period
* Expand Community Reinvestment Act footprints by 25% for two to three years to encourage financial institutions (typically the largest LIHC purchasers) to invest in areas where they do not currently have CRA need
* Waive the “at-risk” rules for Closely Held C Corporations for two to three years so they can fully utilize the LIHC benefits

The Community Development Block Grant program is an effective way to provide funding directly to cities and counties for community and economic development. Our municipalities have “ready-to-go” projects to create jobs and make much needed investments in our communities and we support funding on the federal level to expand this program. The NYS CDBG program provides financing for eligible non-entitlement communities, which are units of local government with populations less than 50,000, and certain counties with populations of less than 200,000. There are 1,272 non-entitlement communities in New York State. Larger entitlement communities in New York receive direct allocations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to administer their own CDBG programs. We fully support a reversal of recent trends by a restoration to full funding levels and we advocate for major increases in both entitlement and non-entitlement CDBG funding as part of the federal economic recovery efforts. There are 108 NYS CDBG-eligible projects, totaling $46.7 million, “ready to go” within 180 days. Communities throughout New York, particularly Upstate, also require funding for economic development projects to attract industry and provide infrastructure and access improvements to industrial sites.

New York also operates an innovative Main Streets grant program that provides funding for building renovations, fa├žades and streetscape improvements and, in limited cases, capital funding for projects to anchor downtown districts. The program provides technical assistance and other resources to support community revitalization efforts, including housing. With $29.2 million in federal funds, New York could proceed to construction within 180 days on eighty projects.

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