Monday, May 18, 2009

Why Atlantic Yards affordable housing will be long-delayed, and why ACORN can't complain

Despite the rhetoric, there are couple of important things to know about the promises regarding Atlantic Yards affordable housing.

First, should the project proceed, the housing will not be built on a schedule close to that originally promised.

Second, ACORN, signatory to the affordable housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the Community Benefits, owes Forest City Ratner $1 million and is in no position to complain about delays.

Markowitz's claim

After news of the Atlantic Yards eminent domain ruling that emerged Friday, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz asserted, "The unanimous ruling by the State Appellate Division once again affirms the numerous public benefits of the Atlantic Yards project—during these difficult economic times and into Brooklyn’s bright future—including the creation of affordable housing, solid union jobs, and permanent employment opportunities..."

Does it actually affirm those public benefits? The decision used vague locution from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC):
The project is anticipated to create between 5,325 and 6,430 housing units, of which 2,250 are expected to be affordable for low- and middle-income families.

The project itself can't create anything. Someone has to put up the money and, guess what, the housing market isn't great and housing bonds are scarce.

Who's speculating?

The court stated:
The project also serves the additional public purposes of creating an arena, publicly accessible open space, affordable housing, improvements to public transit, and new job opportunities... The petitioners' argument that some of these public benefits may never actually be realized is conclusory and speculative.

Isn't it equally speculative to assert that some of the public benefits will in fact be realized?

The court said:
In contrast, while the petitioners in the instant proceeding question the true motivations of the public officials involved in the development of this project, they have offered no evidence that the public benefits which the project will allegedly promote or achieve are illusory, or that equivalent or greater public benefits would accrue absent the condemnation.


Well, there's evidence and there's argument. There was no opportunity in the court proceeding to have a duel of experts, as in eminent domain battles elsewhere. But no cost-benefit analysis was ever attempted by the state, which announced benefits without assessing costs.

FCR's claims

Forest City Ratner issued a statement quoting Bruce Ratner, “This significant victory keeps Atlantic Yards moving forward. It means that more affordable housing, jobs, the Nets and other sports and entertainment are that much closer to being a reality in Brooklyn.”

Ratner added, "The world has changed significantly since we announced this project in December 2003. But one thing has never changed -- Forest City’s commitment to bringing the Nets to Brooklyn and building an arena and residential community that will make the people of Brooklyn and the entire City proud.”

Also in the press release was this statement, "FCRC expects to start at least one residential building during the first phase of construction."

Well, one building does not make a residential community. Nor would it "create" much affordable housing.

(The Daily News, in an editorial today, blames "rabid obstructionists" for delaying the arena and housing the city needs, somehow neglecting to point out that Ratner is delaying the housing on his own. The Daily News also blames AY opponents and critics for denying the Nets a chance at superstar LeBron James, somehow neglecting to point out that James could sign a bigger contract with his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.)

Where's ACORN?

You'd think that ACORN, which put its political muscle behind the project in exchange for a pledge to construct 2250 subsidized apartments, might protest the fact that those units likely would take "decades" (to quote ESDC CEO Marisa Lago) to emerge, rather than the ten-year span promised when the project was approved in December 2006.

(Bonus prediction: then-Assemblyman Roger Green, a project supporter, in 2005, predicted the project would take 25-30 years.)

But, when ACORN signed the MOU in May 2005, it was contractually obligated to support the project.

Since then, ACORN has become much more indebted to Forest City Ratner. When the organization, in the wake of an embezzlement scandal, faced mounting debts and a decline in donations, the developer stepped in last August and bailed out ACORN with a $1 million loan and grants totaling $500,000.

For Forest City Ratner, it looks like a very good investment.

The Times still punts

And the developer has gotten a free ride from the press so far, as well.

Yesterday, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt looked into charges, raised by ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief, that the newspaper ignored a "game-changing" article about ACORN's connections to the Obama campaign.

Hoyt called it The Tip That Didn't Pan Out. (The conservative blog PowerLine disagrees.)

But MonCrief's tip regarding ACORN and Forest City Ratner checked out completely. It was confirmed by ACORN's spokesman. ACORN is indebted to Forest CIty Ratner and, likely, muzzled. That's news.

Were promises ever realistic?

I wrote last week how there's no evidence that, before the project was approved, the ESDC considered the availability of sufficient housing bonds to construct the affordable housing.

I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the ESDC in December to see if any documents indicated such deliberations. Each month, I get the same response: they're still looking.

I just got my May response (right) this past weekend.
(Click to enlarge)

3 comments:

  1. The Daily News's rabid editorialist also conveniently neglects to mention that James's Cavaliers are currently 8-0 in this year's playoffs, while the Nets are home watching for the second year running. Maybe the fact that Bruce Ratner has been as good at building the Nets as he has been at building Atlantic Yards might factor in to LBJ's decision, no?

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  2. Ratner certainly hasn't done a very good job of building the nets, but he's done a great job of destroying them.

    The nets won back-to-back eastern conference championships in 2002 & 2003, coming within 2 games of winning an nba championship the latter year.

    Ratner purchased the nets in early 2004, and it's been all downhill since.

    2004 ... 2nd round playoff exit

    2005 ... 1st round playoff exit

    2006 ... 2nd round playoff exit

    2007 ... 2nd round playoff exit

    2008 ... failed to make the playoffs

    2009 ... failed to make the playoffs

    With ratner cutting player payroll at breakneck speed, the nets can kiss the playoffs goodbye for years to come.

    Ratner is now cutting the salaries of nets assistant coaches by 50% ... which truly reveals how dire his financial situation has become.

    So yeah, i don't think lebron ever thought seriously about leaving one of the highest payrolls in the league (the cavs) for one of the lowest (the nets).

    Teams with cheap owners don't win championships in the nba ... never have, never will.

    If ratner ever takes on the zillions in debt from building atlantic yards, his penny-pinching with regard to the nets will only get worse.

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  3. With regard to lebron's public posturing about possibly joining the nets, knicks or some other franchise in 2010, this is standard operating procedure for top-tier nba free agents.

    All top-tier free agents publicly drop hints that they might jump ship, yet they all end up staying right where they are ... as long as they get paid top-dollar, and as long as their other demands - usually regarding the quality of their supporting casts - are met.

    Even the rabid editorialist at the daily news ... whom i strongly suspect to be mitch lawrence ... had to know that lebron was simply engaging in standard free agent-speak when he talked to the press about how much he liked brooklyn and several other nba towns.

    I'd be willing to bet that lebron has not once in his life set foot in brooklyn, or that he could even find brooklyn with a g.p.s..

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