A reader points out that, in writing about public comments by the president of New York State ACORN, I left out part of the May 2005 Housing Memorandum of Understanding, agreed to "take reasonable steps to publicly support the project by, among other things, appearing with the developer before the Public Parties, community organizations, and the media."
The ACORN obligation
The preamble states:
As long as the Project will include the ACORN/ATLANTIC YARDS 50/50 Program as described in paragraph 1, ACORN agrees to take reasonable steps to publicly support the project by, among other things, appearing with the developer before the Public Parties, community organizations, and the media.
The 50/50 program
What was described in paragraph 1?
Developer shall develop fifty (50%) of the Residential Project as affordable housing in accordance with the ACORN/ATLANTIC Yards 50/50 program. Based on a projected number of units of 4,500 the affordable commitment will be 2,250 units.
However, just a week after the press conference announcing that deal, Forest City Ratner announced changes, proposing either an addition of 1500 market-rate condos while maintaining the same amount of office space, or reducing the office space and planning for 2800 condos. Now the number of proposed condos has been reduced to 1930.
As noted in Paragraph 5 of the MOU, if the number of units in the project should increase "for any reason that the Developer determines to be economically necessary," the developer and ACORN would try to follow the 50/50 program.
Have they done so? Forest City Ratner has agreed to build 600 to 1000 affordable for-sale units, not matching the announced 1930 condo units. But that agreement has never been part of documents approved by the Empire State Development Corporation.
On 11/6/05, taking note of some of those criticisms, the New York Times suggested that the project--in its configuration at the time--might include 40 percent affordable housing:
But if the developer chooses to build the maximum of 1,000 moderately priced for-sale units described in the Acorn agreement and builds them off-site, then the total number of for-sale and rental units associated with the project would reach 8,300, of which 3,250 would be priced below market rates - about 40 percent.
Now, if 1000 subsidized for-sale units are built along with the 1930 market-rate condos, the percentage would be 43.75%. If 200 of those 1930 on-site units are subsidized, as Forest City Ratner promised in December 2006, then the percentage would be even higher: nearly 45%. But there's no evidence either will occur.
ACORN stands firm
The Times article closed by quoting ACORN's Bertha Lewis. While in Ratner's Brooklyn Standard publication, she continued to insist that the 50-50 program had not been compromised (mentioning the 2,250 rentals but nothing about the offsite condos), here she was a little more circumspect:
Ms. Lewis said that Acorn remained a strong supporter of the project and of the agreement with Forest City Ratner. But she said she was negotiating with the company, and with the government agencies that help subsidize housing, to help make a greater proportion of the for-sale apartments available below market prices.
"We know that when we get through this thing, half of all the housing is going to be affordable - half of the rental, half of everything else," she said. "We haven't gotten down to the last part of this. But our whole principle is 50-50."
How do we know? Shouldn't the Times have pointed out that ACORN is required to publicly support the project? Or that ACORN could abandon that support by reading the MOU literally?.
However, like government agencies, ACORN is apparently in for a dime, in for a dollar.
And ACORN's now in hock to the developer, which, as Lewis has acknowledged, got a benefit: we were value-added: one, in expertise; two, in political cover – let’s face it – and political might and our ability to fight them.