Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gotham Gazette: CPC's New Domino plan prompts criticism of affordable housing policy, but loan recipients offer pragmatic support

In Gotham Gazette, Brian Paul, a fellow at the Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development, writes critically of the city's trickle-down affordable housing policies, and Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), the lead developer on the New Domino.

Not only has CPC been willing to partner with some questionable developers--the New Domino is not the first relationship with Isaac Katan--but it has focused on (mostly) luxury development on the fringe of gentrification, with its affordable housing lending concentrated in poor neighborhoods.

(A more detailed study in Williamsburg, from 2007, concluded that inclusionary zoning—which provides increased development rights in exchange for including affordable housing—has worked well on waterfront parcels, but not on smaller upland parcels.)

An AY parallel

In July 2007, I noted Some AY echoes in Williamsburg's New Domino plan (& hype). Paul's analysis suggests another parallel, that with ACORN, which argued that it was pragmatically pursuing an imperfect deal with a developer.

Critics, however, might argue that ACORN was compromised by accepting money from the developer.

Paul writes:
The single-minded pursuit of "deals" for a percentage of affordable housing in luxury projects like Domino Sugar may be leading non-profit community developers to overlook the role that the market-oriented affordable housing system is playing in gentrifying their communities. When confronted with these findings, John Simon from Catholic Charities said, "We supported the Domino project based simply on the fact that they guaranteed 30 percent affordable housing. …We didn't do any intricate analysis."

Speaking on behalf of East Brooklyn Congregations, Michael Gecan defended CPC' for being a "central and pivotal part of investment and production" of affordable housing in New York City. "In an imperfect world … [deals like Domino Sugar] are the best solution. Others may disagree or believe in wishful thinking. We operate in reality," he said.

...Because government investment in affordable housing is tied into the public-private, luxury-affordable models, the community-based nonprofit developers need private dollars from entities like CPC to fund their work. All of the community development corporations and church affiliated groups that testified on CPC's behalf during the New Domino hearings have received loans from the company during the past four years, with the largest amount -- over $30 million -- going to the East Brooklyn Congregations' Nehemiah Houses project.

With the community housing organizations so heavily invested in this current "reality," there are few voices left to question whether this system -- and the tremendous amount of public money that flows into it -- really serves the best interest of all New Yorkers.

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