Monday, December 17, 2012

Questions for the modular press conference: how do plans for affordable housing and union jobs compare to earlier Atlantic Yards promises?

Tomorrow, at a press conference, a host of people will celebrate the groundbreaking for the first tower at Atlantic Yards--a 32-story, 363-unit B2, which should be the world's tallest modular building.

Officials expected include Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner, Forest City Enterprises CEO David LaRue, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera, Skanska USA Building CEO William Flemming, and Bertha Lewis--the latter whose affiliation isn't billed, but who signed the May 2005 Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Forest City as the leader of New York ACORN.

At the groundbreaking, Forest City will display one of the 930 modules used to create the apartments, "50 percent of which will be affordable," according to a press notice.

50 percent affordable

But what does 50 percent affordable mean, and how does that comport with initial promises?

As I reported in August for the Brooklyn Bureau, the housing MOU promised not only that 50 percent of the rentals would be affordable but that 50 percent of the latter, in square footage, would be devoted to two- and three-bedroom units.

At other points, Lewis and Forest City claimed not that half the affordable square footage, but that half the affordable units would be two- or three-bedroom.

Instead, as Forest City said in a recent presentation (excerpt above), 20% of affordable units will be two-bedroom units, with no three-bedroom units.

Why so few? Because the city offers subsidy per unit, not per bedroom, and it costs Forest City more to build larger units. Also, the city and Forest City's Community Benefits Agreement partners have pushed back only partially, accepting a deviation from the pledge.
So, one lingering question: will Forest City fulfill the pledge in future towers?

Skew toward higher incomes

Also, as I reported in August, the two-bedroom units are not distributed evenly across the five affordable "bands," two of which are low-income, three moderate- and middle-income:
But Tower 2's skew toward higher incomes remains. Of the 36 subsidized two-bedroom units, nine would be occupied by low-income families, five would be set aside for renters of moderate-income, five for the first middle-income band and 17 would be subsidized for the highest affordable “band,” with monthly rents, of $2,740 today (plus electric), and surely higher when the building opens in a year or two.
While that’s some discount off market—new two-bedroom, two-bath high-rise apartments in nearby downtown Brooklyn cost $3,300-plus—that's too much for “the missing class” of people just above poverty, as well as those below the line who rallied with ACORN for Atlantic Yards.
That configuration may have been tweaked--no one's said so--but, if so, likely not significantly.

So, another lingering question: In the future, will the larger apartments be distributed evenly?

Construction jobs

There will be 125 union workers and 25 supervisors at the factory, according to Forest City Ratner. About 40% of the labor force should work onsite.

The rough math suggests 250 workers over 18 months, assuming they work steadily, though that's not assured. If so, that's 375 job-years to build 363 units, plus the jobs associated with trucking and other support services.

That suggests fewer than 7,000 job-years (not counting trucking, etc.) to build the 6,430 apartments planned. (That doesn't count the unbuilt office tower.)

Still, Forest City said the number of man-hours to build the first tower will be approximately the same as conventional construction, but wouldn't answer a question about a similar calculation: the number of job-years involved.

Will construction match the 15,000 and 17,000 jobs (actually, job-years) once promised for the project? They should show us the math for both the original and current calculation.

The Times reported:
Under the new agreement, Mr. La Barbera said union factory workers would earn $55,000 a year, 25 percent less than the average union construction worker. But, he said, the trade-off is that the factory worker will work steady hours throughout the year, regardless of the weather.
That still doesn't answer the question: does that mean the same amount of job-years for the project?

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