Friday, November 15, 2013

Today, elected officials call for Atlantic Yards sale to be made contingent on faster housing timetable; will they request new oversight for full project?

Today a group of local elected officials, organized by the group BrooklynSpeaks, will call on the state to speed delivery of the affordable housing promised for Atlantic Yards as part of the condition for developer Forest City Ratner's planned sale of 70% of the remaining project (15 towers) to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group.

And that sets up two ironies. First, it's not clear whether they will ask for effective project oversight that looks at issues beyond affordable housing--and there are several.

Second, affordable housing activist Bertha Lewis, developer Forest City Ratner's partner in the housing deal, has criticized today's press conference because some involved tried to delay the project--though she presumably would want the housing to be accelerated. (Then again, she's obligated to support the developer.)

The press release is headlined "Brooklyn’s Elected Officials Demand New Commitment for Atlantic Yards’ Affordable Housing in Advance of Sale of Forest City Ratner’s Interest in Project: Electeds Find the Delay Unconscionable and Call on ESDC to Negotiate New Agreements Guaranteeing an Expedited Construction Schedule."
What: Brooklyn elected officials representing the communities surrounding the Atlantic Yards Project (“Project”) call on Forest City Ratner Companies (“FCRC”), Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (“ESDC”) to accelerate the delivery of the 2,250 units of affordable housing promised at the site and acknowledge in the newly required environmental impact statement, the socioeconomic damage to the community from the delay. The coalition will also present demands that must be met before FCRC is allowed to sell a majority interest in the Project.
Who: Assembly members James F. Brennan, Karim Camara, Joseph R. Lentol, Joan L. Millman and Walter T. Mosley; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; City Council members Letitia James, Brad Lander and Stephen Levin; Council member elect Laurie Cumbo; and U.S. Representatives Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velazquez, and Hakeem Jeffries.
When: Friday, November 15, 2013 at 1:00 p.m.
Where: 5th Avenue Committee, 621 DeGraw Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217 (at the corner of 4th Ave. and DeGraw Street), Conference Room.
Are they asking enough?

Keep in mind that the project was long publicly described as taking years, but government documents--first city and state funding agreements, then the Development Agreement--gave a longer leash, ultimately 25 years.

That makes a big difference in the number of units delivered per year, especially as the Area Median Income (AMI), the regional measurement on which eligibility is calculated, grows far faster than average household income in Brooklyn.

I likely won't be at the press conference, but I do have some questions. How, for example, might this work? Would a new Development Agreement be required?

If the delay in the housing points to general questions of the developer's credibility, would a new project oversight or governance be instituted? If so, would the governance entity look beyond the housing to examine such things as the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) and the promised Independent Compliance Monitor?

What about the free or discounted land for Atlantic Yards? Shouldn't some oversight entity take a look? What about impacts such as the continued leaking bass from arena concerts?

Or does the siren call of “affordable housing” trump everything? In fact, does accelerating the affordable housing mean sticks, carrots, or both? After all, the first building, now under construction, does not meet the developer's pledge that half the apartment s, in floor area, be devoted to family-sized units.

It's quite possible that a revised timetable would be met by new Mayor Bill de Blasio--who counts Lewis as a key ally and has pledged to get the housing done--throwing new money at the project.

In the Daily News

The Daily News yesterday offered Officials call on Atlantic Yards developers to hurry up affordable housing Group of 10 politicians call on site's new developer, Greenland Group, to accelerate construction of 2,250 units of affordable housing, promised as a condition of approval.
Angry community leaders plan to gather on Friday to protest the fact that affordable housing has not yet been built at the ballyhooed Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights.
The group of 10 elected officials wants the site’s new Chinese developer, Greenland Group, to accelerate the construction of 2,250 units of affordable housing, promised as a condition of approval for the redevelopment of the 22-acre site.
Actually, they want the state to require a new schedule as part of approving the sale. (Note: this is the first time the Daily News has reported the planned sale to Greenland; after the Wall Street Journal had the scoop, parent company Forest City Enterprises issued a press release, but the dailies ignored it.)

The article states:
“Despite the overwhelming need, it’s unfortunate that there really is no oversight and no one is holding Forest City Ratner accountable,” said Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, who has long opposed the project as a member of City Council.
Many who were priced out of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood are in desperate need of affordable places to live, added Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-Fort Greene).
In October, in an effort to speed up construction, Forest City Ratner announced that it was selling a 70% stake in the site — excluding the shiny, new Barclays Center and the first residential complex already being pieced together — to Greenland.
While Forest City has said the sale would speed construction, rest assured that the sale could more easily be described as "an effort to shed risk and speed revenue."

The defenses

The article states:
“We are very focused on accelerating the housing,” said Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco.
Bertha Lewis, founder of the Black Institute, joined Forest City in blaming the delays on community groups that tried to block the project through a chain of lawsuits.
“You cannot today say to accelerate the affordable housing when, for 10 years, you’ve worked hard to delay it,” Lewis said.
A few of the electeds did, but most didn't. More importantly, the project was delayed even after it received public approvals.

Also note that before the project was passed, Forest City Ratner officials emphasized how fast it would get done, but later backed off those promises.

Lewis is contractually obligated to publicly support the project. See p. 2 of the original Housing Memorandum of Understanding. Also remember that, when Lewis moved from New York ACORN to head national ACORN, and the latter group was rocked by an internal scandal, she got Forest City to bail out the group with a $1.5 million loan/grant.

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