Thursday, December 19, 2013

Remember how Markowitz said that "the jobs and the housing will go to those that need them the most"? That meme's changing.

We should expect the discussion around the Atlantic Yards affordable housing--in which 20% of the rental units are low-income, 10% moderate-income, and 20% middle-income, all keyed to an Area Median Income (AMI) much higher than that of Brooklyn--to expand.

After all, the average subsidized 2BR apartment in the first tower would rent for $1946, with the largest cohort renting for $2740, according to 2012 figures that should rise when the tower opens in late 2014.

"Workforce housing"

Former New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky wrote in the Daily News 12/2/13:
However, there are two ways in which Mayor-elect de Blasio can improve upon this approach. First, we must ensure that, in creating affordable housing, we are not only focused on our most vulnerable, but also on our economic backbone, including teachers, nurses, firefighters, and young people starting their careers. For this critical population, our next mayor should invest in revitalization and development around transit nodes to expand the options they have for living and working in the city.
This is the "workforce housing" that is being stressed in the Atlantic Yards project, the more-affordable-than-market but not-necessarily-so-affordable housing. And it's true that many people in New York can't afford market-rate housing.

But the people marching behind ACORN for the Atlantic Yards affordable housing were, in the main, low-income residents, not the middle- and moderate-income residents who will be served more in the 50/30/20 Atlantic Yards towers, with 20% low-income units.

Room for negotiation

So this leaves significant wiggle room if and when Forest City Ratner, with its expected Chinese government-owned partner, the Greenland Group, negotiates with city agencies as future towers are built.

Consider how Forest City, which pledged in its agreement with ACORN that 50% of the units, in floor area, would be devoted to family-sized (2BR + 3BR) units, but doesn't meet that standard in the first tower.

The New York City Housing Development Corporation did push Forest City to include more 2BR units, but far fewer than the developer's pledge, and agreed to let the developer skew the configuration toward the most-expensive middle-income units.

Markowitz's pledge

This departs from the rhetoric as the project was being promoted before official approval. Consider Borough President Marty Markowitz's testimony at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing on Atlantic Yards.


(Video via Battle for Brooklyn producers)

"So, this was crafted in a way that really I think provides a fair allocation, fair allocation, because the fingers should be pointed to the federal and state government's failure to realize that housing is a right and not a privilege," Markowitz said.

Note how Council Member Charles Barron nodded skeptically. Committee Chair James Sanders murmured to Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

"But we have to deal with the best situation we have and to maximize the amount -- I don't expect you to agree, it's okay," Markowitz continued. "The jobs and the housing will go to those that need them the most."

That doesn't seem true of the housing, nor the jobs.

After all, the vaunted job-training program organized by Community Benefits Agreement signatory BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) not only led to very few jobs in the construction field, it provoked an ongoing lawsuit regarding false promises. And BUILD has since dissolved, not to be replaced.

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