Friday, February 21, 2014

Bruce Ratner on Morning Joe: "affordable housing" goes up to $100,000 (that's a lowball estimate)

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner was a guest this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and, as usual, the hosts were fawning.

"The man who built the Barclays Center has a new blueprint for Brooklyn" was the intro. After some crosstalk with financier Steve Rattner, host Mika Brzezinski exclaimed, "This man is so nice, and we need to go watch a concert at his place."



"It's amazing what's going on out there. you're in the center of what's going on," chimed in host Joe Scarborough, remotely.

"It's a miracle, honestly," Ratner said, citing growth in Brooklyn's apartment market and people claiming Brooklyn identity.

Then, with the onscreen words "Empire in the Making: Ratner's modular buildings," Ratner went through his practiced explanation for his modular plan, aimed to control prices and maintain quality by "basically building most of the building in a factory."

"It's fascinating," commented  Brzezinski.

What's "affordable housing"

Another host asked Ratner, "What is your definition of affordable housing?"

"That's a really good question," Ratner responded. "Some people say it's lower income, up to $30,000 for a family of three or four."

"We consider affordable to include middle-income [households]," he said, with incomes up to $90-100,000."

(Actually, for a family of four, a middle-income household goes up to $132,800, and that's under 2012 income guidelines, which surely will have increased when the first tower opens in December.)

"We need something called workforce housing," Ratner said, for people like police officers and firemen, "basically teachers, people who earn a reasonable income but can't find housing near the city. It's a difficult problem. We've got a shortage of land."

That's true, but that's hardly the full story. For one thing, the Atlantic Yards affordable housing deal was promoted by ACORN, an organization with a low-income constituency.

Projected rents, as of 2012, for first tower
For another, even Forest City, in the early days, was making a distinction between subsidized "affordable housing" and subsidized "middle-income housing."

As I wrote in July 2006, Forest City executive Bruce Bender said in a press release that "the affordable and middle-income housing program will be handled via a lottery system as required by City rules."

Generally speaking, "affordable" means paying 30% of household income in rent. So "affordable" can mean a significant range of incomes and rents, as indicated regarding the first tower.

That also means that Forest City pushed hard to ensure that the configuration of the first tower--"affordable" but not so affordable--would skew, in the family-sized units, toward middle-income households.

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