A chronically delayed plan for affordable housing on the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn has finally been put on the fast track -- thanks to a welcome deal hammered out by City Hall, Albany, an amalgamation of community groups and developer Forest City Ratner.
But "deal" doesn't do justice to an agreement that -- we hope -- ends more than 11 years of hostilities over how downtown Brooklyn will change. Armistice might be a better word in the neighborhoods including Prospect Heights and Fort Greene.
Here are the terms of the cease-fire: Forest City Ratner has agreed to complete 2,250 units of affordable housing on the site by 2025. In return, the coalition of community groups has vowed not to sue Ratner over delays.
To ensure everyone delivers as promised, the state's Economic Development Corp. has set up a 14-member board -- appointed by the governor, the mayor, and other elected officials, including Brooklyn's borough president -- to monitor the proceedings.
They have plenty of bad blood to smooth over.
The short version from the activist perspective is that Forest City Ratner pulled a bait-and-switch. The company promised affordable housing and a new basketball arena but delivered only the arena, they believe.
The other version is that Forest City Ratner -- rather than pulling a bait-and-switch -- was slowed by a major lawsuit over eminent domain and then ran smack into the Great Recession, which hurt its financing. Result: While the arena was a go, affordable housing plans were shelved.
But the developer has now agreed to start construction in 2015 of two apartment buildings in the area that would offer 600 units to families that earn salaries ranging from 37 percent of the area median income to 165 percent. The area's median income is $85,900 for a family of four.
The deal can work for everyone. Brooklyn residents who might otherwise be priced out get a chance to stay. And downtown Brooklyn gains from a more diverse residential base.
As for the great war? Fugheddaboudit!
There's a lot missing from this editorial. First, the "fast-track" is more than a bit murky. Forest City, promising a ten-year buildout, got the "outside date" extended to 25 years. The new schedule means a 15- or 16-year buildout. There are new penalties, but also an asterisk: a delay is possible if there are no housing subsidies or market financing.
Forest City can blame the recession, which surely was a factor, but Brooklyn is booming. The value of the property the developer has been sitting on has risen.
Perhaps most importantly, Forest City, with the city's agreement, has changed the parameters of the affordable housing, at least for the next two towers. The subsidized housing, 2250 rental units, is supposed to be in five "bands," each with 20% of the units.
The upper middle-income band is supposed to encompass 20% of the units. In the next two towers, it will take up 50% of the units. That means--according to 2013 figures, which will rise by the time the towers open in 2016 or later--a four-person household would earn up to nearly $142,000 and pay perhaps $3000 for a two-bedroom.
That's below market, sure, but the residents weren't the people rallying so vociferously for a project aimed to stem gentrification.