Friday, October 24, 2014

"Accountability and Atlantic Yards": first public meeting next Thursday on settlement that led to new housing deadline, monitoring body

Also note Quality of Life meeting on November 12.

The settlement reached in June by representatives and allies of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition set a 2025 date for construction of the affordable housing (with firm penalties), and set up a new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (CDC) in exchange for promises not to sue over discriminatory impacts of delay (and thus jeopardize Forest City Ratner's pending deal with the Greenland Group).

That represented progress--the housing was originally promised in ten years, but then given a 2035 outside date after renegotiation, and affordability becomes even more elusive with time. But it came with some question marks.

Some of the project's closest neighbors, represented by the Dean Street Block Association, warned that the "oversight created is just advisory and insufficiently defined," and that the settlement, negotiated behind closed doors, ran the risk of prioritizing "one category of interest over another."

Indeed, there's a potential tension between meeting deadlines and cutting corners on construction, as the Barclays Center buildout showed. And, as soon became clear, there was significant wiggle room on the affordability issue.

First full public discussion

The first full public discussion of the settlement will be held next Thursday, Oct. 30, at 8 pm at the Soapbox Gallery at 636 Dean Street, across the street from the southeast block of the project, where construction on two towers will begin in December.

The meeting is sponsored by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, whose most prominent member, Gib Veconi, was one of the two community signatories of the settlement in June.

Thus the "Accountability and Atlantic Yards" title might also apply to the negotiations themselves.

"Learn more about the settlement reached between the Empire State Development Corporation, Forest City Ratner Companies, and community advocates," the notice (above) states, citing:
  • Shorter construction duration
  • New affordable housing commitments
  • Public oversight with local representation
Potential complications

Those issues all involve potential complications. The shorter construction timetable, while in some ways superior to an elongated buildout, could lead to cutting corners, especially since Greenland Forest City Partners has put aside plans to use modular construction--supposed to reduce the amount of workers and trucks--on the next buildings.

Even now, as noted in incident reports on Atlantic Yards Watch, there are regular violations of protocols by trucks serving the arena.

The new housing commitments contain significant wiggle room regarding the contours of affordability. In the next year, two 100% affordable rental towers will start--which also implies subsequent 100% market-rate rental buildings, rather than all 50/50 buildings, as promised--but the configuration of affordability does not match that long promised.

Instead, half the subsidized units in those towers would go to households earning 165% of area median income, or about $140,000 for a family of four (and commensurately less for smaller households). That means a two-bedroom unit would push $3,000--below market but hardly "affordable" to many who put their hopes in the project.

BrooklynSpeaks has said continued advocacy is necessary regarding the housing, which is surely true. But the change in affordability was obscured when the settlement was announced.

Also, the contours of public oversight have not fully emerged. The governor and ESDC said the CDC would "provide input on development, housing, and community impact throughout the completion of the project." BrooklynSpeaks said the CDC was "charged with overseeing compliance with all project commitments."

The official letter from the state indicated that the CDC would be "monitoring the delivery of public commitments by making policy recommendations to the ESD Board of Directors."

To "monitor" may mean to "oversee," but oversight in other contexts--as BrooklynSpeaks had long advocated--meant the project would be governed by a new dedicated board.

The distinction between what was advocated and what may result remains under debate--in both cases, the governor holds the cards--so I'll write more about it.

Empire State Development Atlantic Yards Letter by AYReport

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