Saturday, December 13, 2014

Atlantic Yards construction trumps accountability: new AYCDC delayed until January 30, six weeks after groundbreaking

Also note analysis regarding the claim of "Brooklyn's newest neighborhood," the lack of real affordability in the next two towers, and the efforts to market unbuilt condos to Chinese buyers.

It's a disappointing and all-too-predictable symbol of the imbalance between the imperative of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction and the need for oversight and transparency.

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AYCDC), the gesture toward accountability achieved as part of a June settlement that set a new timetable for affordable housing, is delayed.

The first meeting will be January 30, some six weeks after it was supposed to happen, we learned yesterday in a classic Friday afternoon bury-the-news release.

That means the AYCDC won't be in place before the big groundbreaking Monday, December 15 for the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park tower, the 100% affordable building at 535 Carlton Avenue. It's the first tower built by Greenland Forest City Partners, the joint venture between Forest City Ratner and its new partner/overseer, the Shanghai government-owned Greenland Group.

The AYCDC timing is not what was promised, as I wrote earlier this week. The 14-member advisory/monitoring body was supposed to be established by the time of the groundbreaking, and meeting soon after.

It is hardly the fully empowered governance body that advocates originally sought, but it's been portrayed as the best result possible by those who negotiated the settlement.

They agreed to shelve a potential fair housing lawsuit in exchange for a new timetable, with penalties for delay, and a new AYCDC, its duties and budget less defined.

"Until the CDC is up and running, there’s going to be tremendous doubt," acknowledged housing advocate Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee in response to skepticism from the project's nearest neighbors, "as to whether we’re going to see any of the accountability we’ve all been advocating."

Past promises, reason for chagrin

At an 11/19/14 public meeting, we were told the board would meet during the week of December 15. (In September, a state official said the goal for the first meeting was no later than December 15.)

Sam Filler, director of the Atlantic Yards Project, said in November the appointments should be announced in early December. Nine of the board members are gubernatorial appointments, while five other officials have appointments.

The delay in appointing the AYCDC should give pause to the elected officials and community representatives who endorsed the compromise announced in June and who presumably will show up on Monday to applaud the groundbreaking, signaling the "stronger community alignment" Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin hailed.

The actual affordability of the apartments should give more pause, since the subsidized building is skewed toward middle-income households who'd pay some $3000 for a two-bedroom unit and commensurately for units of other sizes.

That configuration, though it all qualifies as affordable under the city's rubric, diverges significantly from that promised in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding and the Community Benefits Agreement.

The announcement, and the lapse

I'd been asking for weeks when the AYCDC would meet.

Late yesterday afternoon, in the last business hours before the groundbreaking, community members got an announcement from Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project:
Please find attached documents creating and incorporating the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AYCDC). The AYCDC was incorporated on November 25, 2014, within the six-month timeframe set by the ESD Board of Directors. Now that the Corporation has been established, the AYCDC Board of Directors will meet on January 30, 2015, at 2:00 P.M. in Brooklyn, New York. We will notify you of the specific location in the near future. The January meeting allows local elected officials sufficient time to identify their appointments to the AYCDC, as well as sufficient time for appointees to complete their ethics and background checks. We look forward to working with all of you.
So they met the required six-month timeframe for incorporation--duh--but they did not meet the public promise that the board would be named and operating by now.

The statement indicates that some local elected officials have not yet identified their appointments to the AYCDC. That seems a bit bizarre, since they've known since the end of June that appointments were necessary--and they were due in October. Certain officials, like Assemblyman Walter Mosley, have clearly met the deadline.

As for "sufficient time for appointees to complete their ethics and background checks," well, that should've been considered when the public was promised the AYCDC.

Neither Forest City or Greenland deserve blame for this--they long ago indicated a December groundbreaking--though the delay surely serves their interests. This is a governmental responsibility, and a governmental lapse.

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