Saturday, January 03, 2015

From BP Adams, suggestions about new development sites, and proposals to maintain affordable housing

A month ago, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams issued a ten-page report, Housing Brooklyn: a Road Map to Real Affordability for Brooklynites (also below).

It's definitely the beginning of a conversation, because it tosses out some ideas that are costly, complicated, and politically dicey. But it does represent a contrast with the work of predecessor Marty Markowitz, who was a little light on policy.

The complications were hinted in a 12/1/14 Wall Street Journal article headlined Brooklyn Borough President Wants to Revive Stalled Development Projects: Proposed Sites Snarled in Legal and Environmental Difficulties.

After all, as the WSJ reported, "many of the sites cited in the report haven’t been exploited because they came with hurdles, including environmental remediation [at Gowanus Green], pending litigation [at Broadway Triangle in Williamsburg- and the cost of decking over rail yards."

And one site, part of parking lot at the Brooklyn Army Terminal at the Sunset Park waterfront, would conflict with the de Blasio administration's push for industrial jobs at the complex.

Finding new sites

The article, actually, focused on the first prong of the report, to identify sites for new affordable housing, including city-owned parking lots in neighborhoods like Brighton Beach, Bensonhurst, Canarsie, Flatbush, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay.

Other sites mentioned in the report (though not the WSJ) include the Livonia Avenue Corridor in East New York, the Fulton Street Corridor in eastern Bedford-Stuyvesant and Ocean Hill, Gateway Estates near Spring Creek in East New York, Greenpoint Hospital, the Brownsville Community Justice Center, and Coney Island.

Adams suggested that New York City Housing Authority properties, including parking lots and air rights, "represent a great opportunity for developing affordable housing," but hedged on any proposal--perhaps recognize the pushback to Mayor Mike Bloomberg's proposal--by calling for "consultation with community stakeholders, community boards and local elected officials."

As for decking the 37th Street and 62nd Street corridors, the Coney Island yards, the Coney Island Rail Depot, and the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, that could work--but would require a significant cost analysis, which was certainly not performed.

(With Atlantic Yards, the MTA's appraisal for the Vanderbilt Yard apparently underestimated the cost of a deck, but the sense that Forest City had the inside track meant there was no real competition.)

The report also suggests that government agencies work with faith-based institutions "to provide the financial and technical expertise to make best use of these untapped development rights." In many recent cases, those rights have been sold on the open market.

Changing zoning rules and tax laws

The report also suggested adding a zoning bonus to previously upzoned areas like DUMBO, Brooklyn Bridge Plaza, certain blocks in Downtown Brooklyn, Park Slope’s Fourth Avenue, sections of Washington and/or Vanderbilt Avenues in Prospect Heights, Kings Highway and certain avenues in Midwood and Homecrest.

The report suggested that the city "revisit the parking requirements in Downtown Brooklyn so that developers who make use of the reduction in the parking requirements are also required to use the affordable housing bonus." Also, parking requirements should be reduced or eliminated in other transit-rich neighborhoods in exchange for affordable housing

The report recommended zoning that "permits more residential density, revises manufacturing and automotive districts and transforms low-rise commercial use to medium-density contextually developed housing" in areas such as:
Broadway corridor—sustainable East New York corridors—Gowanus’ Fourth Avenue—Sunset Park’s Eighth Avenue—Empire Boulevard (as part of a preservation- based rezoning of Crown Heights)—Atlantic Avenue corridor (Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights)—Nostrand Avenue (Brooklyn Junction to Kings Highway)— McGuiness Boulevard and sections south of the Navy Yard.
Maintaining affordable housing

The report argues that the city "should work to minimize the loss of affordable housing by requiring that such units remain affordable in perpetuity" rather than the 30-50 years typically tied to financing obligations. (The affordable units in the first Atlantic Yards building to start construction, B2, would last 35 years, and presumably the other buildings will be similar.)

"Otherwise, the accomplishments of today are lost before future generations get to share in the benefit of housing affordability," the report states. It's easier to require affordability if it's all government-owned land.

It also recommends selling city property to non-profit developers since its the mission of many to produce affordable housing.

Spreading the word

The report recommends partnering with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to spread the word about affordable housing.

It also recommends "multiple tiers of affordability to provide opportunities for low- and middle-income residents," with the tiers further split "so that someone with higher income qualifying for the same unit as someone with lower income does not have a significantly lower rental burden."(That's not the case with Atlantic Yards so far.)

It recommends extending preference boundaries beyond the community district so more people are eligible, as well as local preference for displaced residents, as well as projects that encourage seniors who are raising children

Going forward

The report concludes:
The recommendations made here are the beginning of a conversation that must continue in collaboration with local elected officials, community boards, neighborhood civic groups and other stakeholders to determine the best use of city-owned properties, the most effective way to implement policy and zoning reforms and the allocation of the needed Capital Budget appropriation and other financing mechanisms to achieve permanent affordability for Brooklynites. Brooklyn Borough Hall looks forward to continuing this dialogue and moving forward with an agreed upon agenda.
“Brooklyn no longer has any area that is undesirable,” Adams told the Wall Street Journal. That's not quite true, when you consider how many are leaving "Brooklyn" for "Brooklyn-like" neighborhoods in places like Jersey City. In other words, they want the gentrified lifestyle, not the location.


  1. Anonymous11:32 AM

    How do we address the same developers (Tolan) who say they build affordable housing and it's not when the residents are left with millions of dollars of construction defects. What do you when your developer is Donald Capcoccia, L&M Development & BFC Development all with connections with Empire State Development & a large donor to Gov. Cuomo. There seems to be no tracking mechanism in place to track previous buildings with construction defects, complaints to the Attorney Generals office and loans taken out by NYCHDC to make the repairs. Where is the oversight at HPD? How do they track the bad developers?

    1. You're making some serious charges here... but without specific details, they don't have weight. Can you point to specifics?