2014 AMI is actually lower, at $83.900, but AMI when the
the buildings open surely will be higher; click to enlarge
And Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was "exactly what we came here to do." So it's worth looking back at a campaign debate when the topic came up.
During the 10/22/13 debate between Democratic nominee de Blasio and Republican nominee Joe Lhota, the moderator, Maurice DuBois, asked, "You've both made it clear that you'd aggressively build affordable housing in our city. I'm curious, so, in a city where average income is around $50,000 a year, what should the rent be for a two-bedroom apartment?"
"Well, this is what I'd say about affordable housing," de Blasio responded. "We have to build--my plan is 200,000 units over the next ten years. And we achieve that with very strong requirements for developers that they have to create affordable housing if they want the opportunity--"
"--Sir, I'm looking for a number," DuBois interjected.
A $1,500 apartment and a sliding scale
"I'm getting there," de Blasio continued. "If they want an opportunity to build in this city, using our tax codes, opening up vacant land... There's a series of things we have to do... Look, I think what's happening in this city, 46% of people at or near the poverty level. For a lot of folks, annual income, 30, 40, 50,000 [dollars], so they need a rent that they could afford, might be in the 1,000 to 1,500 dollar a month range, for example."
"So, given that, would you force--" DuBois asked.
"--That's one example, we're obviously talking about a sliding scale, depending on income," de Blasio said.
It's not unreasonable to expect a sliding scale, and the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park towers obviously represent that.
However, that sliding scale was supposed to be evenly distributed. For the next two towers, however, the upper-middle-income category gets half the affordable units, as opposed to 20%, as long promised.
Yet de Blasio said, "This is a symbol of what we intend to do with our affordable housing plan over and over and over and over."
Making it work, and what really happened
The moderator, rather than establishing that the sliding scale should be fairly distributed, instead spoke to the anxiety--real or not--expressed by developers.
"Would you force developers to build it," asked DuBois. "How can they make that work financially?"
"Because what we'd offer is opportunities that they can't have right now," de Blasio said. " The public sector controls the spigot of development. We would give opportunities to developers to developer areas they're not developing yet, to have the height and density to truly make it profitable."
de Blasio's contradictions
However, Atlantic Yards was already approved, and Forest City Ratner was obligated to start another tower by this month or pay penalties. Rather than hold the new Greenland Forest City Partners to that obligation, at the income ranges specified, de Blasio allowed the skewing of those ranges but still claimed "affordable housing."
"But we'd say the only way you get to develop is if you give us enough affordable housing and, with enough mix of income levels covered, to actually represent what's going on in the city today," de Blasio continued.
Does six-figure affordable housing "represent what's going on in the city today"? The need is greatest among those with lower incomes.
"We have the power in New York City to do that, to require that," de Blasio said in closing. "Mayor Bloomberg wouldn't do that. He was lenient toward the real estate industry. He had many situations where they promised to create affordable housing, but they didn't follow through on the promise. I would make it a requirement."
de Blasio too has been lenient, just in different ways.
Doing the math
When Lhota got his chance, he said, "Somewhere between $750 and $1250 for someone that's making $50,000 a year."
If we assume that a household in affordable housing pays 30% of their income in rent, then that works out to $1,250 a month.