Sunday, August 31, 2014

As Barclays Center prepares for next show, errant trucks fill no-standing zones, cause traffic jam on Flatbush after wrong turn attempt

It's been a slow summer at the Barclays Center, but now that there's another major event--a one-off that apparently requires many specialized deliveries--(apparently) inexperienced and/or poorly managed truckers are violating the law and/or protocols while making deliveries.

As posted yesterday on Atlantic Yards Watch, several 18-wheel trucks making deliveries to the Barclays Center--apparently for the 9/9/14 Fashion Rocks show, a "television special celebrating the powerful relationship between fashion and music"--were parking and idling yesterday in no-standing zones on Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.

Missing the easy turn off Flatbush onto Dean

Below is one example: trucks should traveling south along Flatbush Avenue to make a left onto Dean Street to enter the arena loading dock, which is located on Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues,

Dean Street is already relatively narrow, not built for trucks, and it's been further narrowed by scaffolding and barriers set up for the construction of the B2 modular tower. So it's a tight fit even to make the left turn, which offers a driver lots of latitude.

In the video below, the northbound truck is trying to make a right onto Dean, a very difficult challenge. The result is a brief traffic jam on Flatbush, a major avenue, at about 4 pm. The driver ultimately decided to abort the turn.

For the full post, see Atlantic Yards Watch.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Looking at the very variable prices for Brooklyn Nets single-game tickets

Remember how the Brooklyn Nets this past March claimed that upcoming "Season ticket prices remain the same from the 2013-14 season and start at $45 per seat"?

That's not so. For the first season, they started at $15, part of a longstanding--if short-lived--plan to offer 2,000 seats at $15, and in the second, season tickets started at $25.

Now that single-game Brooklyn Nets tickets are on sale, it's interesting to see how dramatic the price differences are depending on the opponent. Some games cost well more than $45, starting at $110, while some cost far less, starting at $20.

This is not unusual, apparently. The Chicago Bulls, for example, say that "single game ticket prices, depending on the game date and the amount of ticket availability, are subject to change without notice." 

Below, some selected screen shots showing current ticket prices. In Brooklyn, prices likely will change as the season develops and the number of available seats fluctuates.

Note that not only do the cheap seats fluctuate in price, so too do the moderate-priced and more expensive seats.

For now, it's not surprising that games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks command the highest prices. It is surprising how cheap, relatively speaking, some seats are to see the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

From more expensive to less expensive

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving: $110.

The New York Knicks may not be very good, but they have a strong local fan base: $79.

The Chicago Bulls are a solid team: $75.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the top teams in the league: $69.

The Indiana Pacers may be as good as last year, but likely not: $50.

The Miami Heat still have Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh: $45.

The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship last year, but seats are only $35? A bargain.

The Milwaukee Bucks will be terrible, but they will have former Nets coach Jason Kidd: $35.

The Philadelphia 76ers will be lousy: $25.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are rebuilding: $20.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Barclays Center releases September 2014 event calendar: six concerts, two free events, one hockey game (plus construction constraints)

According to the recently released Barclays Center event calendar for September 2014, there will be six ticketed concerts, with a maximum expected attendance at 14,000, two free afternoon community events, and an Islanders-Devils exhibition hockey game.

The  Back to School Bash--an educational resource fair with live music, games, prizes, food trucks, and more--will be 0/13/14 on the arena plaza from 11am-3pm.

The Brooklyn Beat Festival, from 4-5 pm 9/15/14 on the plaza features Dancewave with contemporary choreography, then Bed Stuy Veterans demonstrating NYC Bruk-Up, a style of movement based on a dance form that originated in Jamaica.

September 2013

The September 2013 calendar had eight concerts scheduled, plus boxing, pro wrestling, and a hockey game.

Impact on arena access

According to an arena construction update:
Starting in July 2014, you will notice construction on Atlantic Ave. for a brand new Long Island Rail Road tunnel. Please be aware of the following temporary traffic pattern changes:
  • Minimal space for pick up/drop offs near the Calvin Klein VIP
  • Atlantic Ave. median is now a travel lane for eastbound traffic
  • Pacific St. between Carlton and 6th Aves. is one-way going westbound
  • Pedestrian walkways are not expected to be effected until September
  • Other areas for pick up/drop off (adjacent to Barclays Center) are on Flatbush Ave. northbound between 5th Ave and Atlantic Ave.
Our operations team is working closely with city agencies to mitigate traffic. However, we advise Barclays Center guests to allow for additional travel time when driving to the arena. As always, we encourage our guests to use mass transit to Barclays Center, which is located adjacent to one of the largest transportation hubs in New York City.
The Long Island Rail Road tunnel, to be located under Atlantic Ave. by the arena, is a key component of the new rail yards for the Pacific Park development, and will greatly improve efficiency and provide necessary progress for the LIRR system.
We will continue to provide you with extensive communication during the construction period and are committed to ensuring the best possible experience for all of our guests.
(Emphasis added)

Those traffic pattern changes are indeed "temporary," but some--including parking prohibition on Atlantic Avenue--will last 24 months.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bitter dispute between Forest City and Skanska over cost overruns stalls work at B2 modular tower; raises questions about pre-fab future

Updated with a few details from New York Times coverage and the Wall Street Journal update.

Forest City Ratner has had very high hopes for its modular construction plan, at one point calling it their "iPhone moment" and claiming to have "Cracked the Code" for high-rise modular, expecting to build towers faster than conventional construction, steadily supplied by modules fabricated at a new factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

But the first tower, the 32-story, 363-unit (half market, half subsidized) B2, which broke ground in December 2012, faced steady delays. It was originally said to take 20 months (though Forest City in one earlier interview hoped for 14 months!), but the delivery date then became December 2014. As of April 2014, it was slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Even that may be too optimistic, now that Forest City and its general contractor, Skanska USA, are in a bitter dispute regarding cost overruns (worth tens of millions of dollars, according to a source quoted by the Wall Street Journal), which has caused the jointly owned factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to furlough workers.

That dispute is such that Forest City's spokesman blamed Skanska for "failures and missteps as the construction manager" and claimed the firm is trying "to to weasel out" of its obligations.

It's a reminder of the prescient warning, as I wrote in a 10/31/11 analysis of the secret history of Forest City's prefab plans, from Brooklyn architect Jim Garrison: "The American modular industry typically builds up to four stories. It has not yet built a 30-plus-story modular tower or anything nearly that tall. The challenges are those of engineering, assembly, and production. "

“Having designed several modular buildings I can say that they are intricate and if they are to be cost effective require development totally outside of normal building practice," he stated. "They are more like product or automobile design where assembly and detail may be considered together.

And it's a reminder of the verb in the headline in a 7/26/12 Engineering News-Record article, Developer Gambles on Modular High-Rise for Atlantic Yards Sports Village.

What next?

Forest City's charges sounds like bridge-burning, a prelude not to mediation but rather to a lawsuit. That would be a significant snag, since the tower, located at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, is only ten stories complete, less than one-third of the total.

And even if by chance they wanted to open a truncated building, they can't: the tax-exempt bonds and subsidies are premised on a completed building, of course, and a full rent roll would be necessary to recoup costs.

“This is not a referendum on modular,” Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin told the Times, “it’s a monetary dispute. We’re confident we’ll get the building built. But we’re doing what we have to do to protect the company, the project and the business.”

Then again, as the Journal observed:
However the dispute is resolved, the struggles with costs undermine the tower's role as a pioneering project. The "code," said Mr. Kennedy of Skanska, "hasn't quite been cracked."
Note that, unlike the rest of the towers, which will be owned 70% by Forest City's new partner/overseer, the Greenland Group, and developed by Greenland Forest City Partners, B2 is co-owned by the Arizona State Retirement System, which likely is not happy its expected investment return has been jeopardized.

(The ASRS is actually the majority owner, since funding for the venture "will be 75 percent from ASRS and 25 percent from Forest City," the developer said in a 12/21/12 press release, which noted that "Forest City will serve as fund manager" for the $400 million fund, which invests in multiple buildings.)

Greenland has announced that the next set of towers will be built conventionally, but Forest City's Ashley Cotton said 6/27/14 that "as soon we can, we'll move forward with more modular buildings." It's an understandable wish to want to recoup their investment in both the factory and in research and development, and to perfect a process they hoped to sell to other developers. That plan is in question.

As noted in the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Alert, issued 8/18/14, no more modules were delivered to the B2 tower in the previous two weeks, leaving a total of 297 (of 930), with the tenth floor complete. Erection of 11th floor modules was begin in September 2014.

The dispute emerges

According to an Aug. 26 letter (obtained by Capital New York), an attorney representing FCRC Modular told Skanska that its threat to unilaterally furlough workers at the factory violated the joint agreement since such "such decisions may not be made by any officer of FC+Skanska without approval of the Board of Directors," but the board did not approve it.

(Note that Forest City and Greenland also have an agreement which requires mutual assent on major decisions.)

Thus, wrote attorney Harold Weinberger, Skanska was was breaching the agreement, which would make it "responsible for the significant damage these actions will cause."

Richard Kennedy, chief operating officer of Skanska USA, told Capital New York, Work stops at Atlantic Yards as partners fight over cost, “It finally got to the point where we said, ‘OK, this project is requiring from us an investment that is much more significant than anything we ever anticipated or agreed to."

In the Wall Street Journal, Eliot Brown, who had the scoop, wrote that Kennedy blamed "'technological issues' that made it difficult to fabricate the modules, which he said were the fault of the design." The Times noted that the contract to provide the modules is $117 million.

Forest City responded with a blistering statement blaming Skanska's "own failures and missteps” and violation of a fixed-price agreement. “Now faced with over-runs, they are employing a typical strategy to try to weasel out of that obligation,” said Jonathan Rosen.

“We are extremely disappointed that Skanska has unilaterally and wrongfully stopped work at our factory—unnecessarily putting the livelihoods of hundreds of employees at risk and causing unneeded delays in a critical project for New York City’s future,” he said. “Forest City remains deeply committed to completing B2 and meeting our commitments to the people of Brooklyn … We intend to pursue all of our rights and remedies under the law to enforce our agreement and resume work at the factory.”

The furlough notice

According to the notice below, obtained by Crain's New York Business, FCS Modular told workers that "a significant commercial dispute exists between the Atlantic Yards B2 Owner, the project Owner, and Skanska USA Building, the project Contractor, in connection with the B2 project. FCS is not a party to that dispute, but our factory operation here at the Brooklyn Navy Yard depends directly on the continuation of production of the B2 this time we do not know if, or when, the dispute will be resolved."

Previous optimism

From Skanska blog, 12/23/13, Construction history in the making: Skanska raises the first modules at B2 Atlantic Yards, the world’s tallest modular building
Construction history was changed December 12 in New York City when the Skanska team raised the first modules into place at B2, the 32-story residential tower that will be the world’s tallest modular building.
Nine hundred thirty modules – weighing between 10,000 lbs. and 40,000 lbs. – will go into this tower, with the units being assembled by the Forest City Ratner /Skanska team at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But the focus that chilly Thursday morning was on that first module. It was just after 2 am when a tractor-trailer pulled that oversize load away from the Navy Yard for a one-and-a-half mile trip to the Atlantic Yards project site. At 9:30 a.m., the crane hoisted the module into place. Union ironworkers took 15 minutes to make the structural connections.
“There was a certain sense of excitement and a little bit of nervousness, just like on any jobsite when you’re moving and lifting something new,” said Susan Jenkins, Skanska vice president and operations head of the modular assembly plant. “And definitely a sense of pride for Skanska, and for myself being part of Skanska.”
Jenkins added: “It was a tremendous moment. A lot of people – from both Skanska and our partner and client Forest City Ratner – have worked very hard to develop and make modular construction possible on this project.”
When the modules leave the 100,000-square-foot Navy Yard assembly plant – operated by a joint venture of Forest City and Skanska – they are fully assembled, including kitchens, bathrooms and appliances. This isn’t how a building normally goes up, not even for Skanska, which has done much with off-site construction of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems on many projects (especially in the healthcare sector). Fully modular construction was needed on this project to ensure efficient, safe and sustainable construction.
Now that lifting modules into place has begun, it won’t be a daily activity, Jenkins said. Some days will be dedicated to setting into place the steel brace framing that rises the height of the 348,000-square-foot tower, and also surveying. However, the assembly plant will continue to send module units to the site. Our team plans to have at least two floors of modules – of which there are six types – ready and waiting at the Navy Yard to be sent to the site for the duration of the project, designed by SHoP architects and Arup engineers,

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

As state is poised to give Fresh Direct subsidies, project relies on funds from immigrant investors under dubious EB-5 program; pitch in China was misleading

This isn't about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, or even a similar megaproject, but the EB-5 angle is too glaring to ignore.

Update: the subsidies were approved unanimously. Nearly everyone making public comment offered support of the project, while one representative of South Bronx Unite asked the board to take more time and acknowledge the health impacts. No one mentioned EB-5, though it's obviously crucial to the project.


At a board meeting (webcast) this morning starting at 9:30, Empire State Development, the state economic development agency, is set to approve what the agenda describes as:
A. Bronx (New York City Region – Bronx County) – Fresh Direct Capital – Urban and Community Development Program – Urban and Community Project Development Assistance (Capital Grant) – and Metropolitan Economic Revitalization Fund (Capital Loan) – Findings and Determinations Pursuant to Sections 5(4), 16-d and 10(g) of the Act; Authorization to Adopt the Proposed General Project Plan; Authorization to Make a Loan and a Grant and to Take Related Actions; Determination on No Significant Effect on the Environment
From ESD Board Materials; go to p. 51
In other words, ESD is about to give Fresh Direct a $9 million grant and a $1 million loan to move/expand from Long Island City to the South Bronx.

That's on top of $10.5 million from the New York City Industrial Development Authority and $1 million from the New York State Department of Transportation and $5 million in New Markets Tax Credit Equity.

Add $15 million from the investment fund Brightwood Capital, $40 million in the company itself, and a whopping $84,168,000 in an EB-5 loan.

Unmentioned are previous promises (which may have been adjusted) of $18.9 million in state Excelsior tax credits; $4 million in state energy grants and incentives; up to $1 million in vouchers for the purchase of electric vehicles; about $74 million in city sales tax exemptions, mortgage recording tax deferral, and real estate tax exemptions; $4.9 million in city energy benefits; $1 million capital grant from Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation; and a $3 million loan and $500,000 capital grant from the Borough President

Pitching Fresh Direct to Chinese investors
Let's put aside the strangeness of the city and state subsidizing a cross-borough move based on a perceived threat from New Jersey, an unlikely base for a delivery service that needs quick access to Manhattan.

Or that Fresh Direct is moving after having gotten subsidies to stay in Queens through 2025.

Or that neighbors (see South Bronx Unite) pose some heavy concerns about the project's environmental impacts, and that if the promised job total is not reached, there's no "clawback provision" to recover subsidies. (See Good Jobs New York timeline.)

Looking at EB-5: total funding

The really strange thing is the reliance, according to ESD Board Materials (p, 51ff.), on the EB-5 immigrant investor program, in which foreign millionaires, mostly from China, park $500,000 in a purportedly job-creating investment, get green cards for themselves and their families, and later get their money back. (In this case, they're getting a relatively high--for EB-5--rate of 4.5%.)

The pitch in China, translated
The developer gets cheap capital. The public is supposed to get 10 jobs for each investor.

According to promotional material supplied almost surely by the New York City Regional Center, the private investment pool set up to market EB-5 investments (and reap fees), the project would not be $166 million in total, but $208 million.

Looking at EB-5: percentage of funding

That's not the only misleading part. EB-5 funding is said to make up just 40% of the project, rather than more than 50%.

And Fresh Direct is said to be providing the rest of the funds, which is clearly not true.

In fact, the "government support" is key in reassuring potential investors that the project is solid.

Looking at EB-5: projected funding doubled in less than a year

Also particularly strange is, as of last December, when the project was up for Bronx Economic Development Corporation funding via the New York Empowerment Zone Corporation, the EB-5 funding was only supposed to be $40 million. See graphic below.

That's a huge jump in eight months or so.

Looking at EB-5: the jobs

As noted in the graphic above, 170 investors contributing $85 million--or, apparently, 168 contributing $84 million--must create about 1,700 jobs.  And the EB-5 project, according to an economist's report--not a head count--is said to create 2,145 jobs.

However, the New York City Economic Development Corporation has said the new project would retain nearly 2,000 existing jobs, create almost 1,000 new jobs, and create about 684 construction jobs.

Pitching Fresh Direct to Chinese investors
So, even under this optimistic scenario, there would be less than 1,700 new jobs.

However, we must consider an extraordinarily generous feature of the EB-5 program (see overall analysis in Fortune), one which makes the program especially attractive to developers and entrepreneurs, since, as long as they go through the hoops of the EB-5 project, they can profit by selling public property (visas) they should not own.

No wonder, according to the Wall Street Journal, the annual quota for visas is subscribed. (No, despite the caption in the article, EB-5 funds did not help build the Barclays Center.)

Job creation for the immigrant investors is calculated based on the value of the entire project, not their investment. So the job calculations should be based on the entire $166 million project. (Or, if they're based on the purported $208 million project, they're completely bogus.)

Another twist: different state programs have different job requirements. In order to retain state tax credits, Fresh Direct must create 946 new jobs. But ESD's grant and loan merely require retention of 1,949 jobs through 2025, according to the graphic below, from board materials.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My essay from Next City: "After 11 Years of Controversy, Atlantic Yards Becomes Pacific Park Brooklyn"

See: After 11 Years of Controversy, Atlantic Yards Becomes Pacific Park Brooklyn, from the online magazine Next City.

It distills several of the arguments I've been making about the name change.

PHNDC forum tomorrow for candidates vying to fill Millman's Assembly seat, Adams's Senate seat

52nd Assembly District
This year, two legislative seats representing parts of Prospect Heights are open, given the retirement of Assemblymember Joan Millman and the ascension of state Senator Eric Adams to the Borough Presidency.

So, tomorrow night, Wednesday, August 27, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) will host a moderated discussion with candidates running for office in Brooklyn’s 52nd Assembly District and 20th State Senate District

52nd Assembly—Doug Biviano, Pete Sikora and Jo Anne Simon
20th State Senate—Rubain Dorancy, Jesse Hamilton and Guillermo Philpotts
Moderator—Janet Babin of WNYC

When: Wednesday, August 27, 7:30PM

Where: Duryea Presbyterian Church, 362 Sterling Place (corner of Underhill Avenue) [Map]
The Democratic primary election is Tuesday, September 9.
20th Senate District

Community members may submit questions for the panels using Google Moderator. All questions will be reviewed and compiled by the forum organizers prior to the event.

Links to coverage

Here's a past state Senate debate and analysis of those backing Dorancy and Hamilton.

Here's last night's Assembly debate and a summary of that debate.

Here's past coverage of the race, focusing on Simon and Sikora, and a recent account of Biviano's success in getting in the debate last night.

Monday, August 25, 2014

From Forest City's latest investor presentation: Atlantic Yards becomes Pacific Park (gif), office space still ignored

First, a gif chronicling the morphing of the Atlantic Yards plan to Pacific Park, according to slides from Forest City Enterprises investor presentations December 2013, February 2014, and August 2014.

Note how only in the latest slide, announcing Pacific Park Brooklyn, highlights "8 acres of landscaped open space." That open space became much more important with the name change.

(Also note how the outlines of all the towers are irregular, unlike in the site plan released with the Pacific Park rebranding.)
Atlantic Yards to Pacific Park Brooklyn on Make A Gif

From the latest  Investor Presentation

The below slides are from the August 2014 Investor Presentation, as disclosed to the SEC.

Note that the project plan, as in previous iterations, does not mention the promised office space, source of the largest share of projected full-time jobs.

Brooklyn is a big part of Forest City Enterprises' business.

The Barclays Center is now the "anchor of our Pacific Park Brooklyn mixed-use project."

There's no mention of the fact that B2 has been delayed a year and was supposed to open in December 2014. Or that the next towers in the project would be built via conventional means.

"I guess we all just have to adjust": music critic, once no fan of arena, celebrates Arcade Fire show

In Metro 8/24/14, Gina Angelotti, who moved to Prospect Heights in approximately 2005, wrote Arcade Fire concert review, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, Aug. 22.

The lead to this review, I have to say, is exactly what developer Bruce Ratner and former Borough President Marty Markowitz were hoping for, an acknowledgment that what happens inside the Barclays Center erases previous opposition:
Moving Past the Feeling (Or, A personal account why I was — and still am — so moved by Arcade Fire)
When I moved to Prospect Heights, Brooklyn nearly a decade ago, I soon became aware that I was living in the epicenter of gentrification and development in the borough. I moved into a neighborhood that would rapidly change faces and fa├žades, and I was by default among those thousands causing it, even though like many of its longtime residents, I also begrudged the idea of a sports arena breaking ground just blocks from my new apartment, on the corner where my new favorite dive bar stood. At the time, I wanted to live in “old Brooklyn,” a city that I’d constructed in my imagination naively based on television series like “The Cosby Show” and that looked very different form the one I landed in after abandoning the Florida suburbs. Somehow it didn’t matter then; I still optimistically clung to my ideals. And my soundtrack to that dying world that I was looking at through fresh eyes was an album thematically about growing up and that I listened to relentlessly, aptly called “Funeral.” I was the child that the Arcade Fire described in verse, holding my mistake up.
Nine years have passed — my first roommates have all escaped New York, the dive bar was demolished and I can no longer visualize what it once was that the Barclays Center arena replaced — but two things haven’t changed; I still call Prospect Heights home and I still tear up (with bittersweet longing for a lost time? With awe at how far I’ve come?) when I listen to Arcade Fire. I never thought that I would be beaming with joy while mouthing the lyrics to “Neighborhood #1″ — a song about the march of time — inside an arena I’d once opposed being built in my neighborhood, nor did I imagine myself among those filling the cold space between our energized bodies and the arena’s high ceiling with the wordless yet loaded chorus of “Wake Up.” I guess we all just have to adjust.
And, of course, forget.

That's not a surprising phenomenon. But there may be other ways to refract Arcade Fire and Prospect Heights nostalgia.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Post: court papers indicate that indicted lobbyist Lowe admits fraud; consultant had ties to Forest City, though not part of charges

The New York Post reported 8/2014, Ex-Sampson aide admits to swiping $100K from officials
Indicted state Sen. John Sampson has been thrown under the bus to the feds by a former top aide who is also in big trouble with the law, new court papers reveal.
Melvin Lowe admitted during confidential meetings with prosecutors that he defrauded the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee out of $100,000 – and gave $75,000 of the money to “Senator #1,” the filing says. A source said “Senator #1” is Lowe’s ex-boss, Sampson (D-Brooklyn), who is fighting charges that he, himself, also committed fraud and tax crimes.
Lowe has admitted that he failed to file tax returns for 2010 to 2012, despite earning $923,000. His trial is September 2.

As I wrote in July, 2010, DSCC consultant Lowe, connected to Sampson and Ratner (and Boyland's challenge to Montgomery), racks up the bucks. City Hall News broke the news that "Largely Unknown DSCC Consultant Cleared $300k In Last Year."

Here's brief coverage from 8/31/09 about Lowe's DSCC hiring, his role in Forest City's Ridge Hill project, and a report (which I never corroborated) of consulting work regarding Atlantic Yards.

When the charges surfaced

Last October, I wrote Former Forest City Ratner lobbyist Melvin Lowe, Sampson crony, charged with corruption.

None of the charges involved Forest City or any other developer. But it continued a remarkable string of corruption charges regarding people with ties to Forest City, including Carl Kruger, Sandy Annabi, Richard Lipsky, and William Rapfogel, as well as Sampson.

Lowe was mentioned, though not called as a witness, during the 2012 Yonkers corruption trial. "Are you familiar with a company known as Westchester Invaders?" asked William Aronwald, defense attorney for Annabi, the former Council Member who flipped her vote to benefit Forest City's Ridge Hill project and was later convicted.

"Isn't it true Forest City Ratner made a contribution of $10,000 to Westchester Invaders at Council Member [Patricia] McDow's or [FCR lobbyist] Melvin Lowe's request?"

"I can't recall," replied former Forest City governmental affairs EVP Bruce Bender.

As I wrote, Westchester Invaders is a drum and bugle corps that McDow has saluted, but I couldn't find corroborating evidence of a Forest City Ratner contribution. Then again, it would not be out of line with company practices in Brooklyn.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bruce Ratner again gives to AG Schneiderman campaign and Kings County Democrats

From the latest round of campaign finance filings, we learn that Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner contributed $5,000 in July--as did his wife, Dr. Pamela Lipkin--to the re-election campaign for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman,

Those $5,000 sums are larger than most of Schneiderman's many recent contributions, but smaller than dozens of even larger ones.

Ratner also gave $5,000 to the Kings County Democratic Party (aka Kings County Democratic County Committee) in June.

In 2012, Ratner gave $10,000 to Schneiderman and $4,000 to Kings Democrats. In 2010, he gave $12,500 to Schneiderman.

I don't think we can connect Ratner's contributions to Schneiderman's inaction on some Atlantic Yards-related items, such as the debts of BUILD or the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership's reported lobbying. But, as we know, contributors are more likely to get their calls returned and/or attention paid to their issues.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Video touts "how the community won accountability" for Atlantic Yards affordable housing, acknowledges need to make future units more affordable

At event: Comp. Scott Stringer and Council
Member Laurie Cumbo, via NYC Politics
On the eve of the celebration for "Brooklyn's win in the fight for affordable housing at Atlantic Yards," held last night by BrooklynSpeaks and the Fifth Avenue Committee, BrooklynSpeaks released a video, below, described in a tweet as "How the community won accountability for #affordableHousing at #AtlanticYards, and what's next."

However, as I explained in a long article yesterday for BKLYNR, the affordable housing in the next two towers diverges significantly from previous promises and from the configuration--at least in income bands--in the first tower.

As I wrote last week, FAC and BrooklynSpeaks can celebrate success, notably the new 2025 deadline and penalties for delays in the housing.

But even if the actual affordability was outside the scope of negotiations--secret negotiations, the results announced as a fait accompli--it's both off-key and misleading to proclaim triumph without caveats.

So the video, which does acknowledge a few caveats, is worth a close look at the framing. The issue of affordability is downplayed--though addressed more squarely than previously--and the need for future change is acknowledged.

Framing the issue

As noted below, Gib Veconi of BrooklynSpeaks says in the video, "Nearly a third of the next 590 affordable apartments to be built at Atlantic Yards, will be offered to residents earning 60% of AMI [Area Median Income] or less." That's approximately the average income in Brooklyn.

"That obviously leaves an opportunity for deeper affordability through changes in city subsidy policy for the next 1480 units to come," states Veconi. 

That's one way of putting it. Another way would be to say "through adherence to the original promise," in which affordable units are not skewed toward the upper middle-income band.

After all, once ground for the first Atlantic Yards  tower was announced, BrooklynSpeaks and other civic groups "expressed outrage over Forest City Ratner Companies’ (FCRC) intention to use New York City Housing Development Corporation bonds to subsidize apartments too small for working families, and too expensive for the majority of Brooklynites."

Yes, the skewing in the first tower toward smaller units has been remedied in the next two towers. And the press release did focus on the fact that the two-bedroom affordable units were skewed toward the upper middle-income band.

But the same general criticism--that the units are "too expensive for the majority of Brooklynites" and skewed (in all unit sizes) to the upper middle-income band--surely applies to the next two towers, since half the units would go to a cohort paying $1,967 for a studio, $2,470 a one-bedroom, $2,972 for a two-bedroom, and $3,430 for a three-bedroom.

The video

Leading off

The video begins with the Rev. Clinton Miller of Brown Memorial Baptist Church talking about the importance of affordable housing, and resident Benita Clark expressing a common, if very general, understanding: "I was really excited because they said they were going to have affordable apartments."

The professional--professional-sounding narrator explains that contracts signed after the 2009 re-approval allowed delay until 2035, though the project was long supposed to take ten years.

"Until now, the Atlantic Yards project has really been the worst of both worlds," says Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue committee. "We've had a multi-billion dollar project that has really fueled speculation, gentrification, and displacement. At the same time, the affordable housing that was supposed to mitigate those gentrification and displacement pressures has been delayed."

Each year affordable housing units are delayed, fewer African-American residents will be eligible to receive community preference in the lottery, the narrator explains, and attorneys elaborate on the concept of "disparate impact."

"After we completed our legal research, we met separately with Forest City Ratner and Empire State Development," states Veconi. "They concluded that it was preferable to agree to accelerate affordable housing than to risk the potential of a civil rights lawsuit."

Unmentioned is the pressure on Forest City to get the pending deal done to sell 70% of the project going forward to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, and the increasing attractiveness of Brooklyn real estate, as well as the benefit to the pending partnership of producing affordable housing that would get higher rents.

The reasons to celebrate

Though the new timetable doesn't mean the housing is ten "ten years ahead of the current schedule"--as framed in a TV clip in the video--Marjona Jones of the Brown Community Development Corporation says, more accurately, "it does give us access to affordable housing sooner."

de la Uz notes that the promises are now part of a government agreement, not a side agreement, and that liquidated damages will be deposited in the New York City Housing Trust Fund, which serves low-income families (see page 2 of this letter).

Getting to affordability

At about 7:25 of a video lasting 10:40, the narrator addresses affordability, noting that federal AMI is far higher than Brooklyn income.

After Veconi's quotes, de la Uz points to the importance of the timetable, because federal AMI increases three times faster than local AMI. (I'm not sure about that, because HUD AMI was actually dialed back for 2014.)

The narrator says the agreement did not address affordability, as the lawsuit did not have a basis to challenge city subsidy policy.

Well, that's a question mark. It may not have been part of the lawsuit, but they didn't have to give the agreement their blessing. They had some leverage. Without a peek inside the negotiations--remember, Public Advocate Letitia James said, "To negotiate this deal behind my back is totally unacceptable"--we can't be certain.

Going forward, learning lessons

de la Uz states, "There really is an ongoing need for advocacy to make the affordable units at Atlantic Yards affordable to Brooklyn's families."

That's a question for the yet-to-be established Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation. But the groups involved, by downplaying or ignoring the levels of affordability as they announced the settlement, already missed an opportunity.

The narrator notes that rezonings, even with affordable housing, tend to accelerate gentrification, so "the accountability of such projects must be insured so promised affordable housing is delivered on a timely basis to meet the needs of populations threatened with displacement."

"The Atlantic Yards settlement represents the culmination of seven years of advocacy by community groups and local elected officials to achieve accountability at a major development project," states Veconi.

"I think it's very important for people to realize the extent that the groups and the individual plaintiffs were willing to go to to demand that they were heard, by the developer and by our elected officials," Jones says.

"This is really critical, because more and more affordable housing is expected to be provided by public-private partnerships," Veconi continues. "We have to show that the community can fight for accountability to hold developers to hold developers to the promises they make."

As noted, they haven't done that regarding affordability in the next towers.

Renee Mintz, a resident of Community District 3, says, generally, "I feel really good about being a part of this, because what it says to me is that anybody can get together and make sure that their story is told and that the people are heard."

Developers and government have an obligation to help mitigate the effects of gentrification and displacement in the communities in which projects are allowed to develop," the narrator concludes. "Although continued vigilance will still be required, the Atlantic Yards settlement shows that coalitions of civic organizations, affordable housing advocates and elected officials who are strategic and stay the course can be successful in impacting public policy, and in ensuring accountability."

Only at the end is there mention of Greenland buying a stake in Atlantic Yards, and the renaming of the project to Pacific Park.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My article on Atlantic Yards housing from BKLYNR: "When ‘Affordable’ Rents Push $3,000"

Update: also see my analysis of the BrooklynSpeaks video touting an accountability win.

I have an article in today's semi-monthly edition of the web magazine BKLYNR headlined When ‘Affordable’ Rents Push $3,000: With the controversial Atlantic Yards project — recently rebranded ‘Pacific Park’ — the devil is in the details:
The way Mayor Bill de Blasio put it on June 27, it sounded like alchemy. There was a new plan — hammered out with the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the blessing of some Brooklyn activists who’d threatened to sue — to speed up the long-delayed affordable housing promised at the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn.
...“We are determined to jump-start affordable housing at Atlantic Yards,” de Blasio declared. “The agreement means two 100 percent affordable buildings will go in the ground starting next year, with units serving a more diverse range of families. And what’s remarkable is that we’ve secured nearly twice as many affordable units [compared with the first, under-construction, Atlantic Yards tower] for our city investment.”
..De Blasio’s cheerful words obscured details that, if not quite a devil’s bargain, surely would have tempered the triumph.
Some details, such as two-bedroom affordable units costing nearly $3,000 (if they opened this year) and income limits (for four-person households) more than $138,000, emerged soon after the announcement, though they were absent from both the Times scoop and the official press releases.
Indeed, 300 of the 600 affordable units would go to households of various sizes in the higher of two middle-income cohorts. That departs from previous promises to distribute the subsidized units more evenly across five income “bands” and tilts eligibility away from average Brooklyn households.
Other details, like the machinations that allow de Blasio to claim a bargain, are explained here for the first time.
The city’s not getting twice as much of the same affordable housing. Rather, those 300 middle-income units will have rents so high, approaching market rate, they don’t qualify for subsidies (though they’ll still get low-interest, tax-exempt financing).
For the rest of the article, please see BKLYNR.

A complication on AMI

Also note this very interesting complication. The New York City Housing Development Corporation lists $85,900 as the Area Median Income (AMI) for 2013.

However, HDC told me that the AMI for buildings opening this year is actually lower:
The income limits are published by HUD [federal Department of Housing and Urban Development] yearly. For year 2014, HUD published two sets of income limits for the NYC Metro area – one set of limits for projects placed in service prior to 12/18/13 (the income limits currently listed on our website which are based on the 4-person AMI of $85,900) and one set for project placed in service after 12/18/13 (which are based on the 4-person AMI of $83,900). As Atlantic Yards has not yet placed in service, they would be subject to the lower limits.
That's of course if those limits aren't changed by the time the first tower opens in 2015 and the second in 2016.

Viva Movil store across from Barclays Center closes; maybe it will become a coffee joint

There's a prominent empty storefront right across from the Barclays Center: the Viva Movil store at Flatbush Avenue and Pacific Street has closed. Betabeat reported 8/18/14:
It was only a year ago that Jennifer Lopez marched into Brooklyn and heralded a new era of being ripped off by your cell phone provider. Dubbed Viva Movil, it’s a joint venture between the American Idol judge and Verizon Mobile to lure Latino shoppers to the brand. But it looks like its customers have hung up on it.
Last week, we noticed that the shop on Flatbush Avenue across from the Barclays Center shuttered.
And Brownstoner followed up with Jennifer Lopez-Sponsored Viva Movil Store Closes on Flatbush Avenue. CNET reported 7/5/14 that employees in Brooklyn acknowledged a disconnect with customers; one said, "More than one customer has come in asking for coffee."

Which means it may well become a food or drink establishment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Next Quality of Life meeting September 4 (no longer a committee?); community thanked for commitment to project success

A message yesterday from Nicole J. Jordan, Director, Community Relations, for Empire State Development:
Dear Community,
Forest City Ratner Companies, along with New York State and New York City representatives will host the next Quality of Life meeting Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 6:00 PM in the YWCA Community Room located at 30 Third Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217. We will present an overview of the housing plan and upcoming construction activities.
An overview of the presentation will be emailed in the coming week. If you have any questions please contact ESD at Thank you for your continued commitment to the overall success of this project.
Please plan to arrive promptly in order to provide time for presentations and questions and answers from the community members.
Best regards,
(Emphases added)

It's definitely useful to get a presentation ahead of time, as occurred in June.

A change of tone

But it is a bit confounding to compare this message with one, say, from last February, when it was considered a committee meeting:
Dear Members of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, 
The next Quality of Life Committee meeting will be held on: 
Monday, February 24th, 2014
Brooklyn Hospital Community Room 3rd Floor
121 DeKalb Avenue
Brooklyn, NY, 11201 
This meeting is a forum for representatives from the community and civic groups to engage Empire State Development, Forest City Ratner Companies and Barclays Center operators regarding issues affecting the quality of life for residents and businesses in close proximity to the arena.
Back then, community members were portrayed as equal participants, even if it didn't work that way in practice.

Also---though see below--I'm not sure meeting attendees are necessarily committed to the overall success of the project. The overall success may be in tension with oversight and/or mitigations of impacts, and some residents may be more committed to the latter.

(A reader writes to upbraid me: "The project is defined in part by its environmental commitments. The project is not a success if the environmental commitments are not met." Point taken, but I was thinking that the "overall success of this project," at least as defined by Forest City, is in tension with that.)

Indeed, a message this past June from Derek Lynch, who was then Manager of Community and Government Relations regarding AtlanticYards, stated, in broader terms:
Thank you again for your continued commitment to the community and the overall success of this project.
The latest change in language may just be careless. But even such carelessness may be telling.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

From the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Alert: module deliveries on hold; changes at B3 site for Green Roof work (less bike parking)

Two weeks after Greenland Forest City Partners renamed Atlantic Yards as Pacific Park, Empire State Development, which sends out two-week Construction updates after preparation by Forest City Ratner, had made an adjustment.

The email yesterday had the subject line "Atlantic Yards dba PACIFIC PARK BROOKLYN TWO WEEK LOOK AHEAD," and came with a note about the "ongoing effort to update you on the activities surrounding the Atlantic Yards Project (dba Pacific Park Brooklyn)." But it also was addressed to "the Atlantic Yards Community," so they're still working on the nomenclature.

At B2

Notably, no more modules were delivered to the B2 modular tower in the past two weeks, leaving a total of 297 (of 930), with the tenth floor complete. Erection of 11th floor modules will begin in September 2014.

During these two weeks, mechanical, plumbing and electrical mate line work will continue at the building, as will "exterior punch list." That typically refers to final fixes, but note that some of the module faces, flapping in the wind, seem to have arrived with flaws.

Also, water main tie-in work on Flatbush Avenue at night should begin. It unclear how/whether traffic would be affected.

Green roof work (and less bicycle parking)

Coming soon to the B3 site, at the southeast corner of the arena block, will be trailers used in connection with the Green Roof.

Also, an area within that B3 footprint "will be fenced in for storage of equipment and materials used in connection with work going on inside the building." That is related to the green roof but I thought the work was all exterior.

Also, they've begun removing the bike racks, which once were able to accommodate 400 bikes (though hardly used but occasionally hyped) "to make way for the upcoming crane installation, which is slated for October." Instead, "racks to accommodate approximate 45 bikes will be installed in the plaza on 6th Avenue.

Note that this is a departure from the 2009 Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (and the 2014 Second Amended Memorandum), which requires the developer to "provide any ticketholder traveling to the arena by bicycle with free indoor bicycle storage in a secure, manned facility designed to accommodate at least 400 bicycles on the arena block."

LIRR rail yard activities

Pile drilling along the north side of Pacific Street will continue during this reporting period and should take about four months, according to the alert. The contractor will continue excavation and hauling of soil from Blocks 1120 and 1121.

The contractor will continue installation of tiebacks, lagging, excavation of soil and demolition of the lower portion of the concrete retaining wall along Pacific Street, between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. The contractor has begun grading/paving work in the area of the yard between the Arena and 6th Avenue.

Community Liaison Office (CLO)

According to the document:
The Community Liaison Office has been relocated to Atlantic Center, 625 Atlantic Avenue. Located on the 3rd floor, visitors seeking the office should enter through the mall entrance located at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and So. Portland Avenue. The CLO’s hours are M-F from 9am – 4pm and the phone number, 866-923-5315 and email, remains the same.
That probably needs an update, since Forest City has already sent out emails indicating a new address:

Monday, August 18, 2014

In misleading new site plan, Pacific Park Brooklyn towers are shrunken and smoothed out

Notice anything odd about the rather stylized Pacific Park Brooklyn site plan--in green/gray hues below--that surfaced with the project's rebranding by Greenland Forest City Partners?

Well, the design of the buildings has been smoothed out and abstracted, making them seem smaller, compared to other site plans from Forest City Enterprises itself, such as the one with the dark background, from an August 2014 Investor Presentation, as disclosed to the SEC.

Upper graphic from FCE investor presentation, lower graphic released with Pacific Park re-branding; both August 2014
Maybe some buildings may have been redesigned. And they're apparently trying to simplify and stylize the design. But they don't need more space to show more complicated buildings.

Notably, it's odd and misleading how B6 and B7, over the center block of the railyard, have been downsized from "catcher's mitts" to simple rectangles.

That's highly doubtful. After all, Building 7 would be 460 feet tall and encompass 733,810 square feet--a huge building. Building 6 would be only 219 feet tall but include 445,060 square feet. Because that's far more bulk than in some project buildings that are taller, that implies a sprawling--not modest--building.

Consider how the massive B4, at the northeast corner of the arena block, at 511 feet and 824,629 square feet, might appear as a mere rectangle.

Below, in GIF form:

Pacific Park Site Plan Versions on Make A Gif

Sunday, August 17, 2014

In the Navy Yard, the modular builder that preceded Ratner faces change

From an 8/12/14 New York Times article headlined A Factory in Brooklyn That Constructs Homes Is Losing Its Own:
Across from the Barclays Center sit hundreds of apartments built at a factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
They are not part of the Atlantic Yards development, where Bruce C. Ratner is assembling a 32-story tower, which will be the tallest factory-made building in the world. Instead, the apartments are inside 32 red-brick, three-story rowhouses and were built by a company called Capsys. Each home uses three modules, one per story. The homes look a century old but opened in 2002, a decade before Mr. Ratner decided to try to build the first of his Atlantic Yards towers through modular construction.
...After 18 years of producing more than 4,000 modules — enough for 2,300 apartments plus hotels and park bathrooms — [Capsys founder] Mr. [Nicholas] Lembo is worried that he might have to close up shop just as modular building is taking off. His lease is up in two years, and he has been scouring the boroughs for a new home for Capsys but has been unable to find one.
In 2010, Capsys was told by the Navy Yard that its lease--currently at $4/square foot--would not be renewed, as the space was needed by the growing Steiner Studios.

The Capsys rent, according to the Times, is about one-third the typical Navy Yard rate, which offers below-market rates. So if Capsys is exploring space in Canarsie some three times its current rent, that would approximate Navy Yard rent.

Capsys also says that it should have been offered the space taken by FC Skanska, the partnership involving Forest City Ratner that's building modules for Atlantic Yards.

It's not clear from the article--and I haven't gotten a response from Capsys--whether the Navy Yard knew Capsys wanted to expand and whether FC Skanska is paying the market rent or the old Capsys rent.

Shake Shack now open on Flatbush across from arena

Last Sunday, Danny Meyer's hamburger-and-shakes emporium Shake Shack--open already on Fulton Mall and Old Fulton Street--opened at 170 Flatbush Avenue across from the Barclays Center.

As announced on the Shake Shack blog, the Flatbush Shack has some Brooklyn-specific and even location-specific concretes made with frozen custard:
Originally offered at the Downtown Brooklyn Shack, the Fudge-eddabouitit has chocolate custard blended with fudge sauce, Baked chocolate cloud cookie and Mast Brothers Shack-blend dark chocolate chunks, topped with chocolate sprinkles. A DUMBO favorite, the Brooklyn Pie oh My has vanilla custard blended with a slice of seasonal pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds. Lastly, the location-specific Nothin’ But NETS has chocolate and vanilla custard blended with marshmallow sauce, crispy crunchies and chocolate sprinkles.
And it's very Brooklyn:
In keeping with the Shack’s commitment to the environment, the Flatbush Shack is constructed with recycled and sustainable materials and features energy-efficient kitchen equipment and lighting. Chairs and booths are made from lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and tabletops are made from reclaimed bowling alley lanes from Brooklyn’s own CounterEvolution
That  extends to a "large-and-in-charge custom “Brooklyn” mural adorning the feature wall, hand-painted by NYC street art legend Greg Lamarche (aka, SP.ONE)."

From the Eagle

The Brooklyn Eagle, which noted that 75 people were hired, reported:
Michael Pintchik, who owns numerous buildings in the area, is the landlord of the 170 Flatbush Ave. storefront, which formerly housed a furniture store. The rent is $200 per square foot, the Daily News reported.
Note that the Pintchik family, Michael and Matthew, have managed an issue that had some neighbors quite worried: would garish fast-food joints or even a Hooter's (which was nosing around) suck up available space. 

Well, there's a Tony Roma's (in a non-Pintchik building), and there are some unclaimed spaces, but so far a lot of the businesses both appeal to arena-goers as well as the substantial local audience within walking or transit distance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blocking Atlantic Avenue lanes for construction work next to arena (and VIP entrance): photos

From plan detailed in early June; click to enlarge
A reader sent me photos yesterday of Atlantic Avenue being significantly narrowed near the Barclays Center to accommodate construction (drilling) of a new West Portal from the Vanderbilt Yard and a new green roof (cranes) on the Barclays Center.

This work has been previously announced, but ramped up significantly yesterday.

It will clearly impact drop-offs at the arena, notably the VIP entrance on Atlantic Avenue, as well as buses that bring large groups such as schoolchildren.

In June, Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton said the arena will issue new rules and guidelines regarding the constricted space to walk from the arena or to drop off people on Atlantic Avenue. She acknowledged it's "clearly not ideal." (See full plan at bottom.)

Photos: August 15, 2014

Blocking off Atlantic Avenue lanes eastbound from Fort Greene Place to South Portland Avenue/Sixth Avenue, looking east:

A view of the same blockage, looking west:

Looking east from South Portland Avenue/Sixth Avenue to South Oxford Street:

Work on the B4 site, add blacktop below-grade (for reasons not yet explained publicly, as far as I know):

Work at railyard at Pacific Street just east of Sixth Avenue:

Another view of the same work:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Celebration for "Brooklyn's win in the fight for affordable housing at Atlantic Yards" downplays key issue: actual affordability

Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) and BrooklynSpeaks will hold a summer celebration next Thursday, 8/21/14, as stated in the invitation, for "our win in the fight for affordable housing and accountability at Atlantic Yards."

(The graphic at right more narrowly cites "Brooklyn's win in the fight for affordable housing at Atlantic Yards." Neither use the new term Pacific Park.)

The free event, featuring music, dancing and a BBQ, will be held 6-9 pm, the FAC Center Garden, 621 DeGraw St between 3rd & 4th Avenues.

Did Brooklyn win?

But the victory announced 6/27/14 is quite flawed, as I've suggested. Yes, the new deadline for 2250 subsidized units--2025 instead of 2035--is meaningful. So too are new penalties, $2000 per month per delayed unit, to begin in 2025.

But the upcoming subsidized units, in two much-touted 100% affordable buildings, are disproportionately aimed at middle-income households. Rents will be well out of reach for most who've rallied or testified for Atlantic Yards.

Representatives of the FAC and BrooklynSpeaks recently went on TV to tout the victory and, thanks to uninformed interviewers, emerged without having to address actual affordability.

As I've written, half the subsidized housing in the next two 100% affordable towers, would go to households earning up to 165% of Area Median Income (AMI), or $141,735 for a family of four, or $99,330 for a single person. Those 2013 figures from the New York City Housing Development Corporation surely will rise.

Rents for those middle-income households will be based on 160% of AMI. If rent represents 30% of their income--it may be 35%--a four-person household would pay $3436/month. That's below market for a new two-bedroom rental around Downtown Brooklyn, but it's far closer to market than to low-income levels.

FAC and BrooklynSpeaks can celebrate some success. But even if the actual affordability was outside the scope of negotiations--secret negotiations, the results announced as a fait accompli--it's both off-key and misleading to proclaim triumph without caveats.

Not long ago subsidized units skewed toward households earning six figures was an opportunity for criticism. As Gib Veconi, a key BrooklynSpeaks negotiator, wrote 1/24/13 on his Patch blog regarding the first Atlantic Yards tower:
However, it turns out that “affordable” in the context of B2 doesn’t mean the rents charged will be affordable to working people being priced out of the neighborhood. It instead means the apartments are “eligible for government housing subsidies,” and (as I wrote in September) government regulations allow Forest City to market subsidized apartments in B2 to families with incomes well over $100,000. 
With even more subsidized units going to six-figure households, no wonder David LaRue, CEO of Forest City Ratner parent Forest City Enterprises, told investment analysts last week that "we have a structure in terms of the definition of affordable that we think is appropriate in the marketplace."

What was gained

It's certainly progress to ensure that all the affordable housing will be built by 2025, especially since increased gentrification, as the lawsuit prepared but not filed by FAC/BrooklynSpeaks, would continue to push African-American households out of the four Community Districts nearest the project.

The schedule improves significantly on the previous 2035 deadline but still would represent a 16-year buildout from the project's second approval in 2009, rather than the ten years originally promised.

Also, it's progress to enact penalties of $2000 per unit per month for the affordable housing not built by 2025, especially since no such penalties previously existed. However, the unavailability of subsidies or financing could provide a loophole.

And it's partial progress to have two all-affordable buildings, with at least 590 units, starting within the next year. One had to start by December, according to existing contracts.

(It's also progress, though not part of the victory claims, that 35% of the units in the next two buildings will be two- and three-bedroom apartments, though we don't know how they'll be distributed. In the first tower, in which the subsidized units were distributed evenly across five income "bands," the larger units were skewed toward the middle-income units. These next towers already have subsidized units weighted toward middle-income households.)

Also, the state agreed to create a new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation to monitor the project and provide public input--though some close neighbors remain skeptical of the lack of specifics.

Looking at the details

Despite the BrooklynSpeaks/FAC press release quoting an attorney as "thrilled to support low-income residents of Brooklyn in their struggle to keep affordable housing in downtown Brooklyn," the subsidized housing will skew away from low-income people and depart from earlier promises.

Of the 2250 affordable units promised, according to the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2005 by Forest City Ratner and ACORN, the breakdown was supposed to be:
  • 10% between 30-40% of AMI
  • 30% between 41-50% of AMI
  • 20% between 61-100% of AMI
  • 20% between 101-140% of AMI
  • 20% between 141-160% of AMI
(Those ratios, if part of a 50% market-rate building, as originally planned, would be cut in half in terms of overall units in the tower.)

The next two towers would include no market-rate housing, but the subsidized housing targets higher income levels:
  • 30% between 37-60% AMI
  • 5% between 80-100% of AMI
  • 15% between 130-145% of AMI
  • 50% between 160-165% of AMI
This is skewed in multiple ways. First, an inevitable consequence of time--or, project backers would say, delay--is that AMI keeps rising, from $62,800 in 2005 to $85,900 in 2013. Second, also out of anyone's control, is that AMI includes wealthier suburban counties, so it does not reflect reality in Brooklyn.

The next examples of skewing stem from decisions--surely discretionary, if not negotiated--made regarding these next two towers.

Third, the AMI "bands" have been stretched, in which low-income now goes up to 60% of AMI instead of 50%, and moderate-income does not go down to 61% of AMI but rather starts at 80%. The the "lower" middle-income band starts at 130% of AMI rather than 101% of AMI. And, of course, the "upper" middle-income band starts at 160% of AMI rather than 141%.

Such adjustment is allowed by city agencies financing the housing. However, it doesn't conform to what was long promised.

Fourth, and most glaringly, the distribution does not track that promised in the MOU. Of the total affordable units, 60% should be below 100% of AMI. Instead, in the next two towers, 35% will below that figure. Of the total affordable units, 20% should be in the highest affordable "band" but instead will be 50%.

The overall picture

At least the affordable housing is coming faster, say backers, and that's true. As Veconi tweeted in June: "180 units 4 <= 60% AMI = big acceleration. Yes need more, but getting these now matters 4 ppl facing displacement pressure."

And 30% of two all-affordable buildings surely yields more low-income housing than 20% of of a 50/30/20 building.

But the overall income profile of Atlantic Yards continues to skew upward. Along with the two 100% affordable rental buildings, Greenland Forest City Partners plans two market-rate condo buildings.

That works out to 50% market and 50% subsidized, with the subsidized units more expensive than in the MOU. Ultimately, according to Council Member Brad Lander, 40% of the affordable units will be low-income. (And they have to be, I believe, to conform to financing restrictions.)

It's not clear, however, whether the other 60% of affordable units will conform to the MOU or continue skewed as in the next two towers.

On TV, an odd victory lap

In an 8/10/14 interview with City and State, interviewer Nick Powell asked, without much knowledge of the back story, "The agreement that's in place right now, was this a long negotiation process, was there a lot of back and forth?"

FAC Executive Director Michelle de la Uz reminded him that  the original agreement "was actually hammered out by then-ACORN, now MHANY [Mutual Housing Association of New York], so that 35% of the total units would be affordable." (Actually, it was that 50% of the rentals would be affordable, since it was signed before Forest City added condos to the project.)

The terms were memorialized as part of the Housing Memorandum of Understanding and then the Community Benefits Agreement.

The "alignment" leading to settlement

de la Uz went on to note that the preference for 50% of the housing lottery slots is limited to residents of Community Districts 2, 3, 6, and 8. "So if you wait until 2035 to provide the promised affordable housing, really the thing that most people held onto as the most significant public benefit, that meant there was going to be a delay," she said, and that would disproportionately impact African-Americans.

"So we were prepared to file a fair housing, a civil rights lawsuit," she said. "We decided to reach out to Forest City, to the state. And with the city's help, as well, the mayor's help, to see if we could broker something, because there seemed to be some alignment about wanting to delivery the affordable housing faster. And we wanted to see if we could get some alignment on some other things that we wanted."

The "alignment," it went unmentioned, also had to do with the pending deal for the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group buying 70% of the project going forward. Nor did it have to do with a consensus on actual affordability.

Keep in mind that de la Uz was Public Advocate de Blasio's appointee to the City Planning Commission. That surely tempered potential adversarial elements of the negotiations.

Keeping accountable

Powell asked how the new Community Development Corporation (CDC) "can help keep Forest City Ratner accountable." (Actually, it would be appropriate to say Greenland Forest City Partners.)

de la Uz noted that "this is the only ESDC project of this size that doesn't have a separate subsidiary corporation... And considering the controversy, considering the amount of public benefits... considering the level of public investment.. it really was crying out of some oversight."

The CDC will have 14 members, with nine appointed by governor, five by local officials. "There's a real emphasis on ensuring there's consultation with the local Community Boards," she said. "Basically the main responsibility of that CDC will be to monitor the public benefits that have been promised  and to ensure that impacts are something that are mitigated as well. There is staff assigned and resources to do that."

Impact on gentrification

Powell asked if the deal would help stem gentrification.

"I think we need to be realistic about the project stemming the tide of gentrification," de la Uz responded. "The reality is that we've had an affordable housing crisis in the city of New York for over 70 years. And that has only gotten worse over the last several years. So, the provision of 2250 units that are affordable is definitely significant, but the demand far, far outstrips the supply of affordable housing. But, y'know, we need to do something. Certainly not doing anything won't help."

This would have been the right time to mention AMI levels. After all, in December 2009, BrooklynSpeaks stated that "One third of the affordable housing would go to those earning more than $70,000 per year – far higher than the $35,000 the average Brooklynite earns."

One BrooklynSpeaks principle was "Calculate affordable housing according to Brooklyn Area Median Incomes (AMI), not the much higher regional AMI." That not only didn't happen, the AMIs have gone in the other direction.

The new name Pacific Park

Powell asked about the significance of the new name.

The name, which coincides with Forest City's new partner, is "part of a larger emphasis on hitting a reset button... the past is the past, the future is the future," de la Uz said. "And I think they've been dogged, obviously, by a lot of controversy. And I think there are a number of positive aspects to the project. And I think the rebranding is part of highlighting the positive and hopefully letting go of the negative."

That's a charitable way of putting it.

Finally, an affordability question

Powell asked about AMI levels, and didn't get a full answer.

"In this case, the AMI levels were agreed to as part of that MOU by ACORN," de la Uz said. "The AMI levels are from 30 to 160% of AMI."

"Right now 100% of AMI is about $84,000 for a family of four," she said. (Actually, it's a bit higher.) "But Brooklyn's median income is closer to $45,000 for a family of four," she continued, noting that AMI has outpaced the rise in Brooklyn.

Regarding Atlantic Yards, she said, "Basically, if it's built as the agreements were made, years ago, then that would mean families earning about $25,000 a year to $130,000 would be eligible for the affordable housing. That certainly is a pretty broad range. There's need at all ranges, but much of the need really and largest gap is on the folks that have lower incomes."

That's true, which is why it's important to note that the next two towers will not be built according to the previous agreements.

Any changes, in hindsight?

"Looking back, ten years ago, would you guys have done anything different in terms of negotiating this agreement, in terms of pushing harder, at Forest City Ratner," asked Powell. "I'm always curious, if there are any regrets."

It was an uninformed question, because ten years ago, de la Uz was on the outside, not negotiating, while ACORN negotiated.

Still, she ignored that issue, as well as the issue of affordability, and said, "I think there are more lessons learned. Hopefully, there's been a message to the development community that you can't promise and not deliver, or promise and delay on your delivery of the public benefits."

"I think the level of scrutiny and accountability that the public demands... as a result of that level of investment into a private project," she said, "is one where I hope that the development community recognize they have to be forthcoming and timely with the public benefits."

"I think the lesson is partly on the other side," she said, criticizing the lack of state oversight.

"I think FAC and members of BrooklynSpeaks and local officials have been pretty consistent on our message," she said, "about needing to deliver on public benefits and the need for accountability."

Reaching the black community

Marjona Jones, former organizing coordinator for Brown Community Development Corporation and an organizer on the lawsuit, joined de la Uz on Here and Now on 8/10/14, a weekly Channel 7 program focused on African-American issues in the New York tri-state area.

Jones noted that "the agreement in 2009 did not include the community at all" and did not include the groups that signed the CBA [Community Benefits Agreement."

Actually, the agreement in 2006 didn't include the community, either. This current agreement does include some of the community, but it also missed some things, as noted above.

Host Sandra Bookman said at one point, "Let's talk about this current deal. It is pretty impressive."

de la Uz noted the acceleration of provision of affordable housing, the CDC, the "pretty stiff financial penalties" (no mention of the loopholes), and the two buildings that will begin soon. She didn't mention AMI, but did, upon prompting from Bookman, talk about the pre-housing lottery preparation seminars.

In closing, Bookman asked her guests to explain "why this is so important to people."

"What this means to folks on the ground," Jones said, "it's not a magic bullet. It's not going to solve the housing crisis, in itself, but it does give us access to affordable housing sooner. And it also gives us a seat at the table... the oversight group.. another piece of this and why it's different from the CBA is the government is part of it... this has teeth, and serious penalties."