Monday, March 09, 2015

On Channel 7's Up Close, unrebutted Ratner appears as affordable housing ambassador, calls for growth, condemns "poor door"

There's a wise article in Capital New York today about how affordable housing must be expanded to the suburbs--and nearby cities like Yonkers and Jersey City--to meet the demand that will be tough to accommodate in the five boroughs.

(Remember this 2008 question: why can’t people live in New Jersey and take the PATH train? Answer: a regionalized transit system, as in the DC metro area, would solve a lot of problems, but it's politically tough.)

And then there was the appearance yesterday by Bruce Ratner, Forest City Ratner's executive chairman, on Channel 7's UP CLOSE: NYC AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

Host Diana Williams set the tone by incorrectly describing Mayor Bill de Blasio's "bold agenda that includes 200,000 new affordable apartments."

Actually, the agenda is "build and preserve" 200,000 units, including 80,000 new units and 120,000 preserved units. That's a big difference.

After speaking with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who allowed that neighborhoods had concern about development, Williams warmly welcomed Ratner.

"Now Bruce Ratner and other developers are dealing with a mayor with a very clear agenda: he wants affordable housing, and he wants developers to provide it," Williams declared. She asked if the mayor's agenda was too ambitious.

"It's doable," Ratner said. "I think he knows it's a tough target, but I think he wants to set a bar that's high, and hard." Of course to meet the target--and "take what I can get," as de Blasio once said--the mayor will make deals.

On the team?

Williams asked, "Is it safe to say that you're on the mayor's team when it comes to this idea, that you think developers should be doing this?

"The situation with respect to housing generally, particularly low-income housing and even middle-income housing, is dire," responded Ratner, answering the question more generally. "We have a situation where this city's going to grow, become 9.3 million people within the next 15 years. We don't have enough land to even develop the housing to accommodate 9.3 million, let alone fix the problem, which is that 40% or 50% of low- and middle income people are overburdened with rent."

That might have led to a broader question of whether it was solvable, or for Williams to drill down and recognize that, while in de Blasio's plan, only 11% of the units are supposed to go to middle-income households, while 65% of the units in the next two all-affordable Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park towers would go to such households.
Asked if fellow developer think the way he does, Ratner said they agreed there's a need for affordable housing, but most would embrace the 80/20 concept, with 20% low-income housing. "Once you go above that, I think a lot of developers would say it's hard to make the numbers work," he said.

Of course, with Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, the numbers work because the affordability levels have been tweaked.

Neighborhood pushback

Williams suggested it might be tough "getting communities to go along with this... a lot of people don't want affordable housing."

Ratner replied that it's not just the affordable housing, but the increased density, taller buildings, and claimed more traffic.

"You had your critics," Williams said, noting that people--er, the New York Times editorial page--said Ratner built the Barclays Center first, then the affordable housing last.

"The arena was never supposed to be the thing that made the money, it was supposed to be the housing, number one," Ratner said. "Number two, we always were going to build 30% of the low-income housing at the same time we built the middle-income and market rate, that was required by all of our documents."

Actually, Ratner's company, which for a long time promised to build the project in a decade, in 2009 was given 25 years to build it. That was part of the pushback, and why there's no an agreement to build the affordable housing by 2025.

Building more housing, Ratner said, could provoke "a lot of negativity in a lot of neighborhoods... I think it's unfortunate... it's got to be done... it can't grow without more housing."

Williams mentioned that Ratner "had to use eminent domain" to build, to "literally remove people."

"We removed people," Ratner said, in shorthand for the actual governmental task. "That was one of the objections... but the overall objection for most people was density, height, traffic... the kind of things you constantly hear. well, if this city's going to grow, we're going to have more density, taller buildings, possibly more traffic, greater infrastructure requirements. And that's the nature of growing cities."

No mention of special privileges, government giveaway, and the Culture of Cheating.

The new towers

After asking about the new, all-affordable 535 Carlton Avenue, Williams asked Ratner, "What do you make of separate entrances," the so-called "poor door" that has generated much criticism in some other projects.

"It's not right," Ratner replied with well-prepped righteousness. "Our building, it goes all the way from incomes of probably $20,000 to $100,000, so it's very mixed." Actually, nearly $140,000, and probably more by 2016.

And Williams, obviously, didn't recognize that Ratner, who promised that all the affordable rentals would be in buildings that had 50% market-rate units, is now planning three 100% market rental buildings. That's essentially separate entrances.



"When we build 50% affordable, I would never ever have separate entrances," Ratner said, "the quality of the building, the quality of the counters, has to be the same, whether it's affordable, whether it's market rate rental. The idea of having two entrances, one for rich, one for poor, is not acceptable."

We'll see whether the quality of the counters is the same between the 100% market rental buildings and the 100% affordable rental buildings.

Ratner went on to amend the expected affordability levels to "from ten to 20,000 up to 100, 120,000"--closer but still not accurate.

Williams finally asked Ratner what he was most proud of regarding the Barclays Center--the workers, natch--but didn't ask (of course) about how the arena falls short of revenue targets.

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