Former Navy Yard board chair on EB-5 fundraising: "crazy idea" required "no fuss, no muss, and no memos"
D.W. Gibson's new book, The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, has gotten the most notice for a section, excerpted in New York magazine, quoting a racist landlord, but it's a wide-ranging, fascinating (if imperfect) book about a broader phenomenon.
See Paris Review interview, Brooklyn Based interview, Atlantic interview, In These Times review, The Millions review, New York Times review.
None of the coverage--other than this interview outtake--mentions what to me is the most interesting passage, from an interview with Alan Fishman, a financier and Brooklyn macher who formerly chaired the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (as well as the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership).
Fishman casually brings up EB-5, the under-the-radar but enormously popular (with real estate developers) program that gets them cheap money from immigrant investors who get visas in exchange for a purportedly job-creating investment:
Here's an example, this is how versatile these Bloomberg guys are: so we get wind of this crazy idea where if you're a foreign national and you invest in an approved project in America in a distressed neighborhood, you get a visa for you and your family. It's called EB-5. We went to the city and said, "We can get all this money. You guys should take this money."
And after a week of thinking about it, and looking at it, they said, "We'll help you get this money. This all took a week, two weeks, whatever. You know, in other administrations this would be a year or two years worth of cogitation. And literally in days, we raised $50 million. It's Chinese people, or Vietnamese people, or whatever people -- Korean people, whatever the hell, Indians, I don’t know. And again, this is with no fuss, no muss, and no memos.(Emphases added)
I'm not sure Fishman meant it was "crazy" because the immigrants can get green cards so easily, or "crazy" because the lift for the Navy Yard was so little, requiring it mainly to get an economist's report claiming the investment would create jobs. Or both.
After all, remember this quote from former Navy Yard CEO Andrew Kimball. “At first, we were sort of scratching our heads, thinking, is this real?” he told Crain's in 2012, seemingly incredulous at the opportunity to leverage public assets for private gain. “The next thing we knew, we were falling out of our chairs.”
Nor must the investment--as with Atlantic Yards--be in an actual "distressed neighborhood," but rather in a Targeted Employment Area, where there's a higher than average unemployment rate.
It's easy to draw or gerrymander such a district--the Navy Yard is near some impoverished housing projects--even if the project does not hire people from that neighborhood. I pointed to the "Bed-Stuy Boomerang" for Atlantic Yards. (That may change, according to pending EB-5 reform legislation.)
As to "no memos," of course EB-5 requires paperwork. But I think he was referring to the quick decision-making of the Bloomberg administration