Monday, July 13, 2015

So, how did Community District 3 residents get preference in Atlantic Yards housing lotteries? Evidence points to 2007 state legislation

A seemingly small but meaningful change in Atlantic Yards affordable housing preferences was effected in 2007, as far as I can tell, with no announcement or explanation: residents of Brooklyn Community District 3, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, will get community preference in the affordable housing lottery, along with residents served by Community Boards 2, 6, and 8.

(A lawsuit was filed last week challenging that citywide policy, which reserves half the places in the lottery for residents of the local community district or districts.)

The Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), signed in 2005, described the “neighboring community” as those in Community Districts 2, 6, and 8. That was reinforced at an affordable housing information session in 2006.

Red outline approximates Atlantic Yards location
In 2007, state legislation indicated--though no one discussed it publicly at the time--that Community District 3 residents in Bedford-Stuyvesant would also be eligible for the community preference in the affordable housing lottery.

Of the 2250 subsidized Atlantic Yards units, 50% would be set aside for a lottery limited those in the neighboring communities, while another 12% would be set aside for city employees and disabled people. The general public would compete for only 38% of the units.

So the community preference for Community District 3 could be quite helpful.

Reasonable arguments for both interpretations

There is logic both for the original interpretation and the revision.

The Atlantic Yards site sits, in part, in each of Community Districts 2, 6, and 8. (See graphics.) So they automatically qualify.

Map from BrooklynSpeaks, with four Community Districts
At the same time, there are parts of Community District 3 that are much closer to the Atlantic Yards site than pieces of those other districts.

Also, Community District 3 has already received some of the impacts, good and bad, from the surge of development around Atlantic Yards.

As the 2014 Atlantic Yards Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement shows, there's been significant displacement in Bed-Stuy. And BrooklynSpeaks projected steady decrease of African-Americans in the four districts.

(No one's made the argument, but Community District 9, in Crown Heights South, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Wingate, also has a claim.)

If the preference policy is overturned, one solution, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, may be something like the policy regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park:
...the city may be able to reduce the percentage of local residents given preferences or seek to create more diversity by extending eligibility for to areas covered by multiple community boards.
Where did  expansion come from?

The 2007 expansion to CB 3 is mentioned in the fine print of state legislation revising the 421-A tax break and allowing a "carve-out" for Atlantic Yards. In other words, while all other projects had to have affordable housing to be eligible for a tax break, Atlantic Yards would be judged on the project as a whole, allowing individual market-rate buildings to still get the tax break.

Yes, that means a luxury condo building with studios costing $625,000 has a $19 monthly (and $228 annual) tax bill.

Forest City argued, not without reason, that that was the assumption when Atlantic Yards was announced. Then again, other projects had to adjust in light of the new laws.

Given the state legislation, I'd guess that then-Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries had a hand in it, though I've never been to confirm that. (Part of Community District 3 was in his Assembly district. He likely was already contemplating a campaign for Congress, in which he succeeded in 2012, for a district that includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, so that would have been delivering for some new allies and constituents.)

It's the kind of question the Independent Compliance Monitor, required by the Community Benefits Agreement, might have answered. But Forest City Ratner never hired the monitor. And got away with it.

I've queried both Jeffries and Community Board 3 in past year, but didn't get a response. (If/when I learn more, I'll update this.)

Trying to inquire

I tried to inquire, posting a comment last year on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) issued by Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards:
The DSEIS states that the affordable housing added by the Extended Build-Out Scenario would give preference to current residents of Community Districts 2, 3, 6, and 8." This is contradicted by the following: the 2005 Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, which described the “neighboring community” as Community Districts 2, 6, and 8; a 2010 report by the NYC Comptroller on Public Benefits Agreements that describes how the developer convened a meeting that included members of Community Boards 2, 6, and 8; and statements at an Affordable Housing Information Session in July 2006 that the preference would go to residents of Community Districts 2, 6, and 8.
The response:
ESD is not party to the Community Benefits Agreement. It should be noted however, that under that document, the project sponsors have agreed that they “will work with government agencies to develop a Brooklyn-based definition of Community Preference.” The FSEIS clarifies the procedures for creating a local preference in affordable lotteries. The procedures currently in place for a developer to seek approval for a proposed geographic preference in the affordable housing lottery for a newly developed building containing affordable housing units are outlined in a booklet published by the New York City Housing Development Corporation (“HDC”) and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”) titled “Marketing Guidelines (Updated March 2012).” According to this guidance document, HDC and HPD require that the developer submit a marketing plan to the relevant agency and then market the opportunity to participate in the affordable housing lottery for the new building’s affordable housing units in accordance with the agency-approved marketing plan. The affordable housing lottery itself is generally administered by the relevant City agency.
For Building 2 (presently under construction), the project sponsors have informed ESD that they intend to submit an affordable housing marketing plan to HPD that would provide for a community preference for residents of Community Districts 2, 3, 6, and 8.
Looking at the evidence

Early versions of the legislation (such as A9293), did not include language mentioning Community District 3. Jeffries voted no, in opposition to the carve-out.

A later version (S06446), which revised the carve-out by paring back the estimated benefit from $300 million to $150 million and added the preference for Community District 3, got a yes vote from Jeffries.

Here's the relevant text:

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