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The Hunt: the anxious, hopeful, under-informed, longshot wait for 461 Dean affordable housing

People have been waiting a long time for the affordable housing at the Atlantic Yards project, which was announced in December 2003, approved in 2006, and re-approved in 2009. The first affordable tower, had the project proceeded as promised in 2009, would have opened four years ago, in 2012.

Now, it's been so long that residents will move into buildings branded not Atlantic Yards but Pacific Park Brooklyn.

Not only has the first building, the modular 461 Dean, taken more than four years to complete rather than two since in launched in 2012, the process to rent the below-market, income-linked units also seems to have dragged.

The lottery for those apartments began on 4/27/16, and is part of a process that typically leads to occupancy in six months, according to a handbook produced by the New York City Housing Development Corporation. (See graphic below.) If so, occupancy should've started by the end of October. But relatively few apartments are now occupied.

(The Temporary Certificate of Occupancy says 19 of 33 floors are open for residency, though three floors are not fully open. Market-rate units have been rented up to Floor 19. "Even the unit I viewed was still having minor finishing touches done," one future tenant of an affordable unit has reported. Another reported being told by a security guard that only the market-rate tenants had moved in. )

From NYC HDC's Marketing Handbook
Meanwhile, the would-be residents of the 181 affordable units--half the building--wait and wonder whether they among the 83,000+ applicants will be chosen.

The rent will be approximately 30% of their income and will rise according to rent stabilization, a key protection. Then again, the range is wide, from $600 to $2,504 for one-bedroom units.

Group therapy for the wait

Writing pseudonymously on a City Data message board about 461 Dean, the applicants express hope and faith, anxiety and disillusionment, and even some moments of triumph. A lack of information compounds the uncertainty. Questions get answered, but nothing is formally confirmed, so it's all hearsay.

They describe interviews with the organization processing applications, and visits to units in a building still under construction. Posing questions and speculating, they toss out jargon like CB (Community Board) preference or TIC (Tenant Income Certification).

As one poster suggested, the forum serves as "an A&A group... for housing lotteries." With the need for affordable housing--especially new units in a decent neighborhood--so high, and so many in precarious situation, the housing will be a godsend to some, but a tantalizing mirage to others.

And for some, it may not be that affordable. "How else do explain giving affordable housing to ppl making 100k or more..." wrote one. Commented another, "Life is sure crazy. I cannot afford affordable housing. Lol!"

It's unclear how many of the posters are competing for low-, moderate-, or middle-income units, though the fraction complaining about affordability likely are middle-income.


Mixed emotions

Those posting run the gamut of emotions. As one wrote, " This situation has me feeling so devastated. I really hoped this was my shot. But the odds seem so slim, random and just frustrating right now. The timing is tough too, its that time of the year where everyone is trying to figure out which direction to take next year."

Some triumph: "Approved by HDC, next step is lease signing."

"The wait is gut wrenching for sure but you never know," another wrote.

"I want this so bad," wrote one.

"I know checking this forum can be nerve-wracking but honestly it has been nice to hear from a supportive group who are all in the same 'lost at sea' boat," wrote another.

A new affordable unit would add stability, but the wait leaves them in limbo. The uncertainty suggests a blog or website with not just an FAQ but regularly updated information on the process.
The entities involved, Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY, a successor to ACORN Housing) and the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC) have their hands full. One poster wrote that "MAHNY does not like to give any update for the simple fact that when they give one person, that person tells another and now they have a ton of calls coming in."

The last potential opportunity to ask public questions about the project--the bimonthly (more or less) Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Community Meeting (aka Community Update) scheduled for last month--was postponed for six weeks, until Jan. 24.

Limited chances

For 461 Dean (aka B2), the lottery will deliver 181 winners out of more than 83,000 applications, or a .22% chance. That chance is somewhat higher for those applying for the 90 or so units reserved for residents of the four closest Community Districts. And the chance is likely lower for the (presumably) larger cohort that doesn't have the Community Board preference. (There are also small set-asides for municipal employees and the disabled.)

Also, given the intense competition for the low-income apartments--the two lowest "bands" for each type of unit (see below)--the chance of winning the lottery those units is likely lower. By contrast, it should be somewhat less difficult to win the lottery for the more expensive middle-income units. But no overall statistics have been disclosed.

The backstory

461 Dean was once supposed to launch "six to nine months" after the March 2010 arena groundbreaking, which would have been between September and December 2010. That should have meant an opening in late 2012.

Instead, developer Forest City Ratner's foray into innovative, risky modular construction delayed things. The B2 groundbreaking was December 2012, and it was supposed to get a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy in July 2014, presaging move-ins within a 20-month construction schedule.

That was later modified to 24 months, but delays--and disputes over the cause, fueled litigation between developer Forest City Ratner and its former modular partner Skanska. So the tower took nearly four years. Parent Forest City Realty Trust in November, claimed that 461 Dean had opened by the end of the third quarter, having achieved a 3% lease commitment by 10/27/16. That didn't necessarily mean there were move-ins.

(This is the only residential tower not being built by the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners, as Greenland USA, the American subsidiary of the Shanghai-based--and partly Shanghai government-owned--Greenland Holdings, in 2014 bought 70% of the project going forward, minus B2 and the arena.)

The discussion

The message board discussion began in April 2016. Some debate the esthetics. "These apts . aren't large esp. the studios," one wrote. "As you can see from the drawings, they don't even have real kitchens."

"damn, does anyone else think those apartments look prefab as hell?" wrote another. By contrast, another poster acknowledged that the area could get rowdy during arena events, "but it's worth it for a nice apartment that is affordable. Or not."

Another said it was all worth it: "I don't even care if I get a unit on the ground floor with no view, i'll be happy as a clam." Another thought affordable units might lack views--"my IDEAL would be overlooking the green hill roof on top of barclay's center"--but said "i'll take anything though!"

One lottery winner reported the bedroom was small but "this feels like a luxurious hotel" and "is way better than where i am currently staying."  One saw a contrast: "All the other lottery apartments I got interviews for are in ****holes in the Bronx. :/"

A displaced local

One poster at one point expressed "relief!" at getting an interview," then declared to be "obsessing" "Having a real shot at something and knowing that disappointment may be inevitable is the worst." The writer remembered living on Pacific Street, in a building torn down for the arena:
I'm hoping against hope that all of the times I've had to be displaced due to something like Barclays Center going up, or been booted out of yet another apartment so they can demolish it to build a luxury condo complex is karmically paying off, but that seems too good to be true.
But after being waitlisted, the writer, a single mom, lamented being unable to "afford my neighborhood after 21 years," while living in a poorly maintained apartment, without heat or electricity.

Money uncertainty

"Lots of us are paying up to 75% of our pay just to rent," one wrote. "These are stabilized apartments remember, so it gives people some breathing room while they figure out this crazy life."

One expressed financial anxiety, since it wouldn't be easy to come up with the first month rent and security deposit: "the reason I am applying to these apartments is because i'm struggling paycheck to paycheck to pay crazy rents as it is. I don't have anyone I can call up and ask to borrow money from."

Another recalled trying to draw on a small, $6,000 retirement account, but was unable to do so. Another, a designer and an artist, hasn't "been able to paint anything in the past two years because I basically sleep on a couch separated from the living space by a semi-curtain."

Timing uncertainty

Over the months, applicants have been told different schedules, which affects lease renewal. One said a MHANY rep "told me that they are trying to start moving people in November."

But another reported being told "it could take another 4-6 months to hear from them on anything definite!!!!!"

Another reported being told that MHANY would take 6 to 8 weeks to do credit and income checks, but then 6 to 10 months for the city to approve applicants. But another was told that it would be surprising if it took three months.

One expressed anxiety: "I cannot believe another month and a half before they tell anyone. That puts us right up to the holidays, and it is crazy making... I feel like I can't make any plans or go anywhere for the next few months, and then if it doesn't work out, I'm going to be really down and out!

One applicant called representatives of MHANY invasive, asking questions about their personal life and leaving personal paperwork out--"an identity thief's amusement park"--while another wrote, "I truly believe Mhany has been doing the best they could, and all of my interactions in the office have been nothing but positive to be honest."
Disappointment, and (partial)  relief

A poster who just got waitlisted expressed feeling "devastated and hopeless" because of a "horrible roommate situation." Commented another, "I too am in a horrible couch to couch living situation. People who get these units are so blessed and lucky. I just wish we were told what we were interviewing for, it sucks to have your hopes put up like that and then be let down by life again."

" I'm so super anxious cause I need this apartment," wrote another, who expressed concern about moving a child among schools and the need to schedule surgery. "I'm just so confused with this process and why they can't tell us anything. I need to make decisions for next year and I can't make them wholeheartedly because I don't have any information."

"I got the final approval through HDC around the 1st week of December, then i received a call asking if i wanted a 1 or 2 year lease," one applicant wrote, expressing anxiety despite good fortune. "Its now the end of the month and no word. Its no longer in MHANY Management hands i was told. The process has been so frustrating, because i am at the end of all the madness and still feel left in the dark."

Wide income range = better deals for some

Another frequent poster said goodbye after being told that, because of the way their income was calculated, she and her husband would have to pay nearly $2,000 for a one-bedroom, while they currently pay $1,600 for a two-bedroom.

"Disappointed and very disheartening as my husband's self employed and his salary fluctuates so there is no fair number they could come up with that would be accurate," she wrote. "we can't pay MORE when the whole point was to make it affordable for us now."

She wrote: "We were told a story about a family who based on salary calculations, said they could pay 3,000$ for a 2 bedroom.They Said she just got up and walked out. Lol."

Indeed, according to the lottery announcement, a two-person household can earn $46,629 - $72,500 and pay $1,314 for a one-bedroom. That total rent, $15,768, represents 33.8% of $46,629 but just 21.7% of 72,500. So it's a better deal for those at the higher end, who'd pay much less than 30% of their pre-tax income.

Yet oddly enough a two-person household can earn $69,943 - $101,500 and pay $1,994 for a one-bedroom. That total rent, $23,928, represents 34.2% of $69,943 but 23.6% of $101,500.

And a lingering question

Yesterday, a lottery winner wrote, "MHany management contacted me to let me know that had been approved that was 2 weeks ago. How long after that does the management call you to come in and sign your lease."

No answer immediately appeared, though one person wrote, "Dear lord, this process is still going on? I quit this thread when I received my waitlist letter a couple months back and thought I'd return to check in on what the latest is... has anyone moved in or signed a lease yet?"

Another did respond, "The person at first service residential [the property manager] takes their sweet time so I would give them a month but still have everything ready to go (first months rent and security)."

Note that that statement, like the others here, are unconfirmed and secondhand.

And some more (update)

One comment: "I HATE when these lotteries are advertised for the pampered kids of the wealthy who make just 30K in publishing jobs and other stuff like that. It sucks."

A response:
This isn't a secret society. If someone is overqualified, or in your words, "doesn't need" the unit, they'll get excluded on the grounds that their income is too high. And even if you are qualified -- don't even get me started on this one -- you can still get rejected on completely irrational grounds. You have no idea if you're qualified until you go through this. You can be qualified and not qualified at the same time. The process is absolutely insane. Part of the function of this forum is support, helping one another by keeping everyone informed about what's going on with various developments (you can become psychotic trying to decode what's happening with a project you interviewed for months ago and have heard nothing from), and that includes posting information about new developments.

Comments

  1. I was selected for 461 Dean. I submitted all the documents to prove myself and my wife eligible, and we are eligible. I also have 55% preference, being a brooklyn resident and a city employee. I went to view two apartments and they even asked me which unit I prefer. They even told me I am number 3 in the list and they have five units for our income braket. Last step for us was to a sign a lease. Guess what MAHNY says? "You have been waitlisted". Why do you waste 9 months of my life and take my personal information to reject me at the end. What kind of NONSENSE IS THAT?????????
    This company or whoever is running this lottery has to be sued.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not privy to the rules and procedures behind selection, of course, but after hearing various accounts of the lottery, I think the minimum we can say is that it should be more transparent.

      Delete

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