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Atlantic Yards vs. Schaefer Landing: some twists on the definition of "affordable"

The New York Observer's follow-up on the "affordable housing" panel Tuesday reveals that Forest City Ratner has taken a step further and announced that it has in fact agreed to build 600 to 1000 for-sale condos. (The Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) more cautiously stated that the partners would "work on a program to develop" such units.)

The post on the Observer's blog The Real Estate points out that the sheer number of affordable units would the largest since Starrett City, and that if the affordable units approach 40 percent the percentage would be comparable to "what Schaefer Landing is doing on the Williamsburg waterfront (40 percent low-income rentals, 60 percent luxury condos)."

Affordable for whom?

There are some interesting contrasts between the Atlantic Yards project and Schaefer Landing. The affordable housing in the latter project is designated only for households "earning up to 60% of the area median income ($37,680 for a family of four)," according to the city housing department. According to p. 4 of the MOU for the Atlantic Yards project, less than half of the affordable units (40%) would go to households earning up to 60% of area median income. The rest would go to people earning more.

The income cap for affordable housing at Atlantic Yards would be as much as 160% of area median income, not 60% of AMI. That's because the "affordable housing" planned at Atlantic Yards would not be geared solely to low-income families, but involve a mix of low-, moderate-, and middle-income tenants. Obviously, there are major differences between the plans, in the way they were conceived, their scale, and the subsidies involved. But it's important to recognize that there are many variations under the rubric of "affordable."

Onsite or off?

Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco told the Observer: “We have also agreed to build on or off site 600 to 1000 first-time homeowner condos and will continue to work with ACORN on this and related issues.”

It's unlikely that most (if any) of the affordable condos would be built onsite, since the project as currently conceived, with 4500 rentals and 2800 market-rate condos, has already raised concerns about its density . The now-closed St. Mary's Hospital in Crown Heights, the Daily News reported last November, has been eyed by Forest City Ratner and would accommodate up to 800 offsite affordable condos.

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