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Would half of the affordable apartments be 2br & 3br? No way (read the fine print)

The affordable housing component of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project would be innovative, backers say, because of a new emphasis on larger units. As I reported last month, FCR's Jim Stuckey, at an affordable housing information session, described how about half of the 2250 affordable units will be two- and three-bedroom units, thus accommodating families.

Not quite. It depends on what "half" means. As I calculate below, it looks like a little more than one-third of the units would be larger ones.

The graphic above was provided last month to session attendees and reproduced in Forest City Ratner's affordable housing slideshow. Item #4 sure suggests that half the number of apartments would be the larger ones.

And on the Atlantic Yards web site, the housing page states that "50% will be 2 and 3 bedroom units."

Square footage, not units

But it turns out that the 50% refers to total square footage, not the actual number of units. That language is in the Housing Memorandum of Understanding (p. 4) FCR signed with ACORN last year.

And it's also in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement from the Empire State Development Corporation. The Executive Summary states (p. 4):
Affordable units would be reserved for households making between 30 percent and 160 percent of citywide AMI (area median income) and 50 percent of these units (on a square foot basis) would be two- and three-bedroom units. (Emphasis added)

77% more smaller units

The square footage guideline makes all the difference. Because the two- and three-bedroom units are larger, there would be fewer of them, so there would be about 77 percent more of the smaller units to equalize the space.

Were the 2250 units divided equally, that would mean an average of 562.5 studios, one-bedroom units, two-bedroom units, and three-bedroom units each, under the announced apartment sizes:

Studios: 400 sf or larger
One bedroom: 575 sf or larger
Two bedrooms: 775 sf or larger
Three bedrooms: 950 sf or larger

However, the square footage guideline skews the distribution to the smaller units.

Assuming that the apartments would be all at the smallest size listed--a conservative assumption--and that pairs of larger and smaller units would be evenly divided, here are my back-of-the-envelope calculations:

Studios:719 units @ 400 sf = 287,600 sf

1-BRs: 719 units @ 575 sf = 413,425 sf

Total for the smaller units: 701,025 sf

2-BRs: 406 units @ 775 sf = 314,650sf

3BRs: 406 units @ 950 sf = 385,700 sf

Total for the larger units: 700,350 sf

Total: 1438 smaller units (64%), 812 (36%) larger units

Percentage of housing space

Let's add a little more area to a few of those larger units to reach 701,025 sf and equalize things. Double that and the total affordable housing square footage would be 1,402,050 sf.

That would represent a little less than 21 percent of the 6.79 million gross square feet proposed for housing.

Were the apartments distributed evenly among the four sizes, at an average of 675 sf, the 2250 affordable apartments would take up 1.52 million sf, or a little more than 22 percent of housing square footage.

It's unclear how much space would be alloted to market-rate housing and how much might be credited to common areas. Still, the numbers suggest that, while the affordable housing would represent less than one-third of the number of units on site, it would represent an even smaller percentage of the space devoted to housing.

More space in the market

It does seem likely that more space would be allotted for market-rate units. As noted, the typical market-rate rental unit in congested Manhattan is larger than the minimum affordable housing unit announced by Forest City Ratner. As I noted, firm Citi Habitats used the following in its 2004 analysis of rentals in Manhattan:

Studios: 500 sf (or 450 sf in certain neighborhoods)
One bedroom: 680 sf (or 620 sf in certain neighborhoods)
Two bedrooms: 1050 sf
Three bedrooms: 1350 sf

Real housing for the real Brooklyn?

Given that only half of the subsidized units would be affordable to those waiting for public housing or Section 8 vouchers, and that most families would prefer a two- or three-bedroom unit, that suggests that only 406 larger units would be made available to the "real Brooklyn" that the Daily News highlighted.

Over ten years, that would be fewer than 41 apartments a year.

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