Skip to main content

Jeffries calls AY carve-out "offensive"--and his base agrees

As a candidate last year, Hakeem Jeffries was a qualified supporter of Atlantic Yards. And as a freshman member of the State Assembly, he still welcomes the project’s affordable housing.

But Jeffries' posture has gotten tougher lately, and last night he delivered an eloquent criticism of the project, declaring that promised affordable housing was easily matched by government support for developer Forest City Ratner and that the “Atlantic Yards carve-out,” a tax break available only to the developer, was “offensive” because it promoted “economic segregation.” And his audience, responding to the notion of special treatment, seemed to agree.

(While the "carve-out" would treat the project differently, it also would preserve the project configuration as approved last year before revision of the tax break. So it’s a matter of perspective.)

Jeffries’ Town Hall meeting last night, "My First Six Months Serving You," was actually less about Atlantic Yards than about bread-and-butter constituent service. Jeffries, wielding the power of his position, brought officials from state housing and health agencies, and the city education department to the Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill to address his base.

And while Jeffries, a local guy done good, may be a former corporate lawyer who wears cufflinks, that base, at least from the 100-person crowd last night, is mostly working- and middle-class black folk. The yuppies (of whatever color) who’ve bought the luxury condos popping up in Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and environs were in scarce supply.

The AY issue

But it didn’t take Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the few Atlantic Yards activists in the audience, to raise the Atlantic Yards issue. It was a black woman of a certain age, who, speaking with dismay more than outrage, crystallized the issues that have emerged in the interregnum since the project was approved last December.

“Bruce Ratner has gotten lots and lots of money from the city and the state, with no guarantee that there will be affordable housing,” she said, also questioning whether “he’s going to ameliorate the congestion that is bound to be caused by that many people coming into the community. It’s a real concern… Can you update us on that?”

421-a changes

Jeffries never got to the congestion issue but instead offered a primer on the 421-a tax break, enacted to jump-start housing in areas where construction was moribund, now anachronistic in “hot” neighborhoods like Clinton Hill, where empty lots sprout luxury condos, some landlords of unregulated apartments jack up rents, and churches like Brown Memorial see their congregations thin as residents disperse for cheaper housing.

The state’s 421-a reform would require 20% low-income housing in each building that got the tax break, except for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards. The “Atlantic Yards carve-out” would allow condo buildings in the project without affordable housing to get the tax break. It also would nudge higher the allowable incomes for the affordable housing.

Jeffries explain how the law was changed, and would require that any properties that get the tax break “in our community” would require, in exchange, 20% of the units affordable to households at 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), or about $42,000 for a family of four. The audience clapped. He added that the legislation would require that half the affordable units be reserved for people within the local Community Board. That also drew claps.

Amended on the sly

Then Jeffries got to the Atlantic Yards "carve-out," deeming the episode “one of those things you find out when you’re in Albany.” He noted: “I don’t really find out until the law has been amended, this provision has been negotiated to treat Atlantic Yards differently than any other project in New York City. I finally found out about five or ten minutes before the reporters started calling.”

“Of course I’m a little bit annoyed. I voted against that particular bill, 9293, the carve-out provision, because I’m of the view, consistent with your question, that enough subsidy has already been given to this developer. There’s absolutely no reason to treat this project any more favorably than any other project that’s being built. So subsequent to voting against this, we [he and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery] sent a letter to the developer, saying ‘you need to comply with the law as it applies to everybody else."

"'And anything short of you complying with the law—Bruce Ratner, Forest City Ratner—anything short of you doing that, means to me, that the government should review completely the entire merits of this project.’ Because the project was sold to us in large part as one that would bring needed affordable housing to our community. But you can’t on the one hand sell it to us as a project that’s going to bring affordable housing to the community and on the other hand, at the eleventh hour, negotiate a special provision where you get treated differently than everyone else in the city.”

“And how is he being treated differently? The most offensive way, to me—to his credit, the developer has agreed, as it relates to the rental units, to do 50% of the rental units affordable. He should be credited with that. What they said to me was, ‘We have this dramatic rental agreement, so that should be enough. We shouldn’t really have to comply with the law as it relates to the luxury condominiums.’”

Honing in

Then Jeffries took it up a notch, if not to the passionate level of Council Member Letitia James (a project opponent who endorsed Jeffries’ opponent, Bill Batson, but was in the audience last night), but with a definite edge.

“And my view was, yeah, this is an extraordinary thing, that you made 50% of the units affordable. But there were extraordinary steps that were taken by government to make this project happen,” he declared. The audience began murmuring call-and-response agreement.

“The state gave $100 million. The city gave $200 million. They waived the ULURP process. You don’t have to comply with the zoning requirements, so you can build ten, 15, 20 stories higher than anybody else, making additional money. And beyond all that, you have the ability to use the extraordinary power of eminent domain. So, your 50/50 deal is extraordinary, and there were extraordinary things that the government did in return. So as far as I’m concerned, that deal is done, signed, sealed, and delivered, let’s deal with the future.”

Several people clapped.

(Note that the 50/50 program, more precisely a 50/30/20 program of market, middle- and low-income housing, is a city subsidy program available to other developers, and other developers who participate don’t get the private rezoning and extra subsidies that Forest City Ratner has been promised for Atlantic Yards.)

“And as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have a condominium building going up in the Atlantic Yards project where, if it went up in any other part of the 57th Assembly District, that developer would have to build 20% of those units affordable to people in the community. But because of the Atlantic Yards carve-out, he doesn’t have to do that. And I just think that that’s wrong. And so I’m fightin’ it. The city and Mayor Bloomberg, to his credit—he’s been a big supporter of this project--is working closely with me and has said to the developer, ‘If you don’t comply with the law, we’re holding $100 million of the money that we promised to you back.’” More claps.

Jeffries identified the tax break as being worth up to $175 million, as initially reported; city officials have also said the value is closer to the $300 million.

Economic segregation?

“On the one hand, the developer sold to us the notion, as it relates to the 50/50 housing, that there would be no economic segregation. That’s a good thing," he pointed out. "In the law, they negotiated a provision that would allow them to have all luxury condominiums and still get the tax break.”

Forest City Ratner and project supporters must feel some frustration, since the rules got changed on them. The “Atlantic Yards carve-out” would preserve the Atlantic Yards plan as approved last December, even as the city and state began tightening the tax break. On the other hand, the "carve-out" also comes after the city more than doubled its planned spending on Atlantic Yards.

The project has gone through changes; as proposed in December 2003, only 4500 rental units were publicly announced (though condos were quietly in the cards), but in May 2005, once the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ACORN was signed, the project changed.

Forest City Ratner added up to 2800 condos, later shaving that back to 1930 condos, apparently necessary, in the company’s calculation, to drive sufficient profit. (A developer doesn’t lose money producing affordable housing, but the profit margins may be lower.)

ACORN’s Bertha Lewis has declared the project would ultimately be a 50/50 plan, in part because of the 600 to 1000 for-sale affordable units, on-site or off-site, that the developer has pledged to “work towards,” though that would bring the affordable percentage to about 40%. But Lewis never charged “economic segregation” because of the condo-only buildings.

The latest conflict comes about because of bad timing, at least from the developer's point of view. The Atlantic Yards approval process took so long that it was delayed until the city and state reformed 421-a. Had Atlantic Yards been approved earlier last year, with no pending lawsuits, Forest City Ratner might have begun construction on the condo buildings and escaped the law’s revision, Jeffries’ scrutiny, and the civic outrage at special treatment.

What next?

Jeffries said that, while Forest City Ratner didn’t respond formally to his letter, he and representatives of the developer had a conversation, and the city has laid out its position. “The Speaker of the Assembly [Sheldon Silver] and [Housing Chair] Vito Lopez have been supportive of efforts to get some changes into the carve-out provision,” he said, using language that suggested potential compromise rather than a full removal of the provision.

“We go back up to Albany on Thursday. I’m hopeful that it will be on the agenda, but certainly we’ll push, legislatively, to amend the law," he said. "Whether they respond or not, Forest City Ratner, it’s not really their choice. They may use the influence they have in Albany, particularly with the Senate, to try and protect the provisions that they have, but we’re bringing everything that we have to bear to get them, legislatively, to comply with the law.” So the issue remains in question.

In his closing remarks, the Rev. Clinton Miller, Senior Pastor of Brown Memorial and a friend and supporter of Jeffries, reminded the audience they needed to hold government and corporate entities responsible, and to adapt to changes so community members “have an option to stay” in the face of gentrification. He also recommended the documentaries Sicko, about health care, and Brooklyn Matters, about Atlantic Yards.

On-site for-sale units

Afterward, I asked Jeffries about the 200 for-sale on-site affordable units promised by Forest City Ratner when the project was approved in December. Nothing has been announced by the state, and he and Montgomery had queried the developer in their letter.

Forest City Ratner had in conversation recommitted to that number, he said, noting that 200 would be only about 10% of the 1930 condos, not 20%, as would be required by the legislation.

The developer had not announced the income ranges for such units; the Affordable Housing MOU contemplates that they would be in the “upper affordable” income tiers. Given that the range goes up to 140% of AMI, it would seem to be tough to conform to the law, which caps affordable units at 60% of AMI. So that issue remains in question.

Beyond AY

Housing was chief among the issues discussed last night. Jeffries told the audience that he and Montgomery want to tie homeowner tax increases to income and ability to pay, a response to rising rates caused by rising area property values, even though some longtime homeowners are on fixed or low incomes. (Presumably, such homeowners might also be able to tap the equity in their increasingly-valuable homes.)

Also, calling Bedford-Stuyvesant, which he represents in part, "ground zero for the subprime lending crisis and predatory loans," Jeffries said that the state, emulating Ohio, is in the process of forming a reserve fund to assist homeowners, and also will push a public education campaign.

Many renters, he said, are being victimized by landlords who harass them or neglect the property in order to empty out the building and raise rents; he brought two officials from the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal to speak to the audience and be available to answer questions.

One of them mentioned how New York is a leader in allowing Section 8 housing subsidies, typically used for rent, to be used as a down payment to buy housing. The number, however, is just 38, and the solution to the city's affordable housing crisis was beyond the scope of the meeting.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…