Whither AY affordable housing: how little can they get away with building? Were promises ever realistic?
So, let's look at the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing.
The affordable housing push
Affordable housing was one of the strongest selling points for the Atlantic Yards project; indeed, the slogan "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" within about two years became much more about hoops, according to developer Forest City Ratner's propaganda.
Of course, the 6860 units of "mixed-income housing" touted in the flier at right are not all "badly needed." (After all, the total number was cut to 6430.) And many of the 2250 subsidized units are a lot more affordable than others, given that a good chunk--perhaps 900--would be rented for close to market rate.
Only the 900 low-income units, as well about half of an additional 450 units, fit with what the Daily News dubbed "real housing for the real Brooklyn."
In other words, 1125 units would go to the "real Brooklyn" represented by ACORN, which signed the affordable housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Community Benefits Agreement.
How many apartments might that be a year? Well, if the project was to take ten years as (spuriously) promised, that's 112.5 units a year. Over 20 years, it would be 56 units a year.
That means 1125 units over 25 years--or 45 units a year. That's not much of a dent in the affordable housing challenge. I daresay a commensurate investment in outer-borough transit service would do as much good.
But there's no reason to think all the units promised would be built, or built in a timely fashion. Remember, the State Funding Agreement allows 12 years after the exercise of eminent domain and the delivery of property via condemnation to build Phase 1--and there's no timetable for Phase 2.
The plan for affordable housing drew praise even from those critical of the project. In an August 2006 New York magazine cover story, Chris Smith cited "terrific and creative commitments in the Community Benefits Agreement, minority job training and below-market housing chief among them."
But are they really commitments? The requirement that 30% of Phase 1 would be affordable is part of the state documentation.
(No, Forest City Ratner could not get out of its obligation by paying ACORN $500,000, as has been reported.)
Moreover, even the weak requirements of the CBA would not necessarily transfer to a new owner if Forest City Ratner sold the project.
Questionable from the start?
But what if the commitments were unrealistic from the start?
Atlantic Yards would require $1.4 billion in housing bonds, according to information the Empire State Development Corporation disclosed to the Public Authorities Control Board and made public only after the project was approved, in documents filed in the lawsuit challenging the AY environmental review.
In May 2007, some six months after Atlantic Yards was approved, Shaun Donovan, then Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, told Congress that the city faced "an immediate crisis" because it lacked the capacity to issue bonds for the affordable housing projects planned.
And that problem was already evident in March 2007, as the New York Observer reported. It stands to reason that the problem had not simply cropped up that month.
What did the ESDC know and when did they know it?
I can't be certain, but several months ago, I filed a Freedom of Information Law request, asking the ESDC if it had considered the availability of tax-exempt bonds in evaluating Atlantic Yards. I haven't gotten an answer. Each month I get a letter telling me they're still looking for responsive records.
Maybe the Senate hearing can get some answers.