Skip to main content

The Daily News follows up on the housing guarantees, gets quotes out of FCR, ESDC, and ACORN, lets them off easy

Well, it's nice that the Daily News, alone among the press, followed up on my article last Thursday questioning the guarantees for Atlantic Yards affordable housing, but the omissions and errors deserve attention.

The article, headlined Weaker plan to finance Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards housing project, was posted today though, I'm told, was actually in the paper Friday.

The article begins:
The final version of a state plan for developer Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project weakened guarantees that promised affordable housing would get necessary funding, new documents show.

Ratner has pledged to build 2,250 units of affordable housing as part of the proposed Nets arena and 16-tower project, but critics have questioned whether he'll ever come through.

A draft of the plan, obtained under the Freedom of Information Law by the blog Atlantic Yards Report, promises state and city affordable housing subsidies to fund those units.

"City actions include approval of funding . . . for affordable housing bond financing," an April 2006 draft of the General Project Plan states. "The State would also . . . provide funding for affordable housing bond financing."

Those paragraphs were deleted in later drafts. The current plan says the affordable housing is "expected" to be paid for with tax-exempt bonds from city and state housing programs.


Actually, it wasn't the final version that weakened guarantees; those guarantees were discarded in the spring of 2006, before the General Project Plan.

Questioning ACORN

The Daily News queried Forest City Ratner's affordable housing partner:
ACORN director and Atlantic Yards backer Bertha Lewis said she wished public officials would stop "mucking about" with the plans, but expressed confidence all the promised apartments would get built.

"Bruce Ratner's never wavered," she said. "I never look for anybody else to ensure these guarantees. We look directly to the developer to ensure the guarantees."


That's bogus. The Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) ACORN signed required Lewis to publicly support the project. Forest City Ratner has bailed out ACORN with $1.5 million in grants and a loan.

Then consider that, in the March 2006 report ACORN prepared called Sweetheart Development: Gentrification and Resegregation in Downtown Brooklyn, ACORN specifically looked to government, not developers:
ACORN holds that any developer seeking tax abatements should be required to make at least 30% of new housing units affordable, and to tier this affordable housing for different income levels, ensuring that units are affordable, at 30% of household income, for all low- and moderate-income families.

As for Ratner not wavering, well, remember that the developer originally promised that 900 of the 2250 affordable apartments be go to moderate-income people earning 50%-100% of the Area Median Income (or AMI) but quickly switched the configuration, with only 450 units going to moderate-income people and 900 aimed at the middle-class, earning above the AMI.

How would the affordable housing guarantee in the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) be enforced? The CBA provides for binding arbitration, as well as the opportunity to go to court to enforce the agreement.

Given ACORN's unwillingness to challenge Forest City Ratner, it's highly unlikely they'd go to court, and, should the developer cite the lack of housing subsidies, ACORN may just not have a case.

Checking with the ESDC

The Daily News asked the ESDC and the developer about the housing and their answers were reminiscent of that old Marx Brothers line, "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

Empire State Development Corp. spokesman Warner Johnston couldn't say why the language in the plan was changed, but said the agency "remains committed to developing affordable housing with our partners at Forest City Ratner."

Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said: "The General Project Plan and the modified General Project Plan both include the affordable housing component and the developer remains 100% committed to what was agreed to."


These statements may not be false, but they're not very meaningful. The General Project Plan (GPP) may include the affordable housing component, but it does not enforce it. Nor is the approval of the GPP contingent in part on the availability of housing subsidies, as the early draft suggested.

Misreading Matlin

The article closes:
In an e-mail also obtained by Atlantic Yards Report, ESDC counsel Steve Matlin acknowledged there's no guarantee that funding will be available - but said that's Ratner's problem.

"Forest City will take the risk that adequate housing programs are in effect," he wrote. "The bottom line is that the affordable housing requirements do not go away if housing benefits are inadequate or are not available."


Actually, the State Funding Agreement gives the developer an out. In other words, current documentation suggests that the requirements are not enforceable.

Also missed in this article: there's no evidence that the state considered the availability of housing bonds when approving the project with an "anticipated" ten-year buildout, and there's no evidence that such bonds would be available. In other words, the promises of 2250 subsidized, "affordable" units over a decade just can't be believed.

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…

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 …

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…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …