Skip to main content

Bertha Lewis on Brian Lehrer: "just my opinion" that de Blasio's "even more committed" to Atlantic Yards affordable housing

Last Tuesday, 1/21/14, Bertha Lewis, president of The Black Institute, was on The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss Black Americans and Immigration, but at 17:46 a caller brought up Atlantic Yards affordable housing.

And Lewis got her talking points in without much skepticism.

"I live in Brooklyn along Atlantic," said Jed in Brooklyn. "I live just down the road from Barclays, I love that it's there, at first I was really upset, because I was a Freddy's Backroom guy. I'm calling because  the affordable housing issue , people don't seem to be talking about it that much any more."

(He's obviously just far enough away for the arena not to impact his block. But that kind of comment is sure to warm Marty Markowitz's heart.)

"And that's why you supported it," Lehrer said to his guest.


"So the question is: what happened?"

Mayoral support

"And I'm glad you asked," Lewis responded. "Because the first tower, right now, as we speak, is going up. I'm very happy to engage the new de Blasio administration, because we have 13 more to go up."

"de Blasio supported it too, by the way," chimed in Lehrer.

"Because of the affordable housing component," continued Lewis.

That's true, but that leaves out his political debt to Lewis, ACORN, and the Working Families Party, as well as his failure to offer any criticism of the Community Benefits Agreement he supported.

"And it's just my opinion," Lewis added, "but I think the de Blasio administration is even more committed to making sure the affordable units are there."

That's not just an opinion. Lewis is part of the mayor's circle of power. Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnee Gilmartin was on his transition team.

"But the first tower going up," she said. "This time next year people will be moving in, and construction will have started on Tower 3, 4, 5."

Really? I expect one more tower to start within the next year, but not three. And certainly only on the arena block, not Tower 5, which would be built on railyard land east of Sixth Avenue that Forest City Ratner--nor its future joint venture partner, the Greenland Group--has not yet acquired.

"And, as we go on, I am thrilled that we're finally out of this deadlock and we're moving forward with the housing," Lewis continued.

That's skating over a few details, like the announced, but not yet approved, joint venture, and the incomplete Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for Phase 2 (the project east of Sixth Avenue) required by a court order.

The mayor's leverage

"Is there something that Mayor de Blasio, as someone with an obvious commitment to seeing the affordabe housing, can do?" asked Lehrer. "Is there a lever of power that he can operate that Mayor Bloomberg maybe wouldn't have been inclined to push as hard on? I don't know if the pressure point is there, or if it's outside the city's enforcement."

"That pressure point is there," Lewis responded. "I mean, HPD, the housing agency, plays a huge role in this, in making sure we get the affordable housing."

She didn't dwell on what that could mean, but that could mean additional subsidies for the units, or an agreement that the configuration of family-sized units--as in the first tower--is skewed toward upper-income affordable households. These numbers are flexible.

Lewis then moved to the general issue. "Mayor de Blasio has said he intends--which I don't think is enough--to do over 200,000 units," she said. "And so, since we're already on this path, let's start here. Let's make sure that other mega-developers do more than 20% in any housing project. Instead of 80/20, which is 80% market, 20% affordable, I'd flip it, let's do 20/80, 20% market, 80% affordable."

That's nice rhetoric, but Lewis knows, as she's written, that it's not that simple.

"Let's change the way we dish out subsidies to reward people for doing truly affordable housing," she said.

"Of course, you may never get 20/80," countered Lehrer, "because then the incentives wouldn't be there for the developers to build, or don't you agree with that?"

"I do not agree with that," Lewis maintained. "We've been in housing development. We don't want this to be philanthropy, you can make money... and also, how you use tax breaks and subsidies can be an incentive."

"Your answer to the caller: the affordable housing units are going up at Atlantic Yards--"

Yes!" interjected Lewis.

"--and the Nets are 8 and 1 this month."

And they left it at that.

A comment

Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights
No, no matter what Bertha Lewis says or how interviewer Lehrer summarizes it, the affordable housing units are NOT going up at the Atlantic Yards site.

Yes, we need to change the way we do things, but not in the way Ms. Lewis suggests.

More affordable units (and units that were more affordable) were torn down within the Atlantic Yards demolition footprint than have been replaced and units at that level of affordability are not being replaced.

What are the problems with the way things happened? Ms. Lewis used the term “mega-developer”- One problem is that we treated Forest City Ratner as a “mega-developer” who the government could rightly entitle to own a mega-monpoloy thus ensuring we had NO negotiating power with the developer going forward. Unfortunately, Ms. Lewis played into the hands of power and privilege by endorsing this arrangement.

Next, Ms. Lewis and her ACORN group did not negotiate for the provision of any units that would be truly additional affordable units, units other than the tax code, existing subsidy programs and the market would provide. She specifically endorsed excluding an income band just above what the tax code would require from any benefit.

Further, as the Fifth Avenue Committee and Pratt Institute [sic; it was actually Pratt Area Community Council] testified at the supplemental environmental impact statement hearings concerning why the mega-project should be broken up, the mega-project will likely (and permissibly) be built over 25, perhaps 40 years (according to ESDC’s Lago) and that means with shifting median income and affordability levels even the affordability once spoken of is largely a mirage.

Rather than Ms. Lewis’s cavalierly grand suggestion that we invert our procedures and requirements to require a greater percentage of affordable units in the future, what we should do is require that, in the future, we at least replace the affordable we induce to be destroyed with schemes like Atlantic Yards and that we not let affordable housing be destroyed until equivalent or better units are in place.

BTW: Notwithstanding that de Blasio is now on the scene, the proper answer is NOT to construct units at the Ratner/Prokorov/Chinese Investors site by diverting much needed subsidy from other projects into a Ratner bailout.

See: Wednesday, February 27, 2013, Noticing New York's Testimony at Tonight's Hearing on the Draft Scope of Work for the DSEIS for Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards Mega-monpoly


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…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in November 2017, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won't be so cheap.


The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

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 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…