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Commenters say delay in delivering Atlantic Yards housing means gentrification outpaces need; state will study issue but won't require faster buildout

As noted, the Final Scope for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for Phase 2 of Atlantic Yards contains a lengthy Response to Comments document (bottom), which I will excerpt in several posts. (The Final Scope was issued 2/7/1, but the actual court-ordered SEIS will not arrive until sometime in the spring.)

Yesterday I wrote about how Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, told commenters complaining about a 25-year buildout that it would not require a ten-year buildout, as many requested, but nothing precluded that.

Similarly, as noted below, several commenters observed that the delay from ten to 25 years would in many ways defeat the purpose of promising 2250 units of subsidized housing, because that affordable housing would be delivered more slowly, and some of those in the nearest community districts would be gentrified out before they became eligible for such housing.

The response, essentially, was, we'll take a look. However, the state's unwillingness to consider requiring a faster buildout suggests that no major mitigation will be required.

The need for mitigation

Commenters wrote:
Comment 24: The Atlantic Yards Project has put increased pressure on an already intensely gentrifying area-and with the delay in the delivery of affordable housing, has sold out on the "promise of a lifetime" to some of the project’s earliest supporters. This represents a significant adverse impact and is a matter that requires further study in the SEIS-the results of which are likely to suggest that effect of the 25 year Extended Build-out should be mitigated- not tolerated. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The SEIS must address the impact of the delayed affordable housing units. Far too many long time Boerum Hill residents come into my office on a daily basis seeking help because they are being priced out of the neighborhood. (Levin)
The response:
Response: The Socioeconomic Conditions analysis will consider whether the Extended Build-Out Scenario would alter the conclusions presented in the FEIS with respect to the potential socioeconomic effects of Phase II of the Project. This will include an indirect residential displacement analysis that will take into account the effects of a delay in the completion of both market rate and affordable housing. Potential effects on neighborhood sub-areas, including the Boerum Hill subarea, will be considered. Please also see the response to Comment 28.
Note this excerpt from the response to Comment 28:
With respect to this analysis, “delayed benefits” as described by the commenter will be addressed in the SEIS if those benefits were mitigating factors precluding a significant adverse socioeconomic impact where one otherwise would have been disclosed.
Given that the state has already said it does not plan to require a faster buildout, it's hard to see that anything disclosed in the SEIS will require a mitigation that resolves the adverse impact.

Changes already?

Another commenter pointed to changes since 2006:
Comment 25: The SEIS should measure the rates of change in the breakdown of income and racial demographics in the study area between project approval in 2006 and the present, project those rates forward through the build year scenarios in the SEIS, and study how delay in the project's affordable housing components would affect socioeconomic diversity in the study area relative to delivery of the affordable housing components on the schedule originally approved. The likely impacts on socioeconomic conditions that need to be further studied in the SEIS as a result of the 25 year Extended Build-out Scenario that FCRC proposed are extensive. Specifically, the majority of low, moderate and even middle income families earning 30 to 135% of AMI that would be eligible for the affordable housing if it were built within the first 10 years will not be eligible for those same units if they were built in 25 years. (Brooklyn Speaks; Fifth Avenue Committee)
For this truly unique project, FCRC must be required to use a historical AMI that would preserve the eligibility of CB 8 residents. FCRC should be required to accept New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Home Ownership Center (HOC)-provided applicant lists that relate back to the original 10 year completion date, rather than the then current AMI. (George)
The SEIS should study the size of affordable apartment in relationship to potential discriminatory effects as well. What is the projected family size of residents in each racial and ethnic group within the 10 year build out period vs. the 25 Extended Build-Out period? What is the family size of the newer, more likely to be White, families compared to the long-time residents of the community who are more often African American? (Fifth Avenue Committee)
ESD has allowed FCRC to submit a modified plan that will allow the developer 25 years to complete the project. If this modified plan is allowed to stand, not only will the developer, the ESD and elected officials who are in favor of the project lose credibility, but many residents will continue to go without much needed employment and housing. (Tejada, Edwards, Brown, Miller)
The response:
Response: The SEIS indirect residential displacement analysis will estimate current income distribution in the study area, the extent to which new development would affect income distribution in the future without Phase II of the Project, and whether the Extended Build-Out Scenario could alter the income distribution in the study area in a manner that could result in significant adverse socioeconomic impacts that were not identified in the FEIS. The CEQR Technical Manual methodology for socioeconomic assessment does not include consideration of race, focusing rather on the income profile of a study area’s population.
The SEIS will outline the project commitments related to on-site affordable housing, and the income tiers that will qualify families for on-site affordable housing. Eligibility will be linked to Area Median Income (AMI), which represents the midpoint in the family income range for a given geography—in this case, the New York City metropolitan area. The eligibility requirements for on-site affordable housing applicants will be subject to affordable housing program requirements at the time each project site is developed, i.e., eligibility for affordable housing units introduced in 2025 would be linked to income tiers based on 2025 AMI. While AMI may increase in future years, this increase would be driven by a general increase in family incomes within the metropolitan area, which would likely affect families both within and outside of CB8. As both AMI and family incomes increase in CB8, the eligibility of many existing families in the 30 to 160 percent of AMI bracket will be maintained. The SEIS will not require construction of the Project in a 25-year period.
Neither the 2009 MGPP nor the SEIS would preclude construction of Phase II of the Project faster than the 2035 Build Year that is being used for analysis purposes in the SEIS to comply with the Court Order directing ESD to prepare an SEIS for an extended delay in Phase II of the Project.
Note how this response suggests that the incomes of "many existing families" in CB 8 will increase commensurately with the metro area as a whole, which is not at all guaranteed.

Discriminatory impact?

Other commenters suggested the delay would hurt black residents as well as older ones:
Comment 26: Because of on-going gentrification and displacement pressures, there will likely continue to be significant changes in the racial and ethnic make-up of Community Board 8 that will disadvantage African Americans, in particular, in an affordable housing lottery process that takes place in 2035 vs. 2010. It is current New York City policy that local residents within community boards in which a project is being built are given priority during affordable housing lotteries. That local priority often means the difference between getting into an affordable home or not, or even becoming homeless. In 2010, according to the US Census, nearly 17% of Community Board 8 residents were White, just over 65% were African American, nearly 3% were Asian and nearly 12% were Latino. If existing trends continue, the White population in Community Board 8 in 2035 is likely to be over 35% while the African American population in Community Board 8 will likely to be less than 40%. The impact of the Extended Build-out Scenario, regardless of intention, discriminates against African Americans living in Community Board 8, in particular, and must be further studied in the SEIS. (Brooklyn Speaks; Fifth Avenue Committee)
The impact of the construction delay of the affordable housing for Phase II of the project should also review possible discriminatory impact due to age. By waiting 25 years as a result of the extended build out period, do the longer term residents no longer have families and therefore the only people who might be eligible for the affordable apartments are new residents who would be younger (move in to the neighborhood recently) and therefore waiting will further discriminate against the existing residents (African Americans whose children would be adults in 25 years and are likely to have moved out their parents apartment) and benefit the new white residents (who will have younger kids in 20 years and therefore could be eligible for the affordable apartments)? (Fifth Avenue Committee)
The response:
Response: The Socioeconomic Conditions analysis will update all demographic data on race and ethnicity that were presented in the FEIS. However, the CEQR Technical Manual methodology for socioeconomic assessment does not include consideration of race and ethnicity in the determination of impacts, focusing rather on the income profile of a study area’s population. The analysis will look at the effect of Extended Build-Out Scenario on low income population in the study area in the context of the indirect residential displacement analysis. The affordable housing criteria established by New York City and State programs are based principally on a prospective tenant’s income as a percentage of Area Median Income (AMI); they do not exclude potential residents as a result of race or status as senior citizens. The race and age of such persons not currently living in the area will not be assessed in the Socioeconomic Conditions chapter of the SEIS. As a Project requirement, not more than 50 percent of the Phase II units shall be built without completion of at least 50 percent of the Phase II affordable units. Therefore, the Phase II affordable units would be phased in over time as the Project is developed. Under the Extended Build-Out Scenario this commitment would continue to be required; however, as with the overall development, affordable units would be phased in over a longer period of time if the project were to be completed in 2035. It should be noted that neither the project documents nor the SEIS preclude a more rapid project completion, which was analyzed in the 2006 FEIS.
Others addressed delays:
Comment 32: We need more jobs now. We need to create them within ten years, not 25. We need more affordable housing within ten years, not within 25. (Ettlinger)
Delaying work on the Atlantic Yards is also delaying the needs of the people who are desperately searching for work every day. (Moody, Collins)
The response:
Response: The SEIS will analyze the delay in the completion of affordable housing and market-rate residential units and of non-residential space that would occur under the Extended Build-Out Scenario and discuss whether this delay in development could result in significant adverse socioeconomic impacts compared with the FEIS. Please also see the response to Comment 28. Neither the Project documents nor the SEIS preclude a more rapid project completion, which was analyzed in the 2006 FEIS.
Impacts over past decade

Others pointed to changes in the area since Atlantic Yards was announced in 2003:
Comment 74: If the SEIS considers an approximately ¼-mile study area surrounding the project site during the relevant time period from the announcement of the project to the present (2003-2013), the public could gain an understanding of what the impact might be of another 22 years of construction and delay. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The response:
Response: In the Construction Socioeconomic section of the SEIS, changes in residential and commercial activities in an approximately ¼-mile study area will be compared to changes in the surrounding neighborhoods to determine whether the construction activities to date may have had an effect on socioeconomic conditions in close proximity to the project site. The Final Scope of Work will clarify this approach.
The changes already

Others pointed to the general gentrification:
Comment 77: This is a vibrant area of Brooklyn, New York City, and New York State. The standard should not be just economic disinvestment. There was already a positive private investment trend in this area. Therefore, the question to be addressed must go beyond the issue of whether there will be disinvestment. The first question to be analyzed is whether businesses and real estate investment in the vicinity will be able to keep up with the rest of brownstone Brooklyn. With the potential for future customers on the long-term horizon, there may very well be investors who will hold for the long term. However, it has been our experience that long-term investors might be more interested in letting their sites remain fallow in hopes of greater return on their investment than in short term investments in successful enterprises. Therefore, the SEIS should analyze decreases in employment by local businesses- both full- and part-time workers, including salary and benefits, as well as increases or decreases in sales tax revenues to determine whether actual business in the study zone is affected.
Rents and vacancies are not the only indicators of socioeconomic impact. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The response:
Response: The SEIS will use available data to analyze whether a prolonged construction period for Phase II of the Project could lead to disinvestment in the surrounding area that would result in significant adverse socioeconomic or neighborhood character conditions. The Socioeconomic Conditions chapter will examine
whether the completion of Phase II by 2035 under the Extended Build-Out Scenario would result in new or different socioeconomic impacts as compared to the completion of Phase II by 2016 as analyzed in the 2006 FEIS. The analysis will utilize employment and business data at the borough and zip code level obtained from the New York State Department of Labor Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). In order to provide a more complete picture of total employment in the ¾-mile study area, the zip code data will be supplemented with employment data from ESRI Business Analyst Online, a commercial data provider that calculates employment estimates for any defined geographic area. The socioeconomic effects of prolonged construction will be considered in the Construction section of the SEIS. This analysis will utilize a variety of data sources to examine socioeconomic trends in a ¼-mile and ¾-mile radius of the Project site, including rolling property sales data from the New York City Department of Finance, demographic data from the Census, and employment data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Census Transportation Planning Package.
Both the operational and construction analyses of socioeconomic conditions will address changes in retail activity surrounding the project site, which will be assessed using a number of data sources. With respect to sales tax revenue data that the commenter mentions, these data are not published for geographies smaller than municipalities. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance do not publish business sales data for geographies smaller than counties. Although sales data for small areas can be obtained through private data providers, such providers generally offer current data only (not historic). With respect to the salary and benefits data that the commenter mentions, following CEQR Technical Manual guidelines these data would be utilized to describe the characteristics and performance of
potentially affected businesses, if the analyses of direct or indirect business displacement were to indicate that Phase II under the Extended Build-Out Scenario could result in additional displacement effects. Therefore, the analysis of changes in retail activity will be based largely on field observations and information obtained from local real estate agencies and newspapers. A retail survey will be conducted as part of the SEIS for all retail corridors located within an approximately ¼-mile area of the project site – the geographic area that is the primary focus of the FEIS discussion on potential for indirect business displacement due to increasing commercial rents. The SEIS retail survey will be compared with the retail survey completed for the FEIS to
determine whether there have been changes in the mix of stores and in overall vacancy rates. Retail survey findings will be supplemented with information from local real estate agents, Business Improvement Districts, and newspaper articles on topics such as store openings and closings, overall retail corridor vibrancy, and commercial rental rates.
Retail and tenant impacts

Some pointed to the impact of delays on retail corridors:
Comment 79: The Phase II residential components, with their thousands of residential units, could reasonably be expected to create demand for a more diverse and balanced set of businesses on [Vanderbilt Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Franklin Avenue]. The SEIS should study the effect of the delay of construction and occupation of the Phase II buildings on the economic development of surrounding neighborhoods in this regard. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The SEIS must study the impact of delaying the advent of the more than 4,000 planned residences, perhaps for decades, on the economic development of surrounding neighborhoods. (George)
Extended build-out will slow and/or discourage the establishment of new businesses in the area, inasmuch as they normally depend on increased pedestrian counts for their clientele. The type of business that is affected would expect to be drawing patrons from residents of the towers, not the arena attendees, although there is of course occasional overlap in the case of bars and restaurants only. These businesses that either might not establish or, if new, might not succeed, would be fighting for a much smaller number of customers during the years prior to completion than under the original Plan. (Ettlinger)
The response:
Response: The SEIS will examine the effects of the Extended Build-Out Scenario on socioeconomic conditions, including the composition of business activity on commercial corridors in immediate proximity to the project site.
A small landlord commented:
Comment 80: The area is less attractive because of extended build-out, to possible new tenants. New home sales can be affected. Incidental to this problem is the depressing effect on real estate values created by empty storefronts. I would like to see Forest City Ratner demonstrate the impact they’ve had on economic impact in the area such as new stores opening. Finally, for those developers waiting to build apartments in the area, the extended build-out is extremely problematic as potential condo-buyers would of course prefer a shorter build-out and its attendant disruptive nature. (Ettlinger)
The response:
Response: The SEIS will examine changes in residential and commercial activity within an approximately ¼-mile area of the project site from 2003 to present. These trends will be compared to changes in the surrounding neighborhoods to determine whether the Project to date may have had an effect on socioeconomic conditions in close proximity to the project site. In addition, as indicated in the Draft Scope of Work, the SEIS will present case studies of other locations within New York City that have experienced extended construction activities and/or construction schedules in order to determine whether such activities have led to changes in neighborhood conditions that in turn resulted in disinvestment in the immediately surrounding neighborhoods.
Atlantic Yards, Response to Comments on Draft Scope for Supplementary EIS, Feb. 7, 2014


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