Skip to main content

As de Blasio announces affordable housing plan, Atlantic Yards (delay, modular, lack of neighborhood planning) remains an awkward backdrop

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio launched his much-anticipated plan to build or preserve 200,000 affordable apartments yesterday just minutes from the Atlantic Yards site, the controversial project was pretty much absent not only from his press conference but also from the 116-page document distributed, which stressed, among other things:
  • affordability for a wide range of incomes, including extremely low-income households 
  • mandatory inclusionary zoning in exchange for increased development rights
  • a new program for buildings with all affordable units (and a big step away from the city's 80% market, 20% low-income mix)
  • "ground-up neighborhood planning" to identify opportunities for more housing coordinate greater density with necessary infrastructure.
  • a streamlined development process
There was no mention of the planned affordable housing that he and others cited to justify their support for Atlantic Yards, likely because that housing has taken so long to be built--and perhaps because it recalls the absence of "ground-up neighborhood planning."

Indeed, as noted by the Atlantic Yards-supporting Daily News in an editorial:
City Hall disingenuously says that it wants to only move to build affordable housing where communities are demanding it. As de Blasio himself knows from the Atlantic Yards development, which he rightly backed against furious neighborhood resistance, there will be fights. Loud ones.
Well, he "rightly backed" a project that emerged as the opposite of mandatory inclusionary zoning, with a state override of city zoning and what I call a privately-negotiated affordable housing bonus.

But the presence today of affordable housing, in a rapidly gentrifying city, remains a trump card, no matter what the process, or whether it should have been distributed in a more thoughtful way, and with a cap on subsidies.

As New York magazine's Chris Smith wrote, De Blasio’s New Plan to Create or Save 200,000 Cheap Apartments Is Going to Make a Lot of People Angry:
Some of the complexities facing [Deputy Mayor Alicia] Glen and her team could be seen right down the street from the mayor’s press conference in Fort Greene this morning. More than ten years after Atlantic Yards was announced, the Nets are in the playoffs, but not a single unit of housing — affordable or otherwise — has opened on the site. And the project’s developer is back at City Hall seeking more taxpayer subsidies.
(I'll have more on the overall plan--which gained much praise, though large question marks remain--in another post.)

Nothing on Atlantic Yards except...

There was no mention of Forest City's ambitious and so far flawed plan to build the Atlantic Yards towers using cutting-edge modular technology, trucking in finished "mods" from a factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Nor was there any mention of new subsidies for Atlantic Yards, though it's possible a future project building *might* take advantage of the "all affordable" category or, more likely, programs that emphasize provision of larger units.

In fact, the housing plan contained a lie or, more charitably, a very misleading statement:
The City will work with the MTA and other owners of rights-of-way to explore the feasibility of decking over rail facilities, as has been done at Hudson and Atlantic Yards.
While decking over the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard, part of 22-acre Atlantic Yards site, is planned to support six towers and a majority of the Phase 2 housing, it hasn't been done, and likely will be the last segment done, given the cost. (About a quarter of the railyard was used for the arena block, but that was below-grade, with no deck.)

Only a rather strained reading of that sentence would suggest that they meant exploring the feasibility "has been done." And, actually, the MTA didn't explore the feasibility but rather reacted to Forest City Ratner's plan.

On NY1's Inside City Hall last night, host Errol Louis brought up the Atlantic Yards modular plan, saying it had been touted as helping housing get built quickly: "Is that going to pan out?"

"The modular building is going up," responded Vicki Been, Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. "It's had some delays, as any new technology does."

Well, new technology may have snags, but pushing back the timetable from a two-year buildout to a three-year one was surely not Forest City Ratner's plan, nor was the idea of starting the next three towers--as had been decided by Forest City's new joint venture partner/overseer, the Greenland Group--via conventional means.

"So we're very hopeful, and architects and builders and engineers are very hopeful, that modular housing is really going to make a difference in terms of bringing down construction costs, and will be useful in a wide variety of building types," Been said.

In Fort Greene

Still, Atlantic Yards housing supporters might note that de Blasio's team missed an opportunity to highlight some contrast between the Atlantic Yards affordable housing and the marquee project at 250 Ashland Place near the Brooklyn Academy of Music where the press conference was held.

The 586-unit, 52-story tower under construction by the Gotham Organization will, much like the first Atlantic Yards tower, have 50% market-rate, 30% middle-income, and 20% low-income units.

Unlike the Atlantic Yards towers, and thanks to construction on a city-owned site (as opposed to one bought with some city subsidies as well as a below-market bid for the railyard), the 250 Ashland project will be permanently affordable, an outcome de Blasio acknowledged would be tough to reach in most instances, given an effort to "reach the most people as quickly as possible."

But the Atlantic Yards B2 tower under construction, however unaffordable to many who rallied for Atlantic Yards housing, would actually be more affordable than 250 Ashland Place.

The low-income units in Fort Greene would be available to households earning up to 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) and the middle income units to households earning 135% and 165% of AMI.

In B2, the low-income units would be available to households earning 30% to 50% of AMI, while the moderate- and middle-income units would be in three "bands": 60 to 100% of AMI, 100% to 140% of AMI, and 140% to 160% of AMI.

Then again, B2 is skewed significantly to studios and one-bedroom units, with only 35 subsidized two-bedroom units, and no three-bedroom ones. By contrast, 250 Ashland would have 148 studios, 271 one-bedroom units, 121 two-bedroom units, and 46 three-bedroom units. In the low-income category, there would be 23 studios, 47 one-bedroom units, 35 two-bedroom units, and 12 three-bedroom units.

At the press conference

A wide range of public officials, as well as organizational supporters (Gary LaBarbera of the Building and Construction Trades Council, Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change) were at the press conference in Fort Greene. (There was later a second press conference, in the Bronx.)

"I am clear," declared Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at about 19:58 of the video. "Build, baby, build. Build tall, build high."

"No more nights of sleeping," he said, in what struck me on watching it later as part-jocular fashion. "The jackhammers should be heard throughout this city." (In response to a straight-faced tweet about Adams's statement, I cited Atlantic Yards Watch and the Footprint Gazette as examples of the impact on neighborhoods.

Indeed, later in the press conference, David Picket of the Gotham Organization jokingly thanked Adams for the invitation to make as much noise as possible. "I'll be sure to forward you all the community complaints."

Dodging a question

At about 48:28 of the video, de Blasio was asked, "The report talks about building platforms over railyards to create more developable land, kinda like Atlantic Yards. Can you talk about some railyards where you'd like to see that?"

de Blasio immediately turned to City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, and, as Weisbrod came forward,  the mayor pronounced quizzically, "Building over railyards or other..."

de Blasio faced Public Advocate Letitia James as someone (not sure who) said "There's some in the Bronx, some in Queens..."

de Blasio continued in a singsong vein, "There's some here, there's some there."

Weisbrod said they didn't have any specific railyard in mind, "but we'd be happy to look at them."

"I've got a railyard I wanna show you," de Blasio riposted.

It was a bit jocular, given the contrast with what has not been done in the Atlantic Yards project.

Balancing urgency and sensitivity

At about 56:37 of the press conference, de Blasio said, "I hope you understand how urgently people feel this... this is not the same discussion about the zoning process you might have had ten or 20 years ago."

As he said more than once, "the New York City we have known historically... is in danger." (It's been in danger for a while.)

Weisbrod said that the effort to identify new sites, and areas for rezonings, begins immediately, with studies and then discussions with local elected officials and communities. "We want this to be a participatory process," he said. "It will start literally right away."

At 58:39, the mayor was asked about the community pushback toward scale: "How big should people expect buildings to grow? Where do you hope to focus those?"

"It's a good question, we want to make clear: we're going to work with every community," de Blasio responded. "What's underlying this whole process--I want to speak about the grassroots and, since that's where I've spent the vast majority of my career. People in this city are demanding that we do something. Our job is to go out in every community and talk about what we can do.. people are not saying, we want you to put it in another borough... The way to do that is work with elected officials and local stakeholders to figure out the best way. But it will start with a very clear message: here's the plan, here's the goal, now let's figure out how we do it locally, in each case."

Later, on Inside City Hall, host Louis observed that "everybody wants more affordable housing, nobody wants more density on their block."

Weisbrod responded, "I'm not so sure... I think that there are some knee-jerk reactions... but there also are some sound reasons why communities have resisted density that we think we can address: better infrastructure, coordinating services with neighborhoods... in a much more careful way."

Contrast with Bloomberg rezoning?

At 61:22, James, the former 35th District Council Member, said, "When we rezoned Downtown Brooklyn, it was a lot of individuals concerned about the buildings.. but what was promised then by previous administration was public benefits, more affordable housing, schools, that you would preserve local businesses. None of that happened. as a result of that, the individuals in this community were outraged."

Actually, the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was mainly--and misguidedly--aimed to compete with New Jersey for office space. It was "designed to encourage new office development and academic expansion space within the commercial core and, in the surrounding areas, new residential development with attractive ground-floor retail."

City planners rejected a stress on affordable housing, and elected officials, including James, didn't make a huge stand.

"Going forward, in this administration, some of those benefits will be realized, and that is why this is a win-win for everyone," James said yesterday.

Locals present, and quoted

By the way, local Assemblyman Walter Mosley was present, but not Council Member Laurie Cumbo--not sure why. She was quoted in a press release from City Hall:
“I thank Mayor de Blasio for his leadership and commitment to creating and preserving affordable housing throughout New York City. Low and middle-income families should not have to struggle to remain in the communities they built. Housing New York is a critical step forward to protect the diversity of our great borough and city while creating jobs for New Yorkers,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.
Also quoted in the press release was a signatory of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement:
“I’m very excited about the Mayor’s proposal. It is a needed program, and we hope that he receives 100 percent support on the program, and that the program will be expedited as soon as possible,” said Reverend Herbert Daughtry, House of the Lord Church.
Not heard from so far is Bertha Lewis, a close advisor to the mayor who, as head of New York ACORN, signed and since has advocated aggressively for Forest City Ratner's housing plan. But I suspect she will be heard.


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.


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…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2017: no new towers, unfilled affordable units, Islanders prepare to leave, project timetable fuzzy

My 2018 preview.

It was another wait-and-see year for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, with one big twist--the beginning of a slow goodbye for the New York Islanders--but continued delays for towers, a lost (mostly) 421-a subsidy for condos, and new skepticism about unfilled not-so-affordable housing units.

So ongoing questions linger regarding the project's pace, affordability, and even future ownership.

In my 2017 preview, I predicted--not exactly going out on a limb--that two and likely three more towers would open, though it would be unclear how fast they'd lease up and sell.

Indeed, we've learned that the middle-income below-market units at 461 Dean (which opened in 2016) and 535 Carlton have leased very slowly, while it's too soon to assess progress for commensurate units at 38 Sixth. (At 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, middle-income units make up half the "100% affordable" buildings.) Meanwhile, many apartments are up for rent at the 550 Vanderbilt condo buildin…