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At announcement of affordable housing seminars, celebratory air out of sync with reality of some not-so-affordable units

The flyer is here and in Spanish here
It's surely progress, the series of seminars announced yesterday to inform people how to apply for affordable housing lotteries, helping them ensure they properly fill out applications and try to clean up their credit.

But the press conference yesterday at Borough Hall, led by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, with several elected officials, developers' representatives, and nonprofit organizers, had an air of celebration and triumph out of sync with the reality.

"They're removing the 'No Vacancy'' sign," declared an effusive Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. "1100 [affordable] units will no longer be out of reach for the everyday Brooklynite."

"This is so Brooklyn can stay in Brooklyn," declared 35th District Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who said the idea for seminars grew out of conversations she had on the campaign trail.

"We are extremely proud of our affordable housing program at Atlantic Yards," declared Forest City Ratner's Melissa Burch, the only developer's representative to speak at the press conference. (Forest City will have the largest amount of subsidized units, and its CEO co-chairs the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.)

Actually, the affordability of the coming subsidized units was glossed over significantly, as well as the difficulty of winning a highly competitive lottery, even with 50% of the units set aside for residents of the local Community Board (or Boards) where the project is located.

Subsidized ≠ "low income"

Though Rob Solano of Churches United for Fair Housing--the sponsor of the first seminar--spoke with emotion about ten people sharing a bathroom, and people having to sleep on couches, many of the affordable units will be out of reach of such low-income residents.

(The first seminar is tomorrow at 6:30 pm at Brown Memorial Baptist Church, 484 Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill. RSVP to Churches United for Fair Housingjaylin@cuffh.org.)

No one at the press conference explained who'd be eligible for the 1100 units. Nor did they appear to welcome questions. DBP President Tucker Reed took three questions and chose, as the last questioner, someone who clearly wasn't press (no pen, notebook, or camera).

 Melissa Burch of Forest City, CM Laurie
Cumbo, BP Eric Adams, DBP President
Tucker Reed, from L-R. Twitpic via Adams
When I asked Reed afterward how the 1100 units were split among low-, moderate-, and middle-income units, he said he didn't know but I could contact the developers. (Affordable housing simply means households pay 30%--or sometimes 35%--of their income, which can vary greatly.)

Subsidized may top market rents

A significant slice of the coming subsidized units will be low-income units, and those households especially could use the help applying for the lottery.

However, a good number of the subsidized units will be well out of reach for those households. Well, we do know that, of the 600 units coming in the next two all-affordable Atlantic Yards towers, half the units would rent to middle-income households earning up to 165% of Area Median Income (AMI), with rents based on 160% of AMI.  

For 2013, 100% of AMI is $85,900 for a family of four and $60,200 for a single person, according to Housing Connect NYC, which has information on lotteries for city-subsidized buildings.

At 165% of AMI, a single person could earn $99,330 and be eligible for subsidized housing. If rent is 30% of $96,320 (160% of AMI), the monthly tab would be $2,408.

Those numbers should rise by 2015. Even according to 2013 figures, that subsidized unit would be more than the cost of a studio at the new Oro 2/BKLYN Air tower in Downtown Brooklyn, which lists rents from $2,315, Brownstoner said last week.

Querying Cumbo

I caught up with Cumbo after the press conference, and asked whether two-bedroom units renting for some $3400--as could be the case for middle-income subsidized units at Atlantic Yards--represented affordable housing for her constituency.

"That seems to be one of the bigger challenges," she allowed, after I noted how the actual affordability of the units was not announced until the day after the news broke. "While there has been a celebration of this... the question still comes up: affordable to whom?"

(Cumbo joined a celebratory press release at the time, saying, "I thank the Governor, the Mayor and the community advocates for making sure this project was done right. I am grateful for all the community members who fought the good fight to keep Brooklyn, Brooklyn.")

The deal to ensure that Atlantic Yards affordable housing would be built in ten years did not come with clarity on the distribution of affordability, though 40% of the subsidized units should be low-income ones. While the deal "may not be great by some standards," Cumbo said, "it was a way to come to a middle ground, it's going to expedite the process."

From the announcement

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership explained the program:
Despite this, developers often have a hard time filling that quota, with lottery applicants often deemed ineligible for minor errors in their applications or poor credit. Enter a unique program spearheaded by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, in conjunction with State Assemblyman Walter Mosley and City Council Member Laurie Cumbo and some of the area’s largest real estate developers including Acadia Realty Trust/Washington Square Partners, BFC Partners,Forest City Ratner Companies, Steiner NYC LLC, and Two Trees Management Company, to help area residents better compete for the units coming online.
Five free seminars on financial empowerment will be led over the next year by housing advocates so area residents have the credit history they need to qualify for housing lotteries, as well as in-depth orientations on the application process.
Nonprofit groups hosing future seminars include the Fifth Avenue Committee, the Pratt Area Community Council, and the Mutual Housing Association of New York, which is Forest City Ratner's partner on Atlantic Yards affordable housing.

More coverage

Here's coverage of the press conference:

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