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In de Blasio's State of the City, the 535 Carlton gets cameo; Atlantic Yards disconnect continues; Forest City interested in Sunnyside Yards?

Mayor Bill de Blasio's State of the City Address yesterday focused on affordable housing, and while Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park was not mentioned by name, a photo op at the 12/15/14 groundbreaking of a "100% affordable" tower got a prominent place during the speech, as shown in the screenshot below (from 54:03 in the video).

In his speech, as Crain's reported,  he said the word "affordable" 34 times (and "affordability" three times). He did not, as tenant advocates pointed out, mention the goal of getting the state to repeal vacancy decontrol, which would keep apartments from leaving the system of rent stabilization.

Not only did de Blasio reiterate his plan to build 80,000 affordable apartments and preserve 120,000, he set a goal of 160,000 market-rate units, which, as Stephen Smith points out in NY YIMBY, is likely too little to re-set the housing market, especially if they don't go to more affordable neighborhoods.

Nor, actually, are de Blasio's ambitious targets for affordable units nearly enough, given the steady loss of rent-regulated units and other below-market units.

Word cloud from Crain's
The Sunnyside Yards

The administration plans several rezonings, combined with mandatory affordable housing, but the biggest lift would be building some 11,250 affordable units at the Sunnyside Yards in Queens, a 200-acre site jointly owned by Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo fairly quickly put a damper on the Sunnyside Yards idea, and even local Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer is lukewarm, given the potential stress on mass transit. But the idea surely is negotiable.

Capital New York reported:
Forest City Ratner, which is building a mammoth (and controversial) development over a rail yard in Brooklyn and which raised money for de Blasio, hailed the news.
"In a city with a finite amount of land and important infrastructure needs, we applaud the mayor for his ambition to develop Sunnyside Yards. Projects like this and Pacific Park Brooklyn are critical to keep growing New York," company spokeswoman Ashley Cotton wrote in an email.
Well, Forest City is a loyal supporter of the mayor, but the juxtaposition of that quote makes me wonder: is Forest City--along with its new partner/overseer, the Shanghai government-owned Greenland Group--interested in building in Sunnyside?

From de Blasio's speech

Below are excerpts from the speech, as delivered, starting at about 50:16:
And when it comes to affordable housing, we will prove them wrong again. In fact, we’ve already started. We're already making real progress towards a more affordable New York.
Here’s how:
First, last year our Rent Guidelines Board passed the smallest rent increase ever in its history, based on the facts, they helped protect tenants from being squeezed unfairly by landlords.
Second, we're following through on a plan to build and preserve affordable housing on an unprecedented scale and that began in earnest in 2014. The vision: to build at a speed that we had not yet seen before. We committed to the construction of 80,000 new units of affordable housing by 2024. 80,000 new units, plus 120,000 preserved units.
To understand what that this means.... that means building at twice the average annual rate of the past 25 years. That takes will, and that takes focus....

The speech continued:
When you combine with the 120,000 preserved units--200,000 is the total, that is enough housing for half a million New Yorkers… half a million is more people than within the city limits of Miami.
This is what our housing plan does. It’s real. It's tangible. It will make a huge impact on families' lives. If you want a copy, I have one here...
And we’re already moving on this plan. We announced it last May, we said we had to achieve substantial goals immediately... In 2014, we have to create 16,000 units. [The speech text said "create and preserve."] Well, by the end of 2014, we had beat that goal and we had achieved 17,300 units, 1,300 more than the plan.
The groundbreaking

At the beginning of the next section, the photo up top appeared on the screens behind the mayor:
And I'm going to say this throughout,  and I'll probably say it a few hundred more times over the next few years: 1,300 more units than were planned means 1300 more families for whom the number one expense of their life has been addressed, and then all other things are possible for them. If you can afford to live here, then everything else becomes possible... That difference: 1300 more families, that's the way we win this, family by family, unit by unit, until we meet our goal.
... Meanwhile... we need more market housing too, because there's going to be a lot more people here. The projection is 9 million people by 2040. We're going to make sure every type of housing is built. We have a plan for the construction of 160,000 market rate units on top of the 200,000 units of affordable housing.
Note that de Blasio's citation of having the "number one expense" of 1,300 families' lives depends very much on how affordable the apartments are, and of what size.

The speech continued:
Fourth, we’re cutting red tape to speed up our progress.

To expedite the right kind of development, we must expedite the development process.

What we have needed for many many years is fundamental reform at the Department of Buildings.
This agency must better serve its customers – including thousands of small businesses that drive our economy. We’ll speed up inspections and cut bureaucracy, so that more jobs can be created and more housing can be built.

Fifth -- for the first time in New York City history, we are creating a Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning requirement that will apply to all major residential re-zonings.
This is a big one. Listen to this.

In every major rezoning development, we will require developers to include affordable housing. Not as an option. As a precondition.
The reactions

From the New York Times, Some New Yorkers See Housing Plan as a Threat:
Demand for affordable housing is as urgent as ever; those speaking loudest at community forums are not necessarily representative of the majority. But many New Yorkers feel that projects from the era of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg like Pacific Park, a multi-building complex around the Barclays Center formerly called Atlantic Yards, did not deliver on their promises of affordable housing quickly or comprehensively enough.
But it's not just Bloomberg's responsibility, it's de Blasio's. After all, there's a major disconnect between his goal of affordability for low-income households and the "all affordable" tower that will be weighted toward households with six-figure incomes.

From the Times:
Another common concern is that the financing deals to build affordable units do not serve those who need them most: extremely low-income residents making 30 percent or less of the area’s median income, or less than $26,000 a year for a family of four in the city’s five boroughs and Westchester County. Most new affordable units are now open to households in the range of 60 percent of the area’s median income.
Not 535 Carlton. Nor is Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park an "affordable housing apartment complex." It's a market-rate complex of 6,430 units, with 2,250 below market-units, many of which will be unaffordable to the people who marched for "affordable housing."

How to pay

City Limits noted that many await specifics on the programs. Also from the Times:
But the mayor volunteered little insight into how he would pay for and execute his plans, disappointing some industry and city officials who have waited months for the administration to flesh out its housing policy.

“When you talk about affordable housing, you have to figure out a way to pay for it,” said Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, outside the Baruch College auditorium in Manhattan where the mayor delivered his remarks.
“The speech was very powerful, because I think it addressed what a lot of people in the city care about,” he added. “The next part is harder. Now we need to put the budget behind the plan.”

Concern about affordability 

As noted by City and State:
But hours later, Real Affordability for All, a coalition of 50 groups seeking to bolster low-income housing, said the city should require half of the units in the projects in question be affordable. The coalition also said that more detailed criteria were needed to ensure units designated for struggling New Yorkers were affordable to low-income families in the vicinity of projects.
...[Spokeswoman Maritza] Silva-Farrell said too many Astoria Cove units would be market rate and that even the affordable units would not benefit residents of Astoria, where the median income for a family of four was $51,540 in 2013. Under the agreement, 5 percent of the affordable apartments there would be available for those making 60 percent of the median income while 15 percent will go to renters making 80 percent of the median and 7 percent to “middle income” households making 125 percent.
Remember, the "all affordable" tower at 535 Carlton would have 15% of its units at 145% of AMI and 50% at 165%. Those units are completely out of range for the Real Affordability for All coalition.
Next two all-affordable towers at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Brooklyn
A message yesterday from the Black Institute, led by de Blasio ally Bertha Lewis, Forest City Ratner's longtime parter on Atlantic Yards:
The need for real affordable housing is impacting residents across New York City - the price of rent is way too high! Today in the State of the City, Mayor de Blasio emphasized the immediate need to solve the housing crisis. Let’s make sure his plan includes all of our needs, especially the working-poor and those most impacted by the affordable housing crisis – Blacks and other marginalized communities.
Please march with The Black Institute and NYCC at the Real Affordability for All march tomorrow, February 4th, 5PM, at the Grace Baptist Church of Christ, located at 223 New Jersey Ave. (between Glenmore St. and Liberty Ave.) - and we need you to join us!
(Here's more info on the march.)

The message continues:
The affordable housing crisis greatly affects the working poor, and especially Black folks.The black middle class is receding, which means less black households can afford high rents and more families are pushed out of their communities. A lot of the housing labeled affordable, which prices are indexed on the Area Median Income (AMI) of pricey neighborhoods, are still too expensive for the regular New Yorker- the AMI for an average household in the New York metro area is $77,150. Under Bloomberg, most of affordable housing was targeted to households making 80 percent of AMI, or roughly $61,920, which is superior to average black household income in New York City which is $55,386. We have to make sure the de Blasio administration implements real affordable housing for all of us.
That means that a "lot of the housing labeled affordable" at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Brooklyn would also be out of range, not that Lewis would say that.

Editorial reactions

The Times editorialized:
In one sense, the de Blasio strategy is Bloombergism with a twist, given that the former mayor also committed himself to affordable housing, rezoned vast stretches of the city and turned his three terms into a glorious era for developers. But while Michael Bloomberg was a businessman who dreamed of things like football stadiums, Mr. de Blasio says he is focused on affordable housing and will fight harder for it — taking on reluctant developers, predatory landlords and skeptical neighbors.
Or make deals with those developers.

But the paper was supportive:
Mr. de Blasio shouldn’t fold, or accept the way things are, just because the governor says no. He should think big and fight on.
Note this comment from the Pratt Center's Adam Friedman:
New York is a tale of two cities because its economy is increasingly divided into high and low wage jobs. The Mayor has pursued a number of initiatives to help reduce the growth in income disparity including universal pre-kindergarten which can be transformative by improving the education and economic competitiveness of New Yorkers for generations to come.
But the deBlasio administration seems to be ignoring the risk the zoning changes create for the city’s approximately 75,000 manufacturing jobs. “Affordability” depends not only on the cost or rent level of the housing but on a prospective tenant’s ability to earn a decent living. Replacing high-wage manufacturing jobs with low-wage retail jobs as seems envisioned in the communities targeted for affordable housing is a strategy for downward mobility, not affordability.

As the Mayor said, many of the City’s residential areas will need to be denser to accommodate the new housing that the city needs. But our commercial and industrial areas also need to be denser in terms of jobs. Companies need real estate stability so they can reinvest and create jobs. Zoning for the industrial areas that are adjacent to areas targeted for housing should be strengthened, and displaced companies should be helped to relocate to the protected areas. Moving forward the city needs to be clear in its messaging that healthy communities have both housing and jobs to build a tale of one city.
The Daily News pushed ahead on Sunnyside and even suggested building at the Aqueduct Race Track:
Bill the Builder on Tuesday unfurled housing plans faster than the forces of gentrification, more powerful than not-in-my-backyard naysayers, and able to leap ultra-luxury towers in a single bound.
Kudos to Mayor de Blasio for displaying superheroic ambitions in his State of the City address.
With New York in desperate need of affordable housing, the mayor says he’ll deliver big-time through targeted rezonings, mandates on real estate developers and some major building projects.


  1. Sunnyside is so huge that it is more essential than ever that, if it is developed, it should be a plan like Battery Park City where government takes the lead in doing the infrastructure and then bids out lots competitively to multiple developers ready to start immediately.

    My understanding is that Ratner has ambitions of having it all awarded to him alone, just like Atlantic Yards.


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