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Given skew to middle-income "affordable" units, will future buildings emphasis lower-income ones?

I recently looked back on my 12/16/14 coverage of the groundbreaking for the "100% affordable"
535 Carlton tower, and an answer from Mayor Bill de Blasio that might have been an intriguing hint, or maybe not.

The lingering question: will any future towers with affordable units be skewed to lower-income units? Or will the current imbalance, which diverges from longstanding promises, persist?

The background

The background is that 50% of the approximately 300 units in 535 Carlton and the "100% affordable" 38 Sixth Avenue would go to households earning up to 165% of Area Median Income, or AMI, while another 15% would go to middle-income households earning up to 145% of AMI. AMI as of 2016 is $90,600.

Estimates for approximately 600 total units at 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth; AMI as of 2016 is $90,600.

But 65% of the affordable units should not be going to such households; the figure should be 40% (or 20% of the units in a 50% market/50% affordable building), as noted in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that developer Forest City Ratner signed with ACORN in 2005, and which was incorporated into the Community Benefits Agreement.

The skewing is most noticeable regarding Band 5, which should be 20% of the total affordable units, not 50% (or 10% of the total units in a 50% market/50% affordable building).

From 2005 Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding:
These percentages, which apply to a 50% affordable building, should double for a fully affordable building.
Also note that 40% of the affordable units are supposed to be low-income, but only 30% in the next two "100% affordable" towers would be low-income.

Querying the mayor

When de Blasio took questions in 2014, I asked, "You said in your speech that this met the original Atlantic Yards vision. However, 20% of the original affordable housing promise was the highest income band. This building, 50% is the highest income band. So how does that meet the original promise?"



"Well, this is the first of many buildings," responded de Blasio. "This parallels the reality with our affordable housing plan writ large. In the year 2014, we're on track to get over 16,000 units out of 200,000. As you see the plan progress, neighborhood by neighborhood, you're going to see buildings that are 100 percent affordable, you're going to see buildings that are a lower percentage, you're going to see buildings that are primarily for folks at the lowest side of the income scale, you're going to see buildings that are mixed. Here, you're going to the original vision, in terms of tiered income scale, we intend to achieve. This building is 100 percent affordable – it's tiered, but we intend for the whole project to ultimately meet those goals."

(Emphasis added)

In that highlighted section, de Blasio was speaking generally and, indeed, the city's affordable housing program does encompass a wide mix of buildings.

What's next?

But what about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park?

Consider: based on the plan in the MOU, of the 2,250 affordable units, 450 each are supposed to go to top three "bands," involving middle- and moderate-income households. Then 675 units are supposed to go to the upper low-income band, and 225 to the lower low-income band.

However,  there are already 300 units assigned to the top upper-income band in these two towers, rather than the expected 120 units (20% of the total 600 affordable units). There are only 30 units in the lower low-income band, rather than the expected 60 (10% of the total). There are 150 units in the upper low-income band, while there should be 180 (30% of total).

Overall, 40% of the affordable units in these two buildings, or 240 units, should be for low-income households. Instead, the number is 180 units. They're 60 units behind.

That suggests that, if the MOU is to be followed that there may have to be Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park buildings that, as de Blasio said, are "primarily for folks at the lowest side of the income scale." But we don't know it if will be followed.

What about B2?

The first building with affordable units, 461 Dean, or B2, comes closer to following the MOU, but does not, in a couple of ways.

As shown in the document below, the numbers (36 each) of units in each of the top three income bands conforms to the MOU. However, there are five 1BR and 16 2BR units in the uppermost band, and 16 1BR and five 2BR units in the one below it. (The New York City Housing Development Corporation pushed for more 2BR units from a paltry proposal, and still got fewer family-sized units than promised earlier.)

However, there are only 11 units in the lower of the two low-income bands, and 62 units in the higher of the two. The ratio, based on the MOU, should be 3-to-1, not more than 5-to-1.  (The total number, 73, is 40% of the affordable units, thus meeting that overall ratio.)

That 5-to-1 ratio has recurred in the next two all-affordable buildings. So that suggests that there will be fewer units in the lower low-income band throughout the project--unless we see changes.


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