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Completely misleading: de Blasio spokesman defends affordability skewing upward (while low-income units lag)

My coverage yesterday of the narrowed gap between market-rate and affordable housing at Pacific Park Brooklyn got some wider discussion--and a curious defense from a de Blasio administration spokesman, who didn't acknowledge how affordable units have skewed toward middle-income households.

To recap, the most expensive studio apartment at the "100% affordable"--alternatively subsidized, income-linked housing--535 Carlton, at $2,137, is just 7% less than the least expensive market-rate studio at the sibling 461 Dean, at $2,298. (And there are "affordable units" at another building, unrelated to the project, that are more expensive.)

After the Daily News's Erin Durkin tweeted that, the issue got some pushback from Wiley Norvell, the mayor's Communications Advisor for Housing and Economic Development, (though writing in his personal Twitter account).

Atlantic Yards, he wrote, "has mix of low, moderate and middle income. Actual income diversity." That's true, but as I responded, that diversity is far different from what was promised in the 2005 ACORN agreement with developer Forest City Ratner.

Notably, in that agreement, only 20% of all affordable units were supposed to be in that highest income "band," or category. But in 535 Carlton, aka B14, 50% of the units are in that band, and thus geared to households earning six figures.

Norvell's response: "That same 50% in B2 is straight market rate. We tugged market to middle, mid to mod and mod to low."

Drilling down

That may seem an achievement at first blush, but it's quite misleading.

Let's back up. Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is supposed to have 4,500 rentals, of which 50% are subsidized/affordable, and 1,930 condos. Let's put the condos aside.

The 4,500 rental apartments were long supposed to be in so-called 50/50 buildings that contained 50% market units and 50% affordable ones. More precisely, as with 461 Dean (aka B2), they were supposed to be 50/30/20 buildings, with 30% middle- and moderate-income units, and 20% low-income units. (The latter were the apartments that most of those rallying for Atlantic Yards affordable housing were seeking, which is why the term "income-linked" should be used more.)

The agreement developer Greenland Forest City Partners signed in June 2014 to change the construction schedule, assigning a 2025 deadline for affordable housing (after it had previously been extended to 2035), also included a pledge to build two "100% affordable buildings." That didn't change the numbers of subsidized units, just reallocated them.

Among the two "100% affordable" buildings is 535 Carlton. Yes, the 50% upper middle-income apartments in that building are more affordable than the 50% market-rate units in 461 Dean. And the 30% low-income apartments do represent a greater percentage than the 20% low-income units in 461 Dean.

But that's not the proper comparison, because 461 Dean is a 50/50 building.

The decision to create 100% affordable rentals means that other rental buildings, rather than offering the 50/30/20 model, will have 100% market rate units. So, as I wrote to Norvell, the 100% affordable building will be twinned with a future 100% market building: "Then blend & compare."

B2 = 461 Dean; B14= 535 Carlton
In the graphic above, based on a tentative (and by no means reliable) August 2014 timetable, a red arrow points to 461 Dean. Other red arrows point from the 100% affordable B14 (aka 535 Carlton) and B3 (aka 38 Sixth) to potential counterpart 100% market rental buildings.

The bottom line

In other words, the overall allocation of affordable units seems to be well off the original pledge: 15% low-income units among the pair of buildings, rather than 20%. (See the graphic in my Bklynr article.) And that means that, among "affordable" units, low-income units are behind schedule, while middle-income units are ahead of schedule.

Moreover, instead of having 10% of a 50/50 building devoted to the upper band of middle-income units, the current pattern means that 25% of the total units in a pair of buildings will be in that band. (Divide that 50% among two buildings.)

That's way off the pledge. Then again, that likely will be a problem for the next administration, not de Blasio's administration, since those 100% market rentals might not be built for a while. They kicked the can down the road. But they might be able to get away with it.


Another argument

Norvell also wrote: "Market will go up and down. Aff housing will still be so 30 years from now. Affordability = cost + stability."

That's true, in part, and I did mention the advantages of rent stabilization. The problem, though, is that the affordable housing will begin to disappear in 30 years, as I wrote.

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