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When's that day care center "going in"? Once destined for final affordable building, so 2025? Or later?

It was just a casual aside in some fashionista blogger's paid-for gush over the 550 Vanderbilt condo tower: "There’s a roof deck with a gorgeous view for dinner parties, a daycare center going in Pacific Park and tons of retail and restaurants a stone’s throw away."

Oh, a day care center? When exactly is that "going in"?

Answer: not soon, not at all.

Also, while the gush suggested the day care center as serving market-rate purchasers of million-dollar apartments, the center's justification is to serve the poor.

The promised 15,000 square foot "intergenerational center," with child care, youth and senior centers sharing corridors and an atrium--as touted by the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, whose Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance in 2005 signed the Community Benefits Agreement--was as of 2014 projected to be in Building 6, due in February 2025.

That's in the middle of the center railyard block, which requires a costly deck. According to the tentative 2014 schedule below, it would've been one of the final two buildings, both opening that month.

That, as I explain below, represented a delay compared to the previous timetable, because of a new, more conservative formula--one I question--to calculate the expected need from low-income families. But even that now may be overoptimistic.

Building 6, aka B6, was once projected as opening in February 2025
New timetable

That would have been the end of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction, given a 2025 deadline for the affordable housing and a presumed simultaneous deadline for the rest of the project.

However, last November developer Forest City Realty Trust announced unspecified delays, with a financial model extending to 2035, which could mean completion of construction just a few years earlier, in the 2030s.

That doesn't necessarily mean the affordable housing won't be done by 2025, but it also raises questions about that deadline. Remember, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is a "never say never" project.

(Remember, the original timetable 2006 pledge was ten years, and was later extended to 2035, a 25-year buildout. A 2025 deadline would mean a 16-year buildout from the 2009 approval. But now it could be longer.)

One building, not three

Despite the DBNA website suggestion (excerpt below) that the three centers would be in "three freestanding buildings," the approximately 15,000-sf community center would be in just one tower.

Same location, different buildout pattern, different logic

The timetable to build the center is new, and not just because of the murky schedule.

Instead of being in one of the first buildings in Phase 2, east of the arena block, it would be among the last. The full 100 child care slots would be needed only as the low- and moderate-income affordable housing units--which are backloaded, as I wrote, due to a recent skew to middle-income affordable units--get built out.

That's according to some 2014 calculations by Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/sheperding the project. Those calculations revised 2006 figures. Here's what's changed:
  • they're now counting available child care centers in a 1.5-mile study area, not 1 mile, which lowers the burden on the Pacific Park site to provide space
  • fewer children from low- to moderate-income households are estimated  to need subsidized day care than previously assumed. Instead of one child from about every three apartments needing such day care, only one from every five apartments would require such services. 
Why? State officials now estimate that more of those households would use family-based or informal child care services, an assumption I think may be optimistic, given the overall tenor of Pacific Park apartments.

Bottom line: they haven't abandoned the promise. But, as with some other aspects of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, it looks like an attenuation of a promise.

There is also a vague statement that "project sponsors have committed to monitor and, if necessary, work with" the city to provide up to "250 additional child care slots either on-site or in the vicinity of the site to meet Project-generated demand."

On site? Surely they can make more money by leasing on-site retail space.

I'd add that the 2014 analysis made no mention of Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan for Universal pre-K, which provides spots for all four-year-olds, and which could change all calculations.

High hopes in 2006

This was once a very big deal, at least rhetorically. Consider fervent, florid testimony at the 8/23/06 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Dr. Karen Smith Daughtry, wife of the Rev. Daughtry, declared, "The educator that I am and having more than 35 years of experience working with youth, children and seniors, the possibilities of what an intergenerational initiative will bring for our youth, our seniors and our young people, bringing them together in this dismal time in our history as a nation, is one of the lights of hope on the horizon."

(Did "our" mean Brooklynites? Atlantic Yards residents? Black Central Brooklynites? People associated with the House of the Lord Church? Clarity was lost in the rhetoric.)

The Rev. Daughtry followed up, in punchy, preacherly tones, "We support this project because... it will provide an intergenerational center. And guess what, guess what, we have participated in the design of the complex.... It will provide a place for our young, a place for the seniors, a place for the youth to come together in an atrium designed by us."

From the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement
He made it sound like some sort of community project, rather than one with some community input.

The Community Benefits Agreement states (p. 28, exceprted at right) that plans will be made available to the DBNA "for review and comment" but that "design shall be in accordance with the physical guidelines of appropriate New York City agencies."

(If "designed by us" goes by the pattern of the Barclays Center Meditation Room," the Daughtry family will have a key role.)

Who's paying for the new center? According to the CBA, the developer will provide the space "at reasonable rent and terms to be agreed upon."

While the developer will pay for the initial tenant buildout, that will be repaid by public or private funds, or "during later lease years, to the extent that such remuneration is not detrimental to the operation of the center." In other words, stay tuned.

Shifting timing

The center is supposed to accommodate "at least 100 children with publicly funded vouchers available to income-eligible households."

According to the first Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (2009) regarding Atlantic Yards, the day care center was supposed to be built and opened "by the date of occupancy of the first Phase II residential building not containing a school," though that could be delayed if there were adequate nearby facilities to accommodate demand for subsidized day care services.

Obscured in the new Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, produced in 2014 upon the establishment of a new 2025 timetable for the affordable units, was a key change delaying the promised day care center.

How long? According to the updated memo, the day care center must be operating by the time "that certificates of occupancy have been issued for 620 of the Phase II affordable housing units targeted to households earning up to 80% AMI [Area Median Income]," though again delays are possible if there's sufficient alternate capacity.

That very specific guideline, as I explain below, likely means it would be among one of the last towers built.

Looking at the sequence

Below is a tentative buildout plan recent prepared in 2014 by Forest City Ratner. Only five towers in Phase 2, indicated in purple, would contain affordable units. The first three would have a total of 942 overall affordable units, but not 620 targeted to households earning up to 80% AMI.
Tentative plan: pink annotation represents Phase 1 buildings with affordable units; purple annotation represents Phase 2
Only when the final two towers are built, B5 and B6, would another 550 units be added. That would clearly trigger the 620 minimum needed to get the day care center operating.

Below, a 2014 draft document provided to ESD indicates that B6 would be the target location.

Previous promises, 2006

The promise has evolved. From the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement, Chapter 5: Community Facilities:
Child care facilities in the area surrounding the project site would be able to accommodate the increased population of children 12 years old or younger, introduced by the proposed project in 2010. The proposed project in 2016 would include the development of an intergenerational facility that would contain a day care center with more than 100 seats, which would increase the future study area’s day care capacity, and would be publicly funded or accept Agency for Child Development (ACD) [subsidized] vouchers....
According to the CEQR Technical Manual, a publicly funded day care center analysis is required if a project would result in more than 50 eligible children based on the number of low to moderate-income housing units provided. The proposed project would introduce approximately 333 and 1,350 new low- to moderate-income units by 2010 and 2016, respectively. Based on these numbers of new low- to moderate-income units, approximately 120 and 486 children under the age of 12 would be eligible for publicly funded day care in 2010 and 2016, respectively. 
(Emphasis added) 
From Final EIS
Revised promises, 2014 Final SEIS

From the 2014 Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), Chapter 1, Project Description:
At the time of the 2006 FEIS, a 100-seat child care facility was planned as part of the Project. While the 2006 FEIS did not identify any significant adverse child care impacts, the analysis of publicly funded child care facilities in the 2009 Technical Memorandum found that the updated background conditions and updated methodologies would result in additional demand for publicly funded child care facilities in the study area, which could result in a future shortfall of child care slots. Therefore, the project sponsors have committed to monitor and, if necessary, work with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to provide up to approximately 250 additional child care slots either on-site or in the vicinity of the site to meet Project-generated demand. Chapter 4B, “Operational Community Facilities,” of this SEIS updates the analysis of anticipated day care demand.
Chapter 4, Operational Community Facilities, explains why the analysis changed, lowering the projected need:
Changed background conditions include new enrollment data and updated enrollment projections. With regard to methodology, the CEQR Technical Manual calls for an analysis for a 1.5 mile study area, whereas the 2006 FEIS and 2009 Technical Memorandum analyzed child care facilities within a 1-mile study area. The current multiplier for calculating demand for child care slots (0.178 eligible children per unit of affordable housing for households earning up to 80 percent area median income [AMI]) has also been changed. As a result of this change, the number of eligible children that would be introduced by Phase I and Phase II of the Project (198) is lower than the number projected in the 2006 FEIS (486) and the 2009 Technical Memorandum (537).
Under the revised methodology, it is projected that Phase II would introduce 160 children under the age of 6 who are eligible for public child care services, based on 900 affordable units that would be targeted to households earning up to 80 percent AMI. With the addition of the additional Phase II children (including demand from background development projects—taking into account Phase I of the Project—in the Future Without Phase II and also taking into account the provision of a 100-slot child care facility), child care facilities in the study area would operate at 126.58 percent utilization, with a deficit of 588 slots, 160 of which would be attributable to Phase II. Total enrollment in the study area would increase to 2,802 children, compared with a capacity of 2,214 slots, which represents an increase in the utilization rate of 1.58 percentage points over the No Action condition. 
(Emphases added)

Though the 160 students in Phase 2 might be too many for the 100-slot child care center, and there may be a deficit in the area, because the overall increase in the area caused by the project is relatively small, there's no "significant adverse impact.

Also, as noted in the same chapter, other factors--including home-based child care and public centers outside of the study area--could reduce demand from households in the project.

How did the ratio change?

How did the ratio decline to 0.178 eligible children per unit of affordable housing for households up to 80% of AMI? (That's essentially saying that it would take at least five units to have one small child needing publicly-funded day care.)

In the 2009 Technical Memorandum, the ratio was 0.53 children per low-income and low- to moderate-income unit.

According to a footnote in the 2014 document, "the CEQR Technical Manual multiplier is based on 2005-2007 American Community Survey data for children under age 6, at 200 percent Federal Poverty Level or below, and has been adjusted to exclude eligible children who would be expected to utilize family-based or informal child care services."

Sure, people use households use family-based or informal child care services. But those services, to my observation, are generally more available in lower-income communities or ones in which relatives are more likely to live nearby.

Thus, it's less likely that a stay-at-home mom living in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, which is mostly well-off households, would have the space and inclination to run a child care business from home. (And wouldn't that violate the lease?) And low-income households are not likely to have relatives immediately nearby.


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