Uncertainties mount: 421-a changes upend market-rate plans; "affordable" likely contains much leeway
Some significant uncertainties about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park surfaced yesterday at the quarterly meeting (video here) of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Agreement, which drew only a few public observers.
Second, despite much rhetoric about a broad mix of "affordable" units, as memorialized in the not-so-enforceable Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) and the predecessor Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding signed with ACORN, that configuration is not guaranteed.
Also, though it went unmentioned yesterday, the developer seemingly can't build any condo buildings, even one with affordable units, while getting tax breaks under the new state program, known as Affordable New York, since it's limited to buildings with up to 35 condos. Given the one condo building finished and one grandfathered in, containing some 543 of 1,930 planned condo apartments, that seemingly jeopardizes a significant chunk of units.
Bottom line: the project faces significant headwinds. Expect future changes in the building plan--from condos to rentals, maybe even office space, or perhaps some new twist. Perhaps we'll see lobbying for changes in state law or for extra benefits or revised deals from city housing agencies.
The issue first arose at about 48 minutes into the video, when AY CDC Board member Barika Williams, an affordable housing professional, asked about the impact of the 421-a revision on the project. She noted that 421-a was mentioned in notes from the most recent Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting run by Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project.
"The question that was posed," said Tobi Jaiyesimi, who serves as AY CDC Executive Director and ESD's Atlantic Yards Project manager, "was directed to the developer, and it was in regards to how the changes to the affordable New York would impact their commitment to the affordable housing."
|From left: Tobi Jaiyesimi, Barika Williams (facing), Ashley Cotton|
"But in the very short term, for buildings that we’re anxiously to see going, and obviously in the long term for the whole buildout," Cotton said, "what’s clear is that the idea of a 100% market building getting 421-a benefits at our project is no longer possible."
The developer, she said, wasn't seeking to change the affordable housing requirements--presumably in number, not income range--or the deadline.
Skewing the configuration?
Williams said she was concerned that it might be possible to end up with the south side of the project site with all the low-income affordable units, while the buildings on the north side have only middle-income affordable units.
"Correct," added Marion Phillips III, the ESD Senior VP who was the top state official in the room.
|From the Development Agreement|
"I don’t remember that in the Development Agreement," said Phillips, softly and a bit quizzically.
"We have government also here," Williams said, referencing the AY CDC's role, suggesting that if the building configurations are skewed, "I think that’s a problem."
"My understanding is that there are some requirements to have certain income bands," she added. "I might have misremembered this." (Maybe not misremembered, just believed--as so many did, including me--that the configurations in the Housing MOU and CBA would be reflected.)
"So, we’re regulated by lots of different things," Cotton said. "Obviously, 421-a, decisions made at the agency that decides to work with us, our relationship with MHANY [nonprofit partner Mutual Housing Association of New York], etc. We have our bottom line regulations, and then our aspirations and goals and that kind of stuff. We’re trying to build a mixed-income community, that’s been the intention of this project from the beginning."
"I understand you," Williams said, noting she was flagging the issue for the rest of the board as well as ESD. "A mixed income community, on a big site, can mean a whole bunch of different things… We’re talking about market rate condos all the way down to apartment units that rent for less than $1,000… My question is where those different units end up concentrated on the site."
At about 1:07 of the video, Williams asked about affordable housing lottery statistics, saying she'd like to see the numbers of households applying at different income levels and the numbers who fit the qualifications, as well as those ultimately selected.
Jaiyesimi said they would reach out to city agencies for information.
"If you call me, I can give you all this," Cotton said.
"It's not just a matter of calling, it’s also making it part of the public record," Williams responded. That was an implicit rebuke the the developer's not-uncommon practice of taking things offline.