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Year of the Sheep, again: 535 Carlton opening celebration provokes little skepticism about actual affordability

They really can get away with it, hailing the opening of a "100% affordable" building which has half the units aimed at middle-income households who are hardly struggling for housing.

I called the December 2014 groundbreaking "Year of the Sheep," as only a few news outlets noticed the lack of affordability. Even fewer news outlets even covered the "opening", none of them the major dailies, and only one recognized the contradiction between message and reality.

Yesterday's press event was a platform for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Borough President Eric Adams, as well as developer Greenland Forest City Partners to praise a shiny new building while overlooking the fact that, among more than 92,000 applications, only 2,203 were income-eligible for half the building, as I reported for City Limits.

As shown in the screenshot above right, the mayoral press release says "First 100 percent affordable building serves New Yorkers earning as little as $20,100, and up to moderate and middle income earners." Except, as noted in my annotation, only three units were made available for those low-income tenants.

So maybe it shouldn't be said that "the building has first-rate amenities, despite its affordability," to quote The Bridge, but rather than an "affordable" building with $3,000 apartments has amenities like a fitness center (which I'm pretty sure cost extra).
Words of praise that don't quite compute

“Our administration is delivering on the affordable housing this community was promised," de Blasio said in the press release, which is completely untrue. As I've described, only 20% of the overall affordable units are supposed to be for the upper middle-income band, while 50% of this building qualifies, with incomes up to 165% of Area Median Income, or AMI. Those units represent a tiny fraction of city residents and, in at least one case, exceed market rents.

"The addition of hundreds of critically-needed affordable housing units at 535 Carlton is welcome news for Brooklyn,” said Adams, again skating past the lesser need for many of the units.

Photo by Max Touhey
“It’s a pleasure to be here today to celebrate... a development that shows how we can work together to meet New York City’s affordable housing demand,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, also misstating the issue of demand.

“535 Carlton is an example of public-private partnerships working together to provide beautiful and affordable housing for an array of individuals and families at a wide range of income levels,” said Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director of MHANY Management. “We applaud the city and Greenland Forest City Partners for providing beautiful and affordable homes... creating an inclusive place to live and creating a replicable model for other developers.” Well, Speliotis has also observed that "there’s a disconnect between the population’s need and the apartment distribution."

Also, it's interesting--if not necessarily telling--that neither Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute or Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change, both supporters of the project but now critics of de Blasio and the lack of "real affordability" (though not here), didn't appear in the press release. (They were in two different groundbreaking press releases. I wasn't present at the event yesterday because I was not invited.) Also absent from the press release was Michelle de La Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee, part of the original one.

Interestingly enough, though the press release contained quotes from the developers, city officials, and U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (a nonentity on Atlantic Yards), it had nothing from Council Member Laurie Cumbo (a supporter of the project), Assemblyman Walter Mosley (who's been both supportive and critical), or state Senator Velmanette Montgomery (an opponent).

At the press conference, developer Bruce Ratner, according to Bklyner, emphasized the need for affordable housing and the 700,000 people below the poverty line. "We will begin to address that problem, even in a more intense way,” he promised. Oh sure.

Selective highlights

"And as of today," 535 Carlton "has opened its doors," Curbed reported. Actually, residents have lived there for a while. It was just a media event.
And while the organizers featured an understandably grateful two-bedroom tenant, single mom Crystal Patterson, who'd lost her job and "hadn’t had a permanent home in close to two years," I wonder how representative she is.

After all, there are only four two-bedroom units for the lowest-income households, renting at $713, and 22 for other low-income households, renting at $1,121, while there are 44 two-bedroom apartments renting for $3,223. (Update: I'm pretty certain Patterson's not occupying a middle-income unit.)

"What's the bottom line here," asked News12's Naomi Choy Smith. "Well, studios start at $548 per month, for the lowest-income New Yorkers, ranging all the way past $2,000." There are 3 studios at the lowest rent, and 36 at $2,137.

The distribution of units at 535 Carlton
And what Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park event would be complete without the ecclesiastical benediction of the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who, as The Bridge put it, "was among those criticized for supporting the project."

Um, he also got one daughter a full-time job with a new "grass-roots" organization that signed the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance. He helps distribute $100,000 a year from a new foundation. And he failed to ensure the hiring of the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the CBA, despite having said earlier that such a monitoring agency was important.

The coverage:
Only Steve Koepp in The Bridge got to the crux:
Yet echoes of the question “Affordable for whom?” could be felt as the civic leaders made their remarks. Half the units in the building, or 149 apartments, will go to middle-income households in the higher rent category, which helps make the building economically feasible. But the demand for affordable housing is much greater among lower-income families. Of the nearly 93,000 households who entered the lottery for the apartments, about 72% of the applicant pool aimed at the 90 low-income units, according to analysis by City Limits. Income is not the only factor in the selection process, however. Preferences are given to city employees, disabled people and neighborhood residents.
Perhaps the silliest quote came from Adams, in Bklynr: “It really shows how you can have a quality project, that’s union built, and that’s affordable to the residents.” Of course it's affordable to the residents, because that's why they're there.

Curbed noted, "Once the park at the center of the megaproject opens, the building will have views of that as well." Um, it's not a park. And while segments of the open space should open later this year, the full buildout could take until 2025 or later.

The mayoral press release, verbatim below

Mayor de Blasio Announces Opening of Nearly 300 Affordable Apartments at Pacific Park in Brooklyn

First 100 percent affordable building serves New Yorkers earning as little as $20,100, and up to moderate and middle income earners

NEW YORK— Mayor Bill de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, local officials, Greenland Forest City Partners and community groups announced the opening of 535 Carlton. The building’s 298 homes are all affordable, and reserved for New Yorkers with household incomes of between $20,100 for an individual and $149,000 for a family of three. Preference goes to municipal employees and those with vision, hearing or mobility disabilities.

“Our administration is delivering on the affordable housing this community was promised. For hundreds of families right here in Brooklyn, these homes represent economic security, the chance to save a little every month and get ahead, and the assurance that they’ll be able to afford to stay in the borough they love,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Having an affordable place to call home and sleep at night is a prerequisite for experiencing the American Dream. The addition of hundreds of critically-needed affordable housing units at 535 Carlton is welcome news for Brooklyn,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said.

“Thank you to everyone who helped me make the dream of having a place of our own a reality and for prioritizing affordable housing at Pacific Park Brooklyn,” said Crystal Patterson, a resident of 535 Carlton.

The new building is part of a commitment Greenland Forest City Partners made with Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and local community groups in June 2014 to build 2,250 affordable apartments by 2025. There are currently 479 units of below market-rate housing at Pacific Park and another 303 will become available this summer. The project contributes to Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which has financed more than 63,000 affordable homes in three years.

When complete, Pacific Park Brooklyn will include six million square feet of residential space across 6,430 units of housing, of which 2,250 will be affordable rental units. It will also contain 247,000 square feet of retail space, up to 1.6 million square feet of office space, and eight acres of publicly-accessible open space.

“With nearly 300 units that are affordable to low, moderate, and middle income households, 535 Carlton will provide an anchor of affordability in the heart of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn,” said Housing Development Corporation President Eric Enderlin. “The Pacific Park development also brings significant open park space, retail, and additional transit-infrastructure that will benefit the larger community. Thanks to all our partners, including the Mayor’s Office, the NYS Empire State Development Corporation, Greenland Forest City Partners, COOKFOX, and so many others, including various Brooklyn community stakeholders, for contributing to the success of 535 Carlton and the ongoing development at the Pacific Park project.”

“Through Housing New York, the City set out to secure as much affordability as possible in all our neighborhoods. When complete, the Pacific Park development will provide more than 2,200 affordable housing opportunities near this vital hub of transportation in thriving downtown Brooklyn,” said Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. “The opening of 535 Carlton Avenue, the first hundred-percent affordable housing development underway at Pacific Park, represents housing security for 298 families, and the promise of more to come. Congratulations to HDC, the NYS Empire State Development Corporation, Greenland Forest City Partners, COOKFOX, and all our partners for working with us to ensure our neighborhoods are inclusive places of opportunity for New Yorkers at a wide range of incomes.”

The New York City Housing Development Corporation is providing a $73 million tax-exempt first mortgage for the building, funded by Citi Community Capital. HDC is also contributing $11.75 million in subsidy financing. Pacific Park Brooklyn is a state-regulated development established by a General Project Plan adopted by the Empire State Development (ESD) Board of Directors in 2006 and governed by ESD. Pacific Park Brooklyn will include 6,430 units of housing, more than one-third of which will be affordable.

“The opening of 535 Carlton will provide desperately-needed units of affordable housing for hundreds of people in Prospect Heights, a neighborhood where rent prices continue to increase beyond the means of families who have lived there for generations. I hope to continue working with Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Glen to build ‘One New York,’ where all families have an opportunity to thrive,” Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke said.

“It’s a pleasure to be here today to celebrate the opening of 535 Carlton in Pacific Park, a development that shows how we can work together to meet New York City’s affordable housing demand,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the 100,000 member Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “Not only is 535 Carlton adding to the affordable housing pool but was built with union labor and creating good middle-class jobs with benefits and high safety standards, something that is very important to this city's future. Nearly 300 New Yorkers will have a place to live thanks to the efforts of union workers, Forest City New York, Greenland USA, COOKFOX Architects and the New York City Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen."

“535 Carlton is an example of public-private partnerships working together to provide beautiful and affordable housing for an array of individuals and families at a wide range of income levels,” said Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director of MHANY Management Inc. “We applaud the city and Greenland Forest City Partners for providing beautiful and affordable homes at the crossroads of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues; creating an inclusive place to live and creating a replicable model for other developers.”

“When we broke ground on 535 Carlton in 2014 we made a commitment with Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and local community groups to bring affordable housing to New Yorkers, and today we have delivered on that promise,” said Hu Gang, President and CEO of Greenland USA. “Adding a high-quality affordable building to Pacific Park Brooklyn is a testament to Greenland Forest City Partners’ mission of growing vibrant communities and economies inclusive of everyone, and we are extremely proud of this first step in increasing the affordable housing stock in New York City.”

“The opening of 535 Carlton further underscores Greenland Forest City Partners’ commitment to affordable housing and ensures Pacific Park is a neighborhood inclusive of all New Yorkers,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO of Forest City New York. “This extraordinary building proves that affordable housing can be practical and beautiful. The building combines first-rate design and top-tier amenities including a fitness center, residents’ lounge, and a vibrant community garden. It’s not only high-end luxury buildings that provide these types of amenities and services any longer.”

Tenants in the 18-story, 298-unit building comes with a first-rate amenity package, including a fitness center, yoga studio, game room, children’s playroom and outdoor terrace. Greenland Forest City Partners enlisted architectural firm COOKFOX to ensure the building was seamlessly integrated into the streetscape and adjacent green space, and that means Daylit elevator vestibules look onto the park from each floor, and the open view lobby offers visual connection from the Carlson Avenue to Pacific Park. Landscaped rooftop, terraces and setbacks also provide residents with expansive vistas of the park, New York Harbor.

“We approached the design of 535 Carlton with two critical goals: to create the healthiest possible homes and respect the surrounding historic neighborhood,” said Rick Cook, a founder and partner at COOKFOX. “We are proud to have designed affordable homes for a diverse community that connects residents with nature, daylight and views to green space, rooftop gardening, and natural materials and finishes.”

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