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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

CM Cumbo, the Bedford Armory, misleading advertising from Hotel Workers, and some Atlantic Yards echoes

There are some interesting twists regarding the compromise announced this past Tuesday (11/21/17) regarding more affordable housing at the Bedford-Union Armory project, including some very misleading advertising (with no sanction?), a candidate apparently unwilling to disavow that advertising, and an Atlantic Yards boomerang.

Council Member Laurie Cumbo announced a victory:
"I fought to remove 48 luxury condominiums, deepened the bands of affordability by securing approximately 250 housing units for low-income and formerly homeless families - quadrupling the affordable housing that was proposed in the original plan, with at least $1.25 million annually in programmatic engagement at the Armory. Additionally, I am proud that a dozen not-for-profit organizations and athletic providers will have a new home at the Armory alongside anchored tenant, Brooklyn Medical Plaza, who will provide quality affordable healthcare for the uninsured. 
The original proposal included just 67 homes that were affordable below 60% AMI - that's a family of four making $57,000 a year or less. The final Armory project now includes approximately 250 homes that will be affordable below 60% AMI. The full affordability breakdown is as follows: 50 units at 30% AMI (inclusive of 25 units set aside for formerly homeless); 24 units at 40% AMI; 24 units at 50% AMI, 152 units at 60% AMI.
Plus 149 market-rate rentals.

Progress, but not enough?

This represents significant progress, but Cumbo's foes and critics sought more, 100% affordable housing, given that the land is publicly owned. State Senator Jesse Hamilton and Assemblymember Diana Richardson also sought 100% affordability, invoking advocacy by the Crown Heights Tenants Union and New York Communities for Change.

The question--one I haven't delved into enough to reach a conclusion--is whether that was economically viable. It is clear, however, that the increased affordability indicates that these deals are negotiable, both with the city and developer. (The city added $50 million, as noted by the Commercial Observer.)

But perspectives differ. As one critic put it:
Let's look at that graphic, which lumps in the 152 affordable units at 60% of AMI with the 149 market-rate units.
Though 152 units at 60% of AMI may be above Crown Heights' median income, that's certainly low-income within the universe of New York City affordable housing: units for households at 535 Carlton that earn up to 60% of AMI have rents set at 57% of AMI, such as $865 for a studio, $929 for a one-bedroom and $1,121 for a two-bedroom.

Note that the Furman Center says Community Board 9 (Crown Heights South & Lefferts Gardens has a median income of $45,960 and Community Board 8 (Prospect Heights & Crown Heights North) has a median income of $46,210.

(Quick: remember how 50% of the units at 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth are at 165% of AMI?)

Did Cumbo make a promise?

Cumbo's critics and foes, as indicated in Twitter messages, Facebook comments (like the one at right), and a statement from her former Democratic primary rival Ede Fox, widely believed that she had promised "100% Affordable" housing at the armory.

Indeed, in four separate mailers (1234), 35th District residents were told that Cumbo, for example, "proudly stands against the Bedford-Union Armory project until 100% of the units are made affordable."

That message was repeated in multiple other messages sponsored by Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities, the political arm of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, which spent $108,674.64 in support of Cumbo. (Exceeding $400,000 overall, it was the biggest independent spender in the election, noted the Real Deal.)

As far as I can know (though I only went to a few campaign events), Cumbo, who opposed luxury condos, was more cautious in her rhetoric. As Marc Torrence of Patch noted, "Campaign mailers created and distributed by a hotel workers' union promised 100 percent affordable housing, but Cumbo never personally made that promise." (Some say she did, though concrete evidence hasn't surfaced.)

However, many believed the Council Member's backers spoke for her. Cumbo, as far as I know, did not disavow those mailers (as Pete Nagy noted), now was she asked to do so. (In the 2013 campaign, Cumbo belatedly distanced herself from outside spending by the Real Estate Board of New York.)

Accountability avoided, and a lingering question

The Brooklyn Paper's Colin Mixon reported:
Some pro-Cumbo fliers allegedly circulated during her primary campaign stated the councilwoman “stands against the Bedford-Union Armory project until 100 percent of units are made affordable.” But when this newspaper provided a digital copy of one leaflet to the pol’s spokeswoman, Kristia Beaubrun, she said she could not comment without knowing its source.
That's a pretty lame response.

Unlike the print flyer reproduced above, which is attributed to Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities, with the disclaimer that it was not authorized or requested by any candidate, the digital flier reproduced below--published by the Brooklyn Paper and circulated by Cumbo foes--does not have any attribution.

Where did it come from? The image was attached to a text message, yes, from Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities. However, no attribution was included within the image, which could otherwise be shared--and it was.

No rules violated?

If that did not violate current rules, well, the rules should be changed, because the image was plausibly seen to have come from the campaign.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board requires specific disclosures for print material, video, radio ads, and phone calls--see p. 94 of the rules--but there may be a loophole for text messages, since no guidelines are mentioned. It seems to me that an image that can be circulated is roughly equivalent to a print ad and deserves the same attribution.

Shouldn't there be some way to hold Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities accountable, both for that specific lack of disclosure and the general promise regarding Cumbo's position?

The Atlantic Yards echoes

The fight got ugly. As Rebecca Baird-Remba wrote in the Commercial Observer
After Bertha Lewis, who heads the Black Institute, a think tank and activist organization, hassled Cumbo from the audience, the councilwoman shot back, “This deal is far better than Atlantic Yards, which you supported and benefited from.”
Lewis was the leader of ACORN from 2008 to 2010. The group aggressively supported Forest City Ratner’s project at the time, after the group signed a deal to help manage and lease up the affordable housing portion of the development and reportedly received financial help from the developer.
Also see coverage from Erin Durkin of the Daily News this tweet from Conor Skelding of Politico New York. My initial response:
Former New York ACORN leader Lewis, who led New York ACORN for a far longer period of time and then also national ACORN, now leads the Black Institute and has been quiet on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park of late.

Indeed, New York Communities for Change, the successor to New York ACORN, supported Atlantic Yards, even through the groundbreaking of not-so-affordable "100% affordable" 535 Carlton, though it has recently signaled dismay.

Did Lewis and NYCC benefit from Atlantic Yards? Not directly. New York ACORN's housing affiliate, now Mutual Housing Association of New York, has a contract to administer the affordable housing lottery, which is rather challenging job. And the national ACORN organization, let by Lewis, was bailed out by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner before going bankrupt.

Cumbo, on the other hand, has expressed unfettered enthusiasm for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in public and press statements.

Could her use of Atlantic Yards against her foes indicate belated realization--thanks, likely, to Ginia Bellafante's recent Times column about "affordable" units going begging--that maybe this new Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park housing won't do much to (as she's said) "help alleviate the overwhelming need for affordable housing in Brooklyn"?


  1. Just sent a message to the CFB to see if they're investigating the false claims in those mailers. Would love to see a statement from the HTC on this--wonder who in that organization was responsible for this, and if they will face any consequences. Thanks for your reporting on this!


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