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Despite coverage of 535 Carlton lottery flop and qualms about expensive affordable units, uncritical promotion of "new generation"

It seems clear that the happy talk upon the opening of the "100% affordable" 535 Carlton-- “Our administration is delivering on the affordable housing this community was promised," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in June--was overstated.

As I previously reported, and Rachel Holliday Smith of DNAinfo expanded on (also published in City Limits, as DNAinfo+Gothamist closed and briefly unpublished everything), the housing lottery failed to deliver takers for the middle-income units that represent half the building, because, well, few people apply for such relatively expensive units.

So it was surprising to see such sheep-like, press release-driven coverage like today's article in Metro, 535 Carlton offers ‘new generation of affordable housing’ for middle-income New Yorkers.

Only at the end of the article do we learn that studios rent for $2,137, 1-bedrooms for $2,680, 2-bedrooms for $3,223, and 3-bedrooms for $3,716, and are open to households within relatively limited income bands.

Looking at the headlines

So let's contrast that Metro headline below (which, in the deck, misleadingly mentions moderate-income households) with Smith's headlines.
From Metro
From City Limits

From DNAinfo

What we've learned: how many vacancies

Smith reports that nearly 100 of the 148 upper middle-income units in the 297-unit lottery (plus a super's apartment) were not taken, an astounding number.

Last week, Forest City Realty Trust, parent of Forest City New York, which is part of the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture developing the building, disclosed that 535 Carlton was only 51% leased as of 10/26/17.

Could they have been minimizing the number they disclosed to Smith? They have a history of imprecision/exaggeration, for example telling Metro there were 100,000 applications, while I reported for City Limits that there were 92,743.

What we've learned: the explanation

Rather than rely on a spokesperson for the developer, as Metro did, Smith quote, Ismene Speliotis, executive director of Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), which oversees the housing lottery at Pacific Park buildings.

Expanding on her comments for my earlier article, Speliotis said that middle-income "band" was tougher to fill, because such households can find competitive units in the private market, not necessarily paying 30% of their income. Smith found one lottery winner who did the math and found it wasn't worth it.

Said Speliotis, “I think we should be looking at that income band [between 135-165% of Area Median Income, or AMI] and understand it, because we don’t want units to go vacant during a housing crisis."

Forest City's Ashley Cotton, on the other hand, attributed it to a need to educate people in those middle-income cohorts, which are actually small fractions of the population. (See ANHD Cheat Sheet.)

Some perspective: not the original AY plan

Smith writes:
Pacific Park’s high income requirements are not unique to the complex; the affordable units in the new City Point building in downtown Brooklyn, the Essex Crossing project in Manhattan and a 26-story residential building in Jamaica, Queens also have income ranges up to 165 percent of the area median income.
It's true that other affordable projects have significant middle-income units, but we should remember, as I wrote in City Limits, that the configuration was not the original one promised:
535 Carlton and 38 Sixth (which is nearing completion) have 50 percent upper-middle-income apartments, with rents set at 160 percent of Area Median Income, or AMI, for households with incomes up to 165 percent of AMI. So a four-person household seeking a two-bedroom apartment can earn $111,909 to $149,490.
By contrast, the initial Atlantic Yards plan designated just 20 percent of affordable units for the highest band, with rents set at 150 percent (and incomes up to 160 percent of AMI).
Also note that 535 Carlton is being used to drastically reduce taxes at a nearby condo building, thanks to a legal but questionable maneuver, as I reported.


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