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

Following BrooklynSpeaks forum, a chance for more lower-income affordable housing? The options seem limited.

Credit the Brooklyn Eagle for being the only other news outlet to cover the BrooklynSpeaks meeting Thursday night. My longer, more general coverage was headlined After BrooklynSpeaks meeting, can new legislative efforts improve accountability and reciprocal benefits? Three years to build each phase of platform?

From BrooklynSpeaks
That's not exactly news, though it was one highlight of the meeting.

As the slide at right helpfully explained (and as I've reported), the "affordable housing" (aka below-market, income-targeted) is skewed to middle-income households, a significant contrast with the promises in the 2005 Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding that original developer Forest City Ratner signed with the advocacy group ACORN.

Pushing for more affordability?

From the Eagle:
Participants at the forum said that the remaining 1,469 units that have yet to be constructed should be leased to low-income tenants who make an average of 60 percent of AMI (called “low-income,” at which level a family of three makes $57,660 annually) — and at least 40 percent of those should go to renters making an average of 40 percent of AMI (“very low-income,” or $38,440 a year for a family of three).
Of the existing 781 apartments, just 5 percent were made available to families at the very low-income level.
Though that would go where the need is greatest, that's extremely unlikely, especially for the two buildings currently under construction (B15 and B4), and those expected to start next year (B12 and B13).

The likelihood also seems constrained by the need to meet the 2025 deadline, as I explain below. That said, it's possible that some one-off, enhanced affordability might be achieved by advocacy that increases the amount of subsidy, since the developer's not going to sacrifice profits.

It's notable that the original negotiator of the affordable housing plan, Bertha Lewis of ACORN (now at The Black Institute), has not made this an issue. Ismene Speliotis of the Mutual Housing Association of New York (formerly of ACORN Housing), the developer's affordable housing partner,  has at various times expressed the need for more affordability but surely has been constrained from full-throated advocacy.

What's next?

Those next buildings are all expected to have 25% or 30% affordability and participate in the Affordable New York program, the tax break that replaced the 421-a tax break. 

As I wrote, one of the three options offers a larger percentage of affordable units, but that building would deliver only 25% affordability (including 20% low-income and 5% middle-income), rather than 30%, which would deliver more overall units.

Option A:
  • 25% of the units must be affordable: at least 10% at up to 40% of AMI, 10% at up to 60% of AMI, and 5% at up to 130% of AMI; and
  • the project cannot receive any government subsidies other than tax-exempt bond proceeds and 4% tax credits.
Option B:
  • 30% of the units must be affordable: at least 10% at up to 70% of AMI and 20% at up to 130% of AMI.
Option C:
  • at least 30% of the units must be affordable at up to 130% of AMI;
  • the project cannot receive any government subsidies
Note that, with AMI steadily rising--since it incorporates wealthier suburban counties, rather than focuses on New York or Brooklyn--130% of AMI today is a significant number, with an income cap for a single person of $97,710 and a four-person household $138,710.

Senior housing and help for those displaced?

From the Eagle:
Among the other recommendations made at the forum: more units set aside for elderly tenants, and a housing lottery priority for people who have been displaced from homes in the neighborhoods bordering the development.
As I wrote, the senior housing was promised but never memorialized, and has not since been discussed. As to retroactive community preference in the housing lottery, it's a worthy idea, but already has rejected, as I wrote in September 2016.

The state obfuscates

From the Eagle:
Jack Sterne, Empire State Development Corp.’s downstate press secretary, told the Eagle the agency expects construction to start next year on additional affordable units at Pacific Park.
“There is universal agreement that Brooklyn critically needs affordable housing,” Sterne said. “The project developer made a legally-binding commitment to deliver 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025 — and we will hold them and all of their partners to that deadline.”
According to ESD, the project plan doesn’t specify the income levels for affordable housing at Pacific Park-Atlantic Yards and ESD isn’t responsible for setting those levels. Two city agencies, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Housing Development Corp., determine those income levels.
ESD expects that more than half the affordable units that Pacific Park is required to construct will be completed by 2022. 
As I commented:
While it's true that the guiding General Project Plan doesn’t specify the income levels for affordable housing, ESD's subsequent Development Agreement could have done so, or at least recognized the commitments by developer Forest City Ratner to devote 40% of below-market/income-targeted units to low-income households.
Instead, it ignored the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding and Community Benefits Agreement signed by the developer with private, nonprofit counterparties. No one's held the developer--then Forest City, now Greenland Forest City Partners, dominated by Greenland USA--accountable.
More affordability in later buildings?

As illustrated in the Affordable New York program, there's a tension between greater affordability and the number of units. So to reach the 2,250 goal, involving an estimated 916 more units after the four buildings starting this year and next, that tension will increase.

As I've suggested, it might be easier to meet the 2025 affordable housing deadline by building towers that contain 50% or even 100% "affordable" units.

What are the options?

The New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC) offers multiple programs, including the 100% affordable M2 Mixed Income Program: M2 (Mixed-Middle), a variant of which was used to build 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, the two Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park towers skewed toward middle-income units. From NYC HDC:
More specifically, 20% of the units will be at rents affordable to households earning up to 50% of Area Median Income (AMI); alternatively, 25% of the units must be affordable to those earning up to 60% AMI. A minimum of 30% of the units must be affordable to moderate-income households earning between 80% and 100% of AMI with the remaining units affordable to middle-income households earning between 130% and 165% of AMI. Projects may have a range of affordability tiers.
NYC HDC also offers the 50/30/20 Mixed-Income Program, with 50% affordable units:
More specifically, 20% of the units will be at rents affordable to households earning up to 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI), with at least 15% of these units affordable to households earning up to 40% of AMI. A minimum of 30% of the units must be affordable to middle-income households according to the guidelines below. A maximum of 50% of the units would be set at market rates for households without regard to incomes.
It offers these options regarding Moderate and Middle-Income Units – a minimum of 30% of the units must be affordable to moderate and middle-income households earning up to 130% AMI.

  • Units with rents set at or below 80% AMI can be rented to those with incomes up to 100% of AMI.
  • Units with rents set at or below 100% AMI can be rented to those with incomes up to 130% of AMI.
  • Units with rents set at or below 130% AMI can be rented to those with incomes up to 165% of AMI.

What could increase affordability? HDC also offers Extremely Low & Low-Income Affordability (ELLA):
Option 1

  • 10% of the units serving formerly homeless households;
  • 10% of units affordable to those earning up to 30% AMI underwritten at 27% AMI rents or below; and
  • 10% of units affordable to those earning up to 40% AMI underwritten at 37% AMI rents or below; and
  • 10% of units affordable to those earning up to 50% AMI underwritten at 47% AMI rents or below;
  • (Optional): up to 30% of the units with rents affordable to households earning 70%-100% of AMI;
  • The remaining units must be affordable to those earning up to 60% AMI underwritten at 57% AMI rents or below.
Option 2

  • 30% of the units set aside for formerly homeless households with a rental subsidy;
  • 5% of the units serving households up to 40% of AMI;
  • 5% of the units serving households up to 50% of AMI;
  • (Optional): up to 30% of the units with rents affordable to households earning 70%-100% of AMI;
  • The remaining units must be affordable to those earning up to 60% AMI underwritten at 57% AMI rents or below.

The likelihood for this, I suspect, is low, given the high land costs involved.

What about the platform?

The Eagle coverage ended with this line: "The developer recently announced it will start to build the platform in 2020."

Much more could be said, starting with the observation that the announcement, in the friendly New York Post, surely seemed timed to undermine the upcoming BrooklynSpeaks meeting.

Moreover, the big questions about that plan--the timing for the platform, and the timing for the subsequent towers, and thus the chance of meeting the 2025 affordable housing deadline--went unanswered.

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