Skip to main content

Featured Post

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

The promise, and (partial?) removal, of community preference in AY/PP affordable housing. A glaring lack of disclosure. More middle-income units than promised.

A very important change in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project was revealed last week when the affordable housing lottery for 662 Pacific St. (B15, aka Plank Road) went live on the city's Housing Connect database: the longstanding program of community preference was gone, as I reported

Instead of 50% of the income-linked units being reserved for those in the four closest Community Districts, served by Community Boards 2, 3, 6, and 8, the only preference is for New York City residents.

We should have been told ahead of time that affordable units in buildings that get only the 421-a tax break, rather than city subsidies and/or financing, do not have such community preference. (And we also should have been told ahead of time that this "affordable" housing would be limited to middle-income units.)

Why? Because that's a huge change for a project long promised to offer half of the affordable rentals--1,125 of 2,250--to nearby residents, thus mitigating gentrification, and making such an area-changing development more palatable to local elected officials, allowing them to "deliver" for their constituents.

After all, a threatened lawsuit on fair-housing grounds rested on the argument that delays in housing--not expected to be only middle-income--would lead to Black residents displaced from the neighborhoods around the project site, rendering them ineligible for the community preference.

That threat led in 2014 to a new timetable for the affordable housing, due by 2025 rather than 2035 (though it was originally supposed to be done by 2016). That said, the advantage to locals if the housing is all middle-income is significantly diminished. 

Remember, the long-promised distribution of affordable housing among five "income bands"--two low-income, one moderate-income, and two middle-income--was abandoned in the project's guiding 2010 Development Agreement, which more loosely defines affordable housing as participating in a government regulatory program.

Local preference

Usually the preference is limited to households in a single Community District, but Atlantic Yards straddles three such districts--and is close enough to CD 3 that then-Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries got it added in 2007.

The argument against such preferences is that they limit opportunities to those further away--a stronger case, for example, regarding "affordable" units in wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods that may advantage lower-earning locals with social capital, such as young college grads sharing an apartment.
I'm not sure the units are "essentially market-rate," since market-rate units at 662 Pacific rent for a lot more. But it's fair to say that middle-income households considering one-bedrooms for $2,273 and two-bedrooms for $3,219 (see image at right) have similarly-priced options in the open market, albeit not likely for new construction with similar (for-pay) amenities.

No disclosure

Of course the developers knew. So did city and state agencies. 

So, surely, did the developers' marketing partner, Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY)--the successor to ACORN Housing--whose mission is to help those of low and moderate incomes. (No, Plank Road doesn't really fit.)

But they didn't tell us, just as the developers refused to confirm clear evidence that units at 18 Sixth Ave. (B4, aka Brooklyn Crossing) would be geared to middle-income households at 130% of Area Median Income, or AMI, as I reported. (Now, they have confirmed it.)

It should've come up at one of the regularly bi-monthly Quality of Life meetings sponsored by Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project.

It should've come up at a meeting of the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which is supposed to meet quarterly, but doesn't. (Then again, its members are mostly uninformed and not too curious about the project, with Veconi a rare exception.)

It didn't come up until I read the lottery ad. Of course, I erred as well, since I should've noticed the 2017 report in Gothamist indicating that the requirement was discarded in the revision of the 421-a tax break to Affordable New York.

So it's likely at that next four towers, including B12/B13 (615 Dean St./595 Dean St.), will all have middle-income units at 130% of AMI, with no local preference. And as AMI rises--as I wrote yesterday--130% of AMI exceeds 165% of AMI just a few years ago.

Diminishing returns

To some extent, the argument of local preference--that it will help neighbors threatened by displacement--is diminished when that local preference serves only the middle-class, or the middle-class-adjacent, because those residents have other options. Moreover, units limited to the middle-class hardly serve the neediest locals.

From The City
Indeed, a June 2020 article in The City about the contentious nature of the preference noted that, as shown in the graphic at right, only 12.2% of households in Brooklyn Community Board 8 even qualified for middle-income apartments, which made 39% of the "affordable" units created since 2014. See graphic at right.

(Presumably that total included Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park's "100% affordable" 535 Carlton Ave., which has 65% middle-income units and is within CD 8. Residents of that community district are also eligible for the similar "100% affordable" 38 Sixth Ave., with 65% middle-income units, and the 461 Dean St., which has 20% middle-income units among 50% affordable ones.)

Moreover, given the significant hoops that housing lottery applicants must go through, the developers of 535 Carlton had to go outside the lottery--meaning beyond those with the preference and those without--to market the middle-income units.

Then again, the middle-income skew wasn't the original plan: only 40% of the total 2,250 affordable units, or 900, were supposed to be for two middle-income bands, as part of a "50/50" affordable/market split among the 4,500 rentals.

But that was abandoned when we got two "100% affordable" buildings with 65% middle-income units. Now we have two, likely four, buildings with 30% affordable units, all likely middle-income.
From here

Already we have 1,054 middle-income units built, or planned: 461 Dean (72), 535 Carlton (192), 38 Sixth (198), 662 Pacific (94), 18 Sixth (258), 615 Dean (133), 595 Dean (107). 

(Note: I'm assuming that the latter two buildings, which also rely on the Affordable New York tax break, will be limited to middle-income residents. If not, wouldn't they have told us?)

Nor is the middle-income skew required--it's just financially optimal. The Affordable New York program, which will be renewed, revised, or axed next year, currently has three options, as I've written:
  • Option A includes 20% low-income units and 5% middle-income units 
  • Option B has 10% low-income units, albeit at a higher AMI, and 20% middle-income units 
  • Option C has 30% middle-income units, at 130% of AMI
Option C is the most attractive to developers, of course.

Let's look back on the promises, before returning to that 2014 fair-housing settlement, which must be seen in a new light.

2005: Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding

“This is a very good day for low- and moderate- income families,” said Bertha Lewis of signatory ACORN, according to the Brooklyn Standard, a developer-produced publication. “This team of labor, elected officials and a visionary developer have put affordable housing back on track.”

As it turns out, the preferences were not a strong selling point for ACORN's general membership, since most would consider themselves ineligible. As I reported, the preferences, "required by city regulations, deflated some people in the room." Now, they're not required.

2014: Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Ch. 4A, Operational Socioeconomic Conditions)

2016: 461 Dean (B2) affordable housing lottery

2016: 535 Carlton (B14) affordable housing lottery

2017: 38 Sixth (B3) affordable housing lottery

2021: 662 Pacific (B15) affordable housing lottery

The 2014 fair housing claim
On June 27, 2014, BrooklynSpeaks coalition members settled threatened litigation against the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC). The basis of the coalition’s claim was that a delay in completion of the Atlantic Yards project agreed upon by ESDC and FCRC resulted in a disparate impact in denying African-American residents of Brooklyn community districts 2, 6 and 8 access to affordable housing in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act and other laws. The terms of the settlement included a ten-year reduction in project’s completion date, and the creation of a State agency to oversee compliance with Atlantic Yards’ public commitments.

The public review process for the SEIS began in January 2013. As part of their response to the draft scope of the SEIS, the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors studied the demographic trends taking place in Brooklyn community districts 2, 3, 6, and 8—districts whose residents would receive preference in the lotteries for the affordable apartments to be provided at Atlantic Yards. They found that a delay of fifteen years in the completion of the project’s affordable housing would result in far fewer African-American residents being eligible to receive preference in the Atlantic Yards housing lotteries.

Subsequent research commissioned from Dr. Lance Freeman further quantified and substantiated the projected displacement of members of the four districts’ African-American population. 
(Emphases added) 

From ESD letter
As noted, that state agency, the AY CDC, has not sufficiently monitored compliance with the project's public commitments, since we should've known earlier about the middle-income focus in the latest buildings, as well as abandonment of community preference in these lotteries.

That said, it's notable that the 6/25/14 letter from Empire State Development memorializing the commitments says nothing about community preference in the housing lottery, though it twice cites the roles of those four community districts.

The settlement terms

To quote BrooklynSpeaks:
The FCRC Letter commits Forest City Ratner Companies to establishing the Atlantic Yards Tenant Protection Fund (AYTPF) through a contribution of $250,000 to be administered by the Brooklyn Community Foundation. Grants made from AYTPF will fund non-profit organizations that provide tenant protection and anti-displacement services in Brooklyn community districts 2, 3, 6 and 8. The creation of AYTPF reflects all parties’ acknowledgement of the intense displacement pressure due to gentrification in communities surrounding the Atlantic Yards project.
Note the focus on the four community districts.

From BrooklynSpeaks:
Affordable housing at Atlantic Yards is expected to be awarded by lottery; residents of Brooklyn community districts 2, 3, 6 and 8 are expected to receive preference for 50% of such housing, consistent with federal fair housing law. The NYC Letter expresses the intention of the City of New York to consider former residents of districts 2, 3, 6 and 8 who have been displaced since the time of Atlantic Yards’ 2006 approval as eligible to participate with preference in lotteries for its affordable housing. The letter also states the City’s commitment to use liquidated damages directed to the New York City Housing Trust Fund for the preservation and creation of affordable housing in districts 2, 3, 6 and 8, thereby helping to mitigate the impact of any delay of Atlantic Yards’ affordable apartments should it occur prior to project completion.
The city considered but rejected the notion of retroactive preference, though there's certainly a logic to it.

To fulfill the spirit, if not necessarily the letter, of the agreements, the affordable housing should offer a local preference. Of course, to fulfill the original promise--if not the ultimate requirement--the affordable housing should not be skewed toward middle-income households.

Bottom line: Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park strays ever farther from the original promises, thus confirming reasons for skepticism.