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A curious, unbylined (development-friendly) Eagle op-ed on the 35th District Council race, starting with 840 Atlantic

There's a curiously un-bylined op-ed in the Brooklyn Eagle, Subject to Inspection: Brooklyn Spaces and Issues, with the subheading "Key Conversation in 35th District Council Race: Affordable Housing."

The lead:
A proposed 18 story apartment building at 840 Atlantic Avenue, at the corner of Atlantic and Vanderbilt Avenues, has set off a vigorous debate in Council District 35. At issue, is less about the acceptability of the site for conversion to housing (it is difficult to argue credibly that converting a McDonalds and parking lot into much needed housing at any income level is a bad idea, particularly a project proposing that nearly one in three apartments is set aside as deeply affordable in perpetuity). But the debate seems to be centering on at what height the building should be allowed to go up to, approximately 15 stories or approximately 18 stories. How on earth the everyday pedestrian on Vanderbilt will be able to tell the difference, remains a puzzling question – but the need for more housing in Brooklyn is self-evident as post-pandemic rental activity in Brooklyn have already begun to rise again.
That's disingenuous, since the issue ventilated at Community Board 8 meetings is less height than bulk--the building as proposed would be bulkier than the much taller 809 Atlantic Avenue across the street--and precedent.

While there's an argument for more bulk at the corner of two wide streets, Community Board 8 has pointed to the precedent this upzoning would create for other spot rezonings, as well as the failure to follow the guidelines in the proposed M-CROWN rezoning, which would devote more space for jobs.

So you have to wonder: was this article placed by the p.r. firm working for the murky Vanderbilt Atlantic Holdings, developer of the site, which I suspect has had a hand--as per previous pattern--in various other op-eds supporting the project?

As to whether the need for housing is self-evident, that doesn't meant that an upzoning benefits the developer and the public commensurately.

The 35th District

The op-ed focuses on the what seems to have become a two-person race to succeed Council Member Laurie Cumbo, between her former staffer (and former First Deputy Public Advocate) Crystal Hudson, who has support from mainstream elected officials, political clubs, and more labor unions; and tenant activist Michael Hollingsworth, backed by, among others, the Democratic Socialists of America, TenantsPac, and New York Communities for Change.

I'll write more about the race separately, but the failure here to mention some other controversial issues--the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment and the proposed 960 Franklin Avenue rezoning--is notable.

The op-ed is somewhat skeptical of Hudson, but more so of Hollingsworth, suggesting that he "may face sustained pressure from the DSA to remain more beholden to party priorities than the specific needs or concerns of District 35" and suggesting he offers "little details on how to pay for [affordable housing] other than leaving cash strapped government to foot the bill in perpetuity."

About MIH

The op-ed says Hollingsworth offers "false statements that the [Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, or MIH] program allows developers to “determine how many units are going to be affordable” and “we let them [developers] pick the affordability levels,” the op-ed then states that "the program strictly prescribes affordability levels (an average of 60-80 percent of Area Median Income) and an overall percentage of the building (25-30 percent)." 

The context of his statement is unclear, but the program isn't strictly prescriptive: it offers leeway, as the op-ed acknowledges, with ranges in the level of affordability and number of units, subject to negotiation, and developers propose the configuration they find most advantageous.

While praising Hudson for "the most comprehensive and progressive policy platform in the race," the op-ed notes that she "talks about convening a 'community conversation' on questions of development in District 35, but when the immediate demands of the housing crisis fall at her feet how that 'conversation' unfolds remains to be seen."

The op-ed comes out in favor of MIH:
MIH is subsidy-free and requires no public dollars to bring affordable housing online. The City’s 100% affordable programs are deeply subsidized, and the waiting list to access these dollars is vast and growing.
But there's a difference, unacknowledged, between MIH as the result of a neighborhood rezoning and a spot rezoning, which may offer particular upside to a developer while failing to address community priorities.

A curious closing

The last paragraph:
For her part, Laurie Cumbo has pointed to the impact of white gentrification in traditional enclaves of black residents as part of the driver of the recent progressive vs. socialist divergence. “Many folks do not see what is happening but the recent local election results in Brooklyn demonstrate the power of the gentrification movement,” Cumbo wrote on Facebook in July of last year following the victories of Jabari Brisport and Phara Souffrant Forrest. “The ability to elect unknown candidates of color with the backing of a super majority of white organizational support, with no proven leadership in the community…signifies the end of an era in Brooklyn.” The race to succeed her will be a key indicator of where politics, and housing policy, may be headed in Central Brooklyn.
Each candidate's policy plan deserves analysis, and question. But in this case, despite the innuendo, Hollingsworth has--as does Hudson--a record of community activism.

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