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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park infographics: what's built/what's coming/what's missing, who's responsible, + project FAQ/timeline (pinned post)

At BrooklynSpeaks housing session, general support for lower-income housing, but little discussion of the trade-offs re Site 5. Low-key re 421-a successor, which could help.

So, what's next for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park affordable housing? A discussion last Wednesday led by the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, the third of four in their Crossroads series, went over the history of the project, and the lack of units affordable to low-income residents, who are continually being priced out.

The presentation is embedded below, as is the video, but comments can be posted online on the presentation board.

The coalition's effort is keyed to the expected effort by the developer and state to move the bulk from the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" tower, once slated to loom over the arena, across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, long home to Modell's and P.C. Richard, to enable a giant two-tower project. 

The 70-plus participants were generally supportive of coalition's already announced principles regarding more deeply affordable housing. Of 2,250 required affordable units (among 6,430 apartments), 876 remain to be built, though Site 5 could contribute additional total housing units, and thus more affordable ones.

However, as I wrote yesterday, a key question was barely discussed: how big should the proposed tower(s) at Site 5 be? (It's been approved at 250 feet and 439,050 square feet, but could--if approved--become a two-tower project some 800 feet and 1.1 million square feet.)
From 2016 presentation to the Department of City Planning; note that the arena plaza and Times Plaza 
are portrayed as green spaces, which they're not; missing from Site 5 is the Pacific St. Bear's Garden

Also barely discussed was the related question: should the developer's request for the bulk transfer be embraced as long as it delivers more deeply affordable housing? Some acknowledged that tradeoff, but also warned about not taking advantage of the opportunity.

(I've previously covered the session on Urban Design, focusing on proposals for Pacific Street and for Dean Street, and the session on Traffic and Transportation, citing both uncontroversial asks and tough questions.)

BrooklynSpeaks, which involves neighborhood groups near the project site, plus housing and advocacy groups, is the only organized coalition publicly advocating regarding Atlantic Yards, with support from longtime Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. 

Her legislative colleagues Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest and Sen. Jabari Brisport have attended and also sound supportive. Council Member Crystal Hudson and Rep. Yvette Clarke have sent staff, with Hudson speaking at the first session about potential fines for not delivering affordable units.

Low-key re 421-a successor

It was interesting that presenter Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, sounded low-key--neither enthusiastic nor critical-- about Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposed replacement for the 421-a tax break, which would deliver more lower-income units than currently, but has been denounced by some advocacy groups as a giveaway.

After all, as she acknowledged, that proposal could mean that future Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park units meet BrooklynSpeaks' request to focus on lower-income households. So I'm not sure if the neutral response was because it's so new, or because some advocacy groups for the poor, as well as critics like city Comptroller Brad Lander, have been critical of the policy.

(That said, nonprofit groups focusing on affordable housing, as far as I can tell, have not weighed in yet.) Update: ANHD, of which the Fifth Avenue Committee is a member organization, says:

New York State should eliminate the 421a tax break and redirect resources to deep affordability, ending homelessness, and investing in public housing. 

The presentation


From the presentation

A good portion of the presentation was simply getting people up to speed on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park housing issues. de la Uz explained that even the 2003 announcement of Atlantic Yards increased displacement pressure in Community Districts 2, 3, 6, and 8, those closest to the project site.

Residents of those districts receive preference for 50% of the units in the affordable housing lottery, at least in the first three buildings. 

But the latest four buildings--two open, two under construction--rely on the Affordable New York tax break, so there's no community preference. (That said, the affordable buildings in the two that are open, and likely the next two, are geared to middle-income households who are less vulnerable to displacement.)

While the project was supposed to take ten years, after its reapproval in 2009, Empire State Development--the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project--gave developer Forest City Ratner 25 years.

After a lawsuit--unmentioned: also involving project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn--a state judge ordered ESD to study the effects of an extended buildout.

Responding to that Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, BrooklynSpeaks conducted demographic research that pointed to the loss of African-Americans over time, which led the coalition in 2014 to threaten a fair-housing lawsuit, under the rationale that the extended buildout would be disriminatory.

That (unmentioned) might've jeopardized the planned majority investment in the project by Greenland USA, an arm of a Shanghai-based conglomerate.

As part of a settlement, Forest City and the state agreed to start at least 590 units of affordable housing by June 2016, which indeed happened. (Unmentioned: two "100% affordable" buildings skewed toward middle-income households.)

The developer agreed to build the full 2,250 affordable units by 2025, with $2,000/month fines for each missing unit--a significant achievement for the BrooklynSpeaks negotiators.

Those liquidated damages would go into the New York City Affordable Housing Trust Fund to fund affordable housing, with preference given to Community Districts 2, 3, 6 and 8--"the first time that's ever been done," de La Uz said..

BrooklynSpeaks also sought a commitment to give affordable housing lottery preferences for locals displaced since 2006--which has so far been denied, given a pending lawsuit.

Affordability levels

The original affordability targets were part of a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding--also incorporated into the project Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), a private contract--the developer signed with housing advocacy group ACORN, now Mutual Housing Association of New York

"And even even with the MOU, what has been built to date skews to much higher incomes than originally proposed," de la Uz said. "So in order to make the rest of the project a reality... it's highly dependent on subsidies from government and policies have changed since the project was first announced."

(Neither the de Blasio administration not BrooklynSpeaks were particularly interested in pointing out, upon the groundbreaking of "100% affordable" 535 Carlton, how those incomes had been skewed.)

The attempt to transfer bulk to Site 5 is "potentially a leverage point in this discussion," de la Uz said, "because obviously, the idea of being granted flexibility to move those development rights without the public commitments being met as of yet is unconscionable."

Greatest need

Bernell Grier, who heads the housing group IMPACCT Brooklyn, described the previously developed principles aiming that the remaining project affordable housing be aimed at low-income tenants.

That also means at least 25% of the affordable housing aimed at seniors--which could, as I've written, help meet the promise of 10% of total affordable units aimed at seniors.

Note: BrooklynSpeaks didn't explain the rationale for allocating at least 25% of affordable housing to the homeless. 

Questions for discussion

She then presented the questions for discussion in the four breakout rooms.

The first question, regarding the area's greatest affordable housing needs, is a layup: lower-income units.

The third question, regarding whether more housing subsidies should be sought to deliver lower-income units, lacked some context: what's the tradeoff between doing that here versus somewhere else? 

The fourth question, concerning additional demands to meet affordable housing needs, led to discussion of what features the housing might have.

The discussion scanted the issue of when and whether the developer will build six towers over the Vanderbilt Yard, which requires an expensive platform over two blocks. (That presumably will come up at the final session, on Accountability, this Wednesday.)

Setting the frame for Site 5

The second question struck me as key: how should Site 5 contribute to meeting local affordable housing needs? BrooklynSpeaks has already stated as a principle: 

  • Programming for a modified Site 5 must also include new, additional commitments for affordable housing targeting very low- and extremely low-income tenants who have been left behind by the Atlantic Yards housing completed to date. 

So the answer is baked in: yes, there should be low-income housing there. The question then is, how much? That gets to the question of scale. 


Some of the discussion questions are summarized on p. 40 of the presentation boards.

A few groups did raise, but not fully explore the trade-off regarding how much affordable housing could be asked for in Site 5. 

Some expressed a general support for building larger to get more affordable housing.

Some talked about populations that should be considered, such as teachers, public servants, and seniors, as well as ensuring that the housing has some social spaces.

One group, as summarized by BrooklynSpeaks' Gib Veconi, did note that when the project was reviewed by the City Planning Commission in 2006 that Site 5 was supposed to be transitional, without a tall tower.

"However, there was also a general feeling that Site 5 was a good place for affordable housing to be, especially given the uncertainty about the idea of affordable housing be developed over the rail yard," he said. There are six towers planned over the Vanderbilt Yard and, without Site 5, at least two would be needed to contribute the remaining affordable units.

"There was general support for reaching affordability levels down to those families earning below 40% of AMI," he said, "with the tradeoff between density and affordability levels being acknowledged and the idea that [we don't want to] go so far as to threaten the ability to get affordable housing down there at all."

Building offsite?

A few odd proposals cropped up.

Veconi cited "the idea of what would happen if the developers look to make their affordable housing commitment by building affordable housing somewhere other than on the Atlantic Yards site, and there was a strong view expressed by some of the participants that if that was to happen, that housing must be in Community Districts 2, 3, 6, and 8."

That, of course, would be prohibited by current project documents. Veconi said, in response to my query, that the scenario was brought up by a participant, who didn't state any specific knowledge of such plans.

In a comment posted on the presentation, one person asked if the affordable housing could built over the Atlantic Center Mall?

Well, that was sold by Forest City to Madison International, which has mainly focused on retail upgrades. But there are development rights, so who knows? After all, Atlantic Yards is a never-say-never project.