Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Will Ratner build offsite affordable housing? We don't know yet

How many units of affordable housing might be built as part of the Atlantic Yards project but located offsite? We don't know, though the issue came up at the 1/25/06 meeting of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, which focused on socioeconomic conditions. (I've already written about the unresolved questions concerning the costs of the Atlantic Yards project.)

Assemblywoman Joan Millman cited rumors that the affordable housing component would be moved offsite. If so, how would this affect gentrification in the area?

Panelist Barry Dinnerstein, of the City Planning Department, responded that it wasn't his bailiwick, as the state--not the city--is conducting the environmental review.

"Where do I direct the question?" Millman asked.

"To us," Borough President Marty Markowitz responded. His chief of staff, Greg Atkins, picked up the issue, pointing out that the offsite housing has been discussed as a way for the developer to reach the stated 50 percent affordable housing goal.

Markowitz added, "We'll have to clarify to get exactly where they are in the process." No one from developer Forest City Ratner was present, but the developer and Borough Hall staff are presumably in contact, so the issue could be clarified.

What the record states

The issue first came up last October. Assemblyman Roger Green, at the Empire State Development Corporation hearing, suggested that moving affordable housing offsite might reduce some of the project's density (and, presumably, contribute to the revitalization of the Crown Heights area he represents).

His suggestion was interpreted to involve the rental units, since that's the affordable housing located onsite. However, Forest City Ratner has pledged that half (2,250) rental units would be affordable, and company officials have reiterated that those would be located onsite.

So the offsite affordable housing would involve condos.

Once the developer added 2,800 market-rate condos on top of the 4,500 rentals, the spirit, if not the letter, of the 50 percent affordable housing pledge was breached.

However, another part of the Housing Memorandum of Understanding concerns a program to build 600 to 1000 affordable for-sale units, either on or off site, over ten years. This would move toward matching, though not fully so, the 2,800 added condos.

As has been reported by the Brooklyn Papers and the Daily News, the developer may acquire the former St. Mary’s Hospital in Crown Heights, which could be used to build the affordable condos. FCR VP Jim Stuckey told the Daily News that the St. Mary's site could accommodate 600 to 800 condos.

50/50 affordable?

Currently, the project would include 2,250 affordable rentals, 2,250 market-rate rentals, and 2,800 market-rate condos. That would make 31 percent of the 7,300 residential units affordable.

Add 600 affordable condos, and 36 percent of the 7,900 projects units would be affordable. Add 1,000 affordable condos, and 39 percent of the 8,300 units would be affordable.

Note, however, that the concept of "affordable" includes low-income, moderate-income, and decidedly middle-class (up to six-figures) components. Only 900 of the rental units would go to people earning under Brooklyn's median income. And they likely wouldn't get many of the affordable condos. The housing memorandum states: "It is currently contemplated that a majority of for-sale units will be sold to families in the upper affordable-income tiers."

An 11/6/05 New York Times article did the math and observed that if Forest City Ratner builds 1,000 units offsite, the number of below-market units would be about 40 percent. In the Times, Bertha Lewis of ACORN, who negotiated the affordable housing agreement with the developer, said she was negotiating with the company, and with the government agencies that help subsidize housing, to help make a greater proportion of the for-sale apartments available below market prices.
"We know that when we get through this thing, half of all the housing is going to be affordable - half of the rental, half of everything else," she said. "We haven't gotten down to the last part of this. But our whole principle is 50-50."

That's worth checking on, as well, especially since Lewis, writing a few weeks earlier in Forest City Ratner's Brooklyn Standard, unequivocally declared that the 50-50 program was in place.

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