Behind Atlantic Yards Housing Deal, Some Big Shifts

By: Norman Oder

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio took credit for dramatic news announced June 27 regarding the controversial Atlantic Yards project, which, despite the opening of the Barclays Center in 2012, had delivered none of the affordable housing that was a huge selling point when the project was unveiled in 2003, approved in 2006, and re-approved in 2009.

They announced a deal, responding in part to a threatened fair-housing lawsuit by community groups, that promised the 2,250 subsidized apartments (of 6,430 total) would arrive by 2025, ten years before the 2035 “outside date” agreed to in 2009. That’s still slower than the ten-year buildout long touted by developer Forest City Ratner.

"Today we are… expediting the construction of thousands of units of affordable housing in Brooklyn,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This agreement is a win for the state and most importantly for Brooklyn residents.”

“The agreement means two 100-percent affordable buildings will go in the ground starting next year,” said de Blasio, “with units serving a more diverse range of families.”

Those statements, bolstered by endorsements from community groups that pushed for a faster timetable and some local elected officials, obscured some key changes that bolster the developer and satisfy the city’s hunger to count affordable units, as well as one that addresses a flaw in the first tower being built on the site.

First key change: affordability

First, as emerged later that day, 390 of 600 units in the two all-affordable towers will go to households earning more than $100,000, a departure from the long-promised configuration that distributes the units more among low-, moderate-, and lower-middle-income households. Rents for two-bedroom subsidized units might approach $3,000.

The two towers will include 180 low-income units, serving families earning up to $51,540 (as of 2013) for a household of four. But that 30 percent share of total affordable units is less than the 40 percent share long promised in the Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Forest City Ratner signed with ACORN in 2005 and incorporated into the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). The upper middle-income affordable “band” (serving a four-person household, earning up to $141,735) was supposed to represent 20 percent of affordable units, but in these towers will represent 50 percent. The moderate-income band, 20 percent in the MOU, would instead be 5 percent.

Read the full article in the Brooklyn Bureau on (July 3, 2014)