Friday, September 30, 2016

"Brooklyn deserves an iconic office building," says Forest City's Gilmartin (sounds like arena justification)

I somehow didn't get to the Make it In Brooklyn real estate summit held this week by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), but, according to the coverage, Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin left some interesting hints.

As the Brooklyn Eagle reported:
Following [new DBP head Regina] Myer's introduction, MaryAnne Gilmartin of Forest City Ratner and Michael Stern of JDS Development Group sat down with reporter Matt Chaban for a panel discussion on the future of Brooklyn's skyline. The trio covered a number of different topics within that context, including their thoughts that the city will re-institute the 421-a tax program that gives developers tax credits in exchange for including low-income housing in their buildings, and the need for office space in Downtown Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn deserves an iconic office building,” Gilmartin said before she explained that any new office building construction would likely have to involve an anchor-tenant prior to any approval. She did explain that the situation was ripe for such a building. Stern agreed and added that the success of residential development over the past 10 years in the neighborhood will only help attract more office space.
"Brooklyn deserves" was also used to justify an override of zoning for a major league team and arena, and that at least had some use by the general public--well, those who could afford tickets--implied.

In this case, Greenland Forest City Partners wants to justify a huge shift of development rights from the arena block to Site 5, currently occupied by Modell's and P.C. Richard.

If an anchor tenant is needed, well, look for the developers too woo a tech company and likely to seek government help.

The Real Deal quoted Gilmartin regarding the 420 Albee Square project, “The days of building spec office are over." I'm assuming that goes for Site 5 as well.

The residential market

Crain's reported that the panelists pooh-poohed the reported glut of apartments in the pipeline. "The idea that there will be a glut, and that there will be ghost buildings that never see residents is just a fallacy," Gilmartin said.

Sure, but landlords are offering concessions, and Gilmartin agreed that rents may not match those projected. Note the implied concessions (aka "incentives") regarding the market-rate units in the 461 Dean modular tower, which is being developed solely by Forest City, unlike the rest of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

The anti-gentrification protests

Also see Technical.ly's coverage of the anti-gentrification protests.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Yormark says hockey "arrived in Brooklyn" in last year's playoffs

Remember how the puck was supposed to drop last October? Wasn't that the beginning of the New York Islanders' season in Brooklyn?

Now, unsurprisingly, Barclays CEO and Chief Spinmeister Brett Yormark is moving the goalposts.

As Newsday reported, Yormark won't talk about the possibility of the team leaving Brooklyn after the third season, when both the arena and team have an opt-out clause.

Rather, he's focusing on improving the in-game experience, including hiring a full-time ice engineer, and fan accommodation, as the Long Island Rail Road has added trains.

The article closed:
Yormark also said Barclays has seen an uptick in season-ticket sales, primarily from within the five boroughs. He cited John Tavares’ double-overtime goal to defeat the Panthers in the opening round of last year’s playoffs as “one of the signature moments in Barclays Center history.”
“The playoffs represented a moment where we all said hockey has arrived in Brooklyn,” Yormark said. “I think we took that momentum into the offseason.”
Well, the word "uptick" is pretty vague. Maybe they're selling more season tickets, but it doesn't have to be much.

As to when hockey "arrived" in Brooklyn, I get that Yormark wants to stress that attendance improved steadily over the year. But he's still moving the goalposts.

The Times's coverage confirms that the morning skate indicates the Islanders' uncertain embrace of Brooklyn:
The Islanders also have a new practice complex at Eisenhower Park, near the Coliseum, which is being renovated, and most players’ homes are on Long Island. The team stopped having morning skates on game days in Brooklyn midway through last season, and it has become clear Brooklyn will be a place it will venture to only for games.
Yormark reiterated his stance that efforts to increase the fan base would continue to be pronounced on several fronts.
“We have to stay true to the hard-core fan that resides on Long Island,” he said. “And we want to connect with fans throughout the tristate area. It’s all about marketing, community outreach and making the players more visible.”
By contrast, NetsDaily's Anthony Puccio suggests that--finally, in their fifth year--the Brooklyn Nets are becoming a Brooklyn team, with more players living here, thanks to the Brooklyn location of the practice center. Whether they all have Brooklyn "grit" and "pride" perhaps will be more apparent when the season starts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

After four years, Barclays Center now on 20th Temporary Certificate of Occupancy


Four years after its opening, the Barclays Center is on its 20th three-month TCO, or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, issued by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). That permits use and occupancy but indicates the building's still not done.

As I wrote in October 2013, an extended TCO is nothing new for sports facilities. Yankee Stadium got its Final Certificate of Occupancy after nearly three years, but Citi Field got its document more than four years after opening. The Barclays Center may push beyond it.

A final Certificate of Occupancy is issued when the completed work matches the submitted plans. Documents confirm the work complies with all applicable laws, all paperwork has been completed, all DOB fees have been paid, all relevant violations have been resolved and all necessary approvals have been received from other City agencies.

What's missing

While the TCO at right indicates that there are "27 outstanding requirements," a look at another page (below) on the  DOB's web site indicates there are 24 such requirements.

That almost completely duplicates the outstanding requirements as of one year ago, with one exception: apparently the "structural safety of existing buildings" was confirmed. But such final certification awaits regarding many aspects of the building, such as life safety aspects as smoke detectors and fire alarms.

There are also various pending violations facing the building, including several--with details completely unspecified--from this past June regarding elevators.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Carlton Avenue residents face bolts falling into front yards, trucks scraping trees on narrow street, paint-like substance drifting in

Elisabeth Martin holds bolt;
coincidentally, Marion Phillips III of
ESD wipes his forehead at table;
photos by Norman Oder
This the third among articles based on the 9/20/16 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), set up to advise Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. See also coverage of Site 5 plans and project delays.

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction has become hazardous for some of the nearest neighbors.

At the end of the meeting, during the public comment period (at 50:50 of the video below), Elisabeth Martin, who lives in a house on the west side of Carlton Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets, told the board of the persistent issues faced by her and her neighbors.

"This is not a joke, this is not frivolous, this a serious problem," she said, citing impacts from construction of 535 Carlton, a 17-story rental building, across the street.

She hefted the end of a bolt, which she said was among others cut off the 535 Carlton facade, which lacked screening. "I heard something heavy falling," Martin said, and later discovered the bolt in her front year. A neighbor found others. "This could have killed somebody," she said.

"Would you like me to pass it around?" she asked.

She didn't get takers at first, but then did.  "This is pretty heavy," acknowledged board member Daniel Kummer.



"This is why we are afraid for our lives," Martin said. Martin addressed ESD executive Marion Phillips III., who also serves as AY CDC President (which means the advisory board he heads is advising himself).

Endangered tree on Carlton Ave.
"Mr. Phillips, I am sorry to say, when I made the comment about fearing for our lives"--she referred to a tense exchange she had with him at a meeting a week earlier--"this was not disrespectful.... Because if you were walking on my block, I would be fearing for your life."

The public comment period is not a Q&A session, so there was no opportunity for the building's developer to either confirm or deny Martin's report.

Trees endangered by narrowed street

Martin also pointed out that Carlton Avenue, narrowed to some 11 feet wide by a giant construction fence (that has since been lowered but not moved in), has become quite hazardous.

First, northbound drivers must shy slightly left, as the fence is not uniformly straight.

Then trees that have long leaned out toward the street frequently get "hit by huge trucks that are basically not supposed to go on our block, but they take the shortcut to avoid the traffic jam," she reported.
Narrowed Carlton Avenue

Residents have put up orange netting and metal shields around trees, but the latter in one case lasted two days, Martin reported.

Whose trucks?

Later in the meeting, Jennifer Bienemann of HDR, the state's environmental monitor, said "we have rarely seen project related trucks on Carlton between Dean and Pacific."

If so, that suggests a much greater role for enforcement by city agencies.

Bienemann said that the project site has signs reminding drivers to follow truck protocols, but not to direct trucks, because every site has a different approved truck route.

Note the photo below left, at Carlton near Pacific Street. It does remind drivers of requirements but does not, as Bienemann said, warn about potential fines. (That message may be at other location.)

Warnings to truck drivers: Carlton Avenue near Pacific Street

Construction damage reported

Martin also said that several buildings on the block have been shaken by construction, with cracking of the walls and falling ceilings.

Phillips said he would ask ESD staffer Greg Lynch to look into it and add such incidents to the agency incident log.

There was no discussion of sanctions, though.

The problems continue, as noted on Instagram

Yesterday, some white, water-soluble paint-like material appeared to drift from 535 Carlton into the yards of the row houses and interiors of across Carlton Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets, staining metal work and garbage cans. It could be inhaled by passers-by. This has to be some kind of violation.


Trucks at 535 Carlton last Saturday left a lot of dirt on the ground, as shown in the photo below. Spraying and wheel washing are supposed to diminish dust.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Yes, three buildings will open soon. But they and others are behind previous tentative schedule.

This the second among articles based on the 9/20/16 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), set up to advise Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. See also coverage of Site 5 plans.

So, how well is Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park progressing? Yes, three buildings will be opening in next several months, and a fourth is due next year.

But all four of them are well behind the tentative schedule noted in the document below, released in August 2014 by Greenland Forest City Partners. Yes, the schedule was and is subject to change, but there's reason enough to question the progress, including the question marks surrounding the 421-a tax break.

At the meeting, Greenland Forest City Partners' Scott Solish said the B2 tower, 461 Dean Street, would welcome tenants in the fall. Keep in mind that this building broke ground in December 2012, and was originally supposed to take two years.


At 535 Carlton, aka B14, the 100% affordable building will open in late 2016 or early 2017. In the graphic above, it was supposed to open in July.

The condo building 550 Vanderbilt, aka B11, is supposed to open at the beginning of 2017. In the graphic above, it was supposed to open in July/August of this year.

The B3 affordable rental building, 38 Sixth, is supposed to open by June 2017, said Solish. In the graphic above, it was supposed to open in January 2017.

Affordable housing timetable

Both Solish and ESD officials said that the affordable housing was still due by 2025. But B4, a mixed-use tower on the northeast corner of the arena block, was once supposed to start in March 2017 and include 275 affordable units. No timetable for the building has been confirmed.

In fact, Greenland Forest City has indicated it would like to switch B4 to office use, but has not said where the 275 affordable units--key to maintaining a ratio of 35% affordability in the first stretch of the buildout--would go.

B4 and two condo sites, B12 and B13, have been put up for sale, with no announced deal--or timetable--pending.

What's next?

Solish said that B12 (aka 615 Dean) was among the next two towers to be built, but did not specify timing. Forest City executive Susi Yu said that footings were installed for B12 to qualify for the 421-a tax break. But B12 was once projected to open by February 2017, and that date is not even close.

Solish identified B15, a market-rate rental tower known as 664 Pacific (that includes a middle school), as the other building coming next. But 664 Pacific, once projected to open by February 2018, has been delayed by litigation, and likely won't be finished until 2020.

A neighbor comments

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association reminded the AY CDC board that "the. duration of the project is really long" and that the project, as originally passed in 2006, "was meant to be complete by now."

"As the project is being implemented, we have kids that are going to be born on the block and go to college, and exposed to construction" throughout, he noted.

Board member Jaime Stein noted that there was a request by the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance (BCIZA) to "think about this project in its length and scope." She said that helped her better understand quality of life issues facing residents, as "the duration and uniqueness of the project became very clear."

Sunday, September 25, 2016

So, when developers in Syracuse and Buffalo get an RFP crafted for them, there's an indictment

As reported in the 9/23/16 New York Times,  Ex-Cuomo Aides Charged in Federal Corruption Inquiry, the corruption charges against former aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joseph Percoco and Todd R. Howe, as well as state official Alain Kaloyeros involve the award of “lucrative projects to a few favored developers."

That involved cooked requests for proposals, or RFPs. And that made me think of the way the Metropolitan Transportation Authority 's Vanderbilt Yard, the key property in the Atlantic Yards project site, was awarded to Forest City Ratner.

The comparison isn't exact, but the special treatment in both cases was blatant. As the Times put it regarding the recent case:
In one instance cited in the complaint, prosecutors say Mr. Howe sent an email to Dr. Kaloyeros saying he had “vitals for Buffalo and Syracuse friends.” He was working with a prominent corporate donor, LPCiminelli, a builder based in Buffalo, to create a request for proposals that effectively made LPCiminelli the only eligible bidder.
Or, let's go to the press release from U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara:
More specifically, in or about October 2013, Fort Schuyler issued requests for proposals (“RFPs”) to solicit bids from interested and qualified developers for the Syracuse and Buffalo projects. KALOYEROS, with HOWE’s assistance, oversaw the drafting of the RFPs and, unbeknownst to Fort Schuyler, KALOYEROS and HOWE secretly solicited from AIELLO, GERARDI, CIMINELLI, LAIPPLE, and SCHULER qualifications of the Syracuse Developer and Buffalo Developer to put in the RFPs so that the RFPs would request qualifications specifically held by those companies. For example, the Syracuse RFP requested the use of specific project management software used by the Syracuse Developer. After HOWE emailed GERARDI and AIELLO a draft of the Syracuse RFP approximately two weeks before its public issuance, GERARDI sent back to HOWE and AIELLO a handwritten mark-up of the draft RFP, on which GERARDI had, among other things, underlined the software names and wrote “too telegraphed?? I would leave out these specific programs.” For its part, the Buffalo RFP, as initially issued, required 50 years of experience by a local developer – a qualification touted by the Buffalo Developer in promotion materials provided to KALOYEROS. This requirement was later changed and claimed to be a “typographical error.” The Buffalo Developer also was provided internal State documents to use in its submission.
From the complaint; click to enlarge
(Emphases added)

The Vanderbilt Yard comparison

OK, there's no evidence of bribery in Brooklyn, but how different was this, in a material way, from the Vanderbilt Yard RFP? As the Brooklyn Paper reported 7/16/05:
Even the MTA request for proposals seemed tailor-made to Ratner, stating that the “City of New York’s designated Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area developer has proposed a high density mixed-use project for the site and surrounding parcels including an arena.” 
Indeed, the RFP stated:
The subject property is adjacent to the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA). The City of New York’s designated ATURA developer has proposed a high density mixed-use project for the Site and surrounding parcels, including an arena. Additionally, it is contiguous to the recently expanded Downtown Brooklyn Special Purpose District, which provides for C6-4 zoning, allowing for an FAR of 10.
Just because the city had a "designated" developer for the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA) didn't mean that the developer deserved to win the RFP. But in the Brooklyn case, the irregularity was even more blatant: there was already a project proposed. 

How an after-the-fact RFP was not considered tainted remains an enduring mystery of Atlantic Yards.

Eminent domain valuation that accepted potential rezoning is upheld in appeals court

An important Atlantic Yards eminent domain valuation has just been validated by an appellate court. I wrote in May 2014 how a condemnation judge, in valuing and empty lot off Atlantic Avenue within the project footprint, denied the state's claim that there would have been no rezoning.

Kings County Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta agreed with the property owner's argument that the site, without the project, could have become a 12-story hotel, concluding, "Most probably, the entire M1-1 [one-story manufacturing] district in the Atlantic Yards footprint would have been upzoned."

Why is this important? Because Empire State Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development, or ESD), in the 2006 Atlantic Yards environmental review, claimed the project site would not "experience substantial change in the future without the proposed project... due to the existence of the open rail yard and the low-density industrial zoning regulations."

When the very reasonable possibility of a rezoning was raised, the state authority stonewalled, claiming, "While the City, if it desired, could rezone the project site, it has not."

The original case

730 Equity Corp. v New York State Urban Dev. Corp. involved an empty lot on Block 1120, Lot 35, at 730-740 Atlantic Avenue just west of Carlton Avenue. It juts into the below-grade Vanderbilt Yard.


Following that conclusion, Saitta rejected the state's claim that the property was barely worth $2 million as a gas station, and instead valued it at nearly $9.2 million, far less than the $20.6 million that the owner sought but still a major gain.

As I wrote, the developer, which pays for the land, likely still got a good deal, since the property will later be part of a plot for a 460-foot tower with 733,810 square feet, six larger in bulk than the hotel

The appeal

In a recently released appellate decision, judges unanimously rejected the appeal by ESD, the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, including condemnation. (The state's lawyers were from Berger & Webb; the property owner's from Goldstein, Rikon, Rikon & Houghton.)

The decision notes more details about the valuation:
The court made certain adjustments to the claimant's appraisal, including the deduction of $2,792,576 in extraordinary costs related to a need to excavate and replace unsuitable soils and the costs of LIRR approvals and monitoring, on which ESDC had provided expert evidence. The Supreme Court determined that just compensation for the taking of the property was $9,186,000. Judgment was entered in favor of the claimant and against ESDC in the principal sum of $6,906,000, representing the valuation of the property less an advance payment of $2,280,000. 
While courts typically are limited to assessing the uses permitted by current zoning, the judges said, "when there is a reasonable probability of rezoning, some adjustment must be made to the value of the property to reflect that fact."

The trial court "properly determined" that reasonable probability of rezoning, the appellate judges wrote:
 Contrary to ESDC's contention, the court's failure to delineate the exact boundaries of a probable rezoning did not undermine its finding that the property would probably [*2]have been rezoned absent the project. The court's findings that many of the buildings in the immediate area had been converted to commercial and residential use, that New York City policy was to rezone underutilized industrial sites to allow for commercial or residential development, and that a zoning district with a FAR of 6 would be in scale to this portion of Atlantic Avenue were supported by the record.
The court properly distinguished the Atlantic Avenue corridor from lots on the more narrow Pacific Street, which are more functionally part of Prospect Heights than the subject property. 
The judges also rejected the claimant's effort to stop the trial court's "deduction of extraordinary costs to account for excavation and replacement of unsuitable soils, with related excavation protection, underpinning and pile foundation, and LIRR costs."

When it comes to the Barclays Center, Zimbalist now switchable as independent academic analyst

It was rather entertaining to read this 9/5/16 Newsday article, by Jim Baumbach, headlined Islanders’ pact gives team a Barclays opt-out after 3 seasons. Not only is it a good analysis of the potential to dissolve the deal between the team and the arena, it contains these paragraphs:
This type of setup is unusual for a professional sports team, experts said. Multiple sports executives and sports business experts said they know of no other sports team among the four major sports that has a deal similar to the Islanders’ in which the arena, acting as the landlord, has control over items such as ticket prices, marketing and even the team’s website. The deal was designed to provide the Islanders short-term financial stability with the $53.5 million annual fee that didn’t exist at Nassau Coliseum but also give the team an exit strategy.
“Charles Wang wanted to keep his options open, but at the same time he wanted to have the best short-term plan that he could, and Bruce Ratner wanted to have another tenant for another 45-plus dates a year,” said Andrew Zimbalist, sports economics professor at Smith College. “That’s the way in which the sides came together, and that’s why the deal is fragile for the longer term.”
An academic hat

So here's Zimbalist, wearing his academic hat, forgetting how he was paid by arena developer Forest City Ratner to write a deeply flawed report on how the arena would be a gold mine for the public, as I dissected it in 2006 as The $6 billion lie.

After all, to quote Zimbalist's 2005 report Estimated Fiscal Impact of the Atlantic Yards Project onthe New York City and New York State Treasuries
Many of the numbers used in this report concerning Nets attendance, ticket prices, construction costs and other items come from projections done by or for the Nets. I have discussed these estimates with the Nets and they seem reasonable to me. The Nets project that the arena will not host an NHL team and that it will host 226 events during the year (assuming the eventual closing of CAA, no new arena in Newark, no NHL and no minor league hockey events at the Atlantic Yards arena.) The Nets project out three scenarios over time based on aggressive, moderate and conservative assumptions. I use the estimates from their moderate scenario.
As Jung Kim and Gustav Peebles pointed out in their response to Zimbalist's report, he thought it "reasonable" that the Continental Airlines Arena (CAA) at the Meadowlands would close and there would be no new arena in Newark. But that left nowhere for the New Jersey Devils to play and, indeed, that Newark arena did arrive.

The great irony is that Ratner made a decision to downsize the Brooklyn arena to save money, but the Islanders decided that the local fan base and TV contract were worth it to play in a venue with awkward layout and sightlines.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

From the latest Construction Update: drill track being constructed in railyard

According to the latest two-week Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (bottom), covering the two weeks beginning Monday, Sept. 26 and released Thursday at 2:40 pm (early!) by Empire State Development at 5:43 pm (late) after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, there's not a lot new planned.

Notably, construction of a new temporary drill track in the center block of the Long Island Rail Road's Vanderbilt Yard, between Sixth and Carlton Avenues, is expected to begin during the two weeks. A drill track allows trains to switch from one track to another.

Also, as previously reported, "sewer refurbishment activities have started on Pacific Street including surveys, cleaning, relining, and manhole grates replacement work."

After-hours work

Also, there may be late shift, Saturday, and overnight work. Saturday work is expected at B2 (461 Dean Street), and may occur at other sites, including B3 (38 Sixth Avenue), B11 (550 Vanderbilt Avenue), B12 (615 Dean Street), and B14 (535 Carlton Avenue). Second-shift work also may occur at B2, which is the first tower expected to open.

Weekend electrical utility work will continue at the LIRR rail yard, and demolition of the LIRR tunnel should continue on weekends, continuous from Friday night through Sunday morning.

As stated in the past eight construction updates, demolition at Block 1120, the railyard block between Sixth and Carlton avenues, could commence upon receipt of Department of Buildings and Department of Transportation. A community notice will be distributed.

Friday, September 23, 2016

In 461 Dean market-rate rollout, units start at $2,450, not far off "affordable" rent; where are the kitchens?

The New York Post on 9/22/16 published Everything you need to know about NYC’s best new buildings and, guess what, 461 Dean is among them:
The 32-story 461 Dean — billed as the world’s tallest modular building — will launch leasing in October. The property, located at 461 Dean St. at the edge of Prospect Heights, forms just one part of the 15-building 22-acre Pacific Park Brooklyn megadevelopment. The SHoP Architects-designed structure will fit 363 rental homes, 182 of which are priced at market rate from the mid-$2,000s to the high $4,000s per month. The remainder are reserved for low- or middle-income tenants. No matter the income level, all apartments have washer/dryers, stainless-steel kitchen appliances, custom lacquered cabinetry and quartz counters. The amenity package fits a fitness room with yoga/dance studio, a game room with billiards and video games, an art studio and a roof lounge with a catering kitchen.

Yes, all the units come with washers and dryers, and the two-bedroom units have two bathrooms.

However, no units, as shown in the layouts at bottom and at right, have separate kitchens. Odd.

Of course, while the building is touted as the "tallest modular building in the world," no mention is made of some serious hiccups on the way.

Monthly rents

The web site is now live, as shown in the screenshot up top, and it indicates the following starting rental prices, as below right:
  • studios, $2,450
  • 1BR,     $3,125
  • 2BR,     $4,750
For the smaller units, at least, that's not far off the most expensive affordable units, as shown in the screenshot below:
  • studios, $1,996
  • 1BR,     $2,504
  • 2BR,     $3,012
That means a market-rate studio is 22.7% more than the most expensive affordable one.

Consider that the 461 Dean web site requests that interested parties email for "current incentives," which indicates that, in today's somewhat clogged high-end rental market, there are mini-bargains to be had.

If a renter gets a free month, well, that brings the net effective rent for a studio over 13 months to $2,262 a month, which is 13.3% more than the affordable rent.

By the way, units at the all-affordable  535 Carlton are even closer to market, with the most expensive studios at $2,137.
Affordable rents at 461 Dean




Thursday, September 22, 2016

Forest City executive excited about ambitious Site 5 plan. But ESD officials stonewall AY CDC board members when queried.

This the first among articles based on the 9/20/16 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), set up to advise Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

Mock-up from Department of City Planning presentation;
Site 5 tower could be 50% higher than bank building
Is the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer getting any closer with its ambitious plan for Site 5, long home to the big-box stores Modell's and P.C. Richard, across Flatbush Avenue from the Barclays Center?

If you listened to Empire State Development staff at the AY CDC meeting, not only is everything on hold because of litigation, Forest City Ratner--generally the public-facing part of the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture--can't even talk to them about Site 5, because a judge has stalled condemnation.

The developer's take

But in yesterday's Commercial Observer interview with Forest City Ratner Project Director Susi Yu, she sounds pretty focused:
The other part that’s exciting for me is working with the state to move about 760,000 square feet of air rights that we have at the prow of the [Barclays Center] to site 5, across the street from where P.C. Richard and Modell’s are, to build an iconic commercial headquarters building above a retail base. Having a major headquarters building also creates a huge benefit to the retail businesses around there. It’s mostly a bedroom community. There is no during-the-day traffic so to have office workers in that area to use the services will actually make it a much more thriving community and development. I’m completely excited by that.
Yes, Yu's language was ambiguous, but being excited about "working with the state" suggests that plans are indeed percolating.

Note that the developers do not have "air rights" but rather an approved plan to build a 1.1 million square foot tower, B1, that likely would be too complicated or expensive to build around the arena, and would massively interfere with arena operations.

So now they'd like to transfer a good chunk of that square footage to Site 5, where a 250-foot, 439,050 square-foot building is already approved, creating--at least as presented to the Department of City Planning (DCP) in January--a massive two-tower project across the street from row houses.

From Department of City Planning Presentation; the Site 5 project is proposed to be
 three times the bulk of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building across Flatbush Avenue
Of the four scenarios presented to DCP, in only one would the larger of the two towers contain office space. In other words, an iconic commercial tower may be a justification for the required revision of the governing Atlantic Yards General Project Plan--along with keeping the arena plaza "public"--but it's not guaranteed.

Also note that, as described to City Planning, the project at Site 5 would contain 188,000 square feet of high-end retail, which presumably would aim to intercept many retail customers from leaving the building and visiting those nearby retail businesses.

At AY CDC

At Tuesday's meeting, at about 30:50 in the video below, board member Jaime Stein asked if there was any update on Site 5.

No, responded Greenland USA executive Scott Solish, representing the joint venture.

"I have been made aware of a City Limits article," Stein said, in which the Department of City Planning was presented with a Site 5 proposal. "Is that going to come to us, at what point?"



Solish said it was not a direct proposal but "more of a scenario concept."

Stein pointed out that a slide stated that modifications to ESD's General Project Plan would be required.

ESD executive and AY CDC President Marion Phillips III stepped in. "When and if the developer comes to us to make a proposal," he said, as it if were some remote possibility, "it will come to these directors for advisement. And since we do not know what that proposal is, we cannot tell you the extent of what the review process" will be.

Board Member Linda Reardon asked if the developer would "brief us on what is going on, vis a vis the City Planning" presentation.

Litigation stalls discussion?

Phillips again stepped in. "Since there is pending litigation, Forest City is not able to answer that question in front of us," he said.

Board Member Barika Williams asked if "someone else besides Forest City" could brief them. (After all, Greenland is not part of the litigation filed by P.C. Richard, which claims Forest City promised it a store in the future development at the site. And Solish works for Greenland.)

Phillips again answered. "What the developer presented to City Planning was just an idea, what they presented to us is an idea," he said. "Since that time has passed, nothing has been proposed to modify the GPP [General Project Plan] They have not asked us to take any action, and until they ask us to take action, it would be premature for us to assume what that action would look like."

Maybe it would be premature, but surely the developer has dropped some hints, and in March Forest City executive Ashley Cotton did describe the outlines of the plan, but omitted most of the details shared with the Department of City Planning.

"Can we assume there's an interest in modifying it," Stein followed up, noting "that was something that was not shared with us."

Another ESD staffer intervened. ESD Counsel Robin Stout explained that, on "February 18 or so, in conjunction with litigation to which ESD is not a party, Forest City Ratner, not the [joint] venture, was issued an injunction that said, basically they should not have conversations with ESDC about condemnation."

What the injunction requires

The judge's order; see text at bottom
"So basically, since that time... there's no update to give you," Stout said, "other than to say that, based on pre-injunction conversations, we do anticipate that there will be a request... when it comes, it will come to this board and to ESD."

That doesn't make sense. First, the injunction--see bottom--enjoins Forest City and any ally, notably ESD, from depriving P.C. Richard of its property interest.

That doesn't seem to stop them from talking about a potential building at the site. Couldn't Forest City simply tell ESD it thinks the case may be settled, and thus it only wants to discuss the Site 5 plans, not the need for eminent domain?

After all, if the injunction is broad enough to preclude any discussion of Greenland Forest City Partners' plans for Site 5, how then could  Cotton at the March AY CDC meeting discuss those general plans? Either she was in violation--I doubt it--or the injunction does not preclude such discussion.

Board Member Daniel Kummer expressed worry that, "by the time it comes to us, it may be presented essentially as a fait accompli."

Phillips said that wasn't the case. "Something of this magnitude is going to have to be well vetted in the public arena. It will not come to you a fait accompli."

True, it can't, because a public process will involve hearings before the GPP can be changed. But, given the history of this project, there's no reason to think that ESD executives will push back much on the developers plans.

If so, then ESD executives who serve as staff or board members of the AY CDC--a body set up to advise ESD--would not bring advice or scrutiny to the state authority but rather impede such efforts.

The injunction

Forest City's Yu on the 421-a delay, working with Chinese partner, in-house diversity

Yesterday's Commercial Observer interview with Forest City Ratner Pacific Park project director Susi Yu contains some very interesting tidbits, along with her comments about Site 5, which I address separately.

The 421-a delay

Yu wasn't asked about the timetable for the delayed B12 tower, which is one of three development sites for sale. But she said "We actually put the footings in to preserve our 421-a benefit."

"In terms of the rest of the buildout, we have to see how 421-a plays out and in what form it comes back," she added. "It’s impossible to do residential development without it." That sounds like a pretty uncertain schedule.

Working with Greenland

Asked what’s it like to work with joint venture partner/overseer Greenland USA, Yu responded:
China definitely has a different way of working, so I think there’s definitely a little bit of an educational process in learning that in New York you can’t just do everything because you say so. In terms of dealing with regulatory issues, city and state issues, it’s something that they’ve actually learned and are now aware of how it impacts the development.
In other words, Forest City cares more than following the rules than Greenland does? Or is it that Greenland needs to know that you call the governor's office or the mayor's office first.

Timing of openings; affordable applications

While Forest City got 84,000 applications for the 181 affordable units at 461 Dean, aka B2, it got 95,000 applications for the 298 affordable units at 535 Carlton, aka B14.

I think that's a sign that a consistent number of people apply, especially for low- and moderate-income units.

Yu said the first tenants will move in in November, and the market-rate units will be markted in October.

The in-house meritocracy

Asked about the talent pool inside the company, Yu responded:
It’s definitely a meritocracy. Bruce’s appreciation for talent is really based on who you are. What’s interesting to me is that it’s not only women; it’s the diversity of race, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds. If you look at my team we have a Persian, Americans, two Chinese, one American-born South Asian, someone from India, and we have a couple of Jewish men sprinkled in there just for a little flavor. [laughs]
That's diverse, but it's not exactly reflective of, say, the diverse precincts of Brooklyn that came out for the Community Benefits Agreement.

"I would say that we hire based on how hungry people are," Yu said.

Indeed. "We are in some ways government’s worst nightmare, because we push," now CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin once said, "but without it, you do not get things done."

Jacobsian retail?

Yu called the coming retail--12 outlets in the first four buildings--reflective of "the whole Jane Jacobs 'eyes on the street'... I think it will signal the success of what we’re doing once people recognize and appreciate the types of tenants we’re working with."

Yes, the world has learned that street-level retail helps keep a lively, safe streetscape. Except no project from a single developer can represent Jacobsian organic development.

Notice: contractors will deliver electrical equipment to Pacific starting early Friday; one block closed to vehicles on weekend

A Community Notice yesterday from Pacific Park Brooklyn states that, beginning in the early morning hours, Friday, September 23, through Sunday evening September 25, contractors will be delivering and installing new DC substation modular building and transformers for the new Long Island Rail Road yard.

Delivery of the units will occur during the early morning hours Friday. They are said to be stored on Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues--which is already closed off for construction--but the graphic below shows Pacific between Sixth and Carlton avenues closed.

Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton will be closed to vehicular traffic on both Saturday, September 24 and Sunday, September 25 between 7 am and 7 pm.

Vehicular access in and out of the parking garages along Pacific Street will be maintained via Carlton Avenue. See graphic below. (An earlier message said, apparently incorrectly, that the intersection of Pacific Street and 6th Avenue would be closed during those times.)



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

IDNYC to offer Barclays Center discounts (because every undocumented New Yorker wants $12 beer?)

The New York Daily News reports, in an exclusive (i.e., fed to the paper by the city or the arena):
New Yorkers who have city municipal ID cards are in for some new perks.

Card holders will be able to get a 25% discount at Nets and Islanders game, boxing matches, and certain other events at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, officials are set to announce Wednesday.

...“What we really want this to be is a fixture of how New Yorkers interact with their city,” said Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
This is interesting. The original justification for IDNYC was to get undocumented New Yorkers identification so they could navigate the city. The perks, including free membership in museums on city property, were added to entice more New Yorkers--including me--to get the card.

Now there's a logic that New Yorkers deserve a discount to the Barclays Center, given that city subsidies and other benefits went into it. But I can't imagine that struggling immigrants without ID are eager to get to most Barclays Center events, much less pay inflated concession prices.

Also, a 25% discount--presumably only on selected events, not, say, when LeBron James comes to town--suggests that Nets and Islanders tickets are generally overpriced. After all, both teams had big trouble filling the building last year, with actual gate count for the Nets averaging 11,622 and for the Islanders 11,200.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Today's Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting: the agenda and the big picture

The not-so-detailed agenda for today's meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation is at right, noting updates on community relations and the project's construction.

The board materials are at bottom, adding only minutes from the previous meeting.

Presumably the board of directors will hear a summary of last week's "Quality of Life Community Update" meeting, in which a representative of Greenland Forest City Partners said, in response to community complaints about idling trucks and other violations, that "compliance is nearly 99%."

As I wrote, that may be so, but let's see the data, and some governmental response.

Given the tight fit of the project in a residential neighborhood, even a relatively small level of non-compliance can pose burdens. Consider the video below from yesterday, just one of many documented incidents.



Former state overseer's comments on the larger picture

We'll see if the board hears any discussion or mention of the comments, as I reported yesterday, from former Empire State Development Atlantic Yards Project Director Arana Hankin about the not-so-affordable project apartments and the overall lack of accountability.

Hankin told academic colleagues that managing Atlantic Yards was “a balancing act, making sure the project can progress, and also responding to community needs. And these interests typically were not complementary.” It's hard to see that the basic dynamic has changed.

Noisy 24/7 public drainage work on one block of Pacific Street could begin Wednesday, last for a month

A Community Notice issued yesterday by Pacific Park Brooklyn indicates that long-planned "Public Drainage (PD4) Work" on Pacific Street south of the Vanderbilt Yard could begin tomorrow, Wednesday, September 21. It should be noisy and could continue for a month.

No closing date for the work was explicitly stated, but the loss of parking on Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues should extend until October 20, which suggests the work will go for a month.

From the message:
As part of the Pacific Park Brooklyn development sewer infrastructure upgrade work (relining the sewer) will take place in the sewer main and at manholes located on Pacific Street between Vanderbilt & 6th Avenue.
This work will require the use of multiple types of vehicles, some of which will create noise and steam plumes. In addition to cleaning and vacuuming the sewer main from multiple manhole locations on Pacific Street, the relining operation is required to run continuously for 24 hours to complete and expect the process to take place during and after normal construction working hours. The other upgrade operations will involve work at each of the manholes for cover replacements and re-coating of the manhole interior.

The Carlton Avenue north-south pedestrian crossing at Pacific Street will be temporarily relocated west 200 feet, around the work zone, towards mid-block.

Monday, September 19, 2016

When former state overseer of Atlantic Yards came clean: "There really is no accountability"

Hankin at 9/29/10 meeting re arena plaza. Photo Tracy Collins
To observers of Atlantic Yards, Arana Hankin, an aide to Gov. David Paterson who in August 2010 was named the first Project Director for Empire State Development, seemed a good soldier.

After all, Hankin at a public meeting unwisely declared faith in Barclays Center sound control measures—which later required a new green roof to tamp down escaping bass. She enthusiastically helped developer Forest City Ratner raise funds in China via the sketchy EB-5 visa program.

But after Hankin left in 2013 for a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, her qualms about the project--renamed in 2014 Pacific Park Brooklyn--surfaced in both a public lecture and a published article.

She criticized the absence of accountability, called promises of jobs and housing overblown, and suggested government officials were overmatched by the powerful real estate industry. She said it was difficult to reconcile both the interests of the private developer and community needs.

She also described economic development agencies as "quasi-private entities [that] function more like a private corporation [and] are not required to be as transparent as government agencies."

Neither her lecture (below) or her 2014 Harvard Journal of Real Estate article, tartly titled Megaprojects’ Exclusionary Benefits: the Case of Local Government Policy Benefiting the Privileged Few (bottom), have been publicly discussed in New York.

The culture of no accountability

So Hankin’s surprising reproach—partly validating what I've called the “Culture of Cheating”, though I both agree and disagree with her analysis—not only helps understand the tortured path of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, it remains relevant today.

"There really is no accountability,” declared Hankin in her lecture (video below; see 10:09), after saying public agencies like Empire State Development--which both oversees and shepherds Atlantic Yards--fail to assess whether estimated jobs actually arrived, though its mission is to promote economic growth.

Project agreements, she lamented, were “purposely drafted to be as complicated and obtuse as possible, to allow for multiple interpretations and maximum flexibility." One of her roles was to determine "how ESD should respond to developer requests for additional benefits, and there were many."

In her paper, she wrote, "The lifespan of megaprojects is long, often spanning 15 to 25 years. Their successes and failures are difficult to track, but no attempt is made to evaluate these projects. Neither tax revenue, nor job creation numbers are monitored."

Brooklynites were misled by “affordable housing” claims, she bemoaned (as I explain separately), and megaprojects do too little to help the needy.

Hankin called the much-hyped Atlantic Yards Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)  “constructed so poorly as to give the developer maximum flexibility in delivering benefits.” The government, she agreed, uses “blight” to push megaprojects amid gentrification.

When I interviewed Hankin in 2011, she disagreed with my contention that ESD’s role in both overseeing and promoting a project posed an inherent conflict. Two years later, by contrast, she told academic colleagues that managing Atlantic Yards was “a balancing act, making sure the project can progress, and also responding to community needs. And these interests typically were not complementary.”



Unpacking promises 

The state’s method to estimate jobs and tax revenue, Hankin said in her lecture, inflates expectations, because construction jobs, for example, are counted in job-years (something Atlantic Yards critics and opponents have pointed out for more than a decade). Some community members told her they felt "bamboozled."

To shape public perceptions of a project, developers have adopted CBAs, Hankin explained, citing not only Atlantic Yards but also ESD’s work on Columbia University's expansion into West Harlem.

Not only do CBAs serve “a small subset of the population,” Hankin warned, negotiators are overmatched, as developers aim “to quell the community, not to make sure the benefits they committed to delivering make the greatest impact.” There's "no long-term sustainable economic growth plan" for surrounding communities, but CBAs quiet some community leaders, because of gag orders or financial dependency.

That’s no radical statement. A Forest City-hired nonprofit consultant, Ritchie Tye, concluded that the developer compensated CBA partners for community support, not to fulfill programmatic goals, according to lawsuit filings I found. Indeed, in an email that surfaced in the litigation, a Forest City executive said of one CBA group, "THEY WORK FOR US."

Understandably, Hankin suggested that CBAs be executed with government oversight.

Splits in the community

So there's no one left “to advocate for the masses, not in any organized way,” Hankin said in her lecture. In her paper, she lamented how officials representing low-income populations lacked the resources to fight for equity but instead responded to those louder middle-class voices pushing for environmental mitigation.

That left the only critical voices what she dubbed "the new community leaders” not part of the CBA, who Hankin claimed were “not concerned with” job creation or with local businesses receiving contracts, and “only mildly care about affordable housing,” but rather focused on quality-of-life issues. (She also said they had the luxury to commit time to advocacy, not acknowledging the considerable sacrifice it has taken for many.)

Hankin's take on the split in priorities is partly true, but it's more complicated. Sure, vocal nearby residents worry about construction noise and illegal parking, but that’s because the state allowed the building of 16 towers and an arena, in just 22 acres, encroaching on a residential neighborhood, while overriding city zoning.

Local activists actually split in 2014, with a large segment in BrooklynSpeaks focused on that new housing deadline (though not locking in affordability levels). And though Hankin said "no one is being held accountable," that ignores the constant reminders--from me and others--of the failure to hire the required Independent Compliance Monitor for the CBA.

It's also the state's fault. As Hankin wrote, "very little energy is exerted on projecting the long-term impacts on the citizens who live in the wider community surrounding megaprojects." That's a diss of an extensive environmental review that produces reams of paper but is aimed first to protect the state agency from litigation.

Quality of life oversight

Regarding quality of life issues, Hankin claimed that “New York has done well mitigating the environmental impacts of megaprojects.” That's dubious; a 2012 report prepared by an environmental consulting firm detailed the numerous violations of protocols during arena construction.

Last year, ESD belatedly agreed to install extra-large 16-foot fences around the southeast block of the construction site, aiming to mitigate noise and dust, and essentially conceding too little had been done previously. Regular social media posts detail incursions on the neighborhood from construction and arena operations.

A fatal relationship

Hankin pointed to a fatal alliance between developers and their governmental partners/overseers. Government inflates benefits and underestimates risks, she suggested, for the same reason it "neglects to hold private developers accountable,” that after approval “their political reputations” are on the line, and they can’t amend the deal.

That may be true in general, but I wish she'd considered how Atlantic Yards might have been different. In June 2009, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepared to relax terms in its agreement to sell Forest City development rights to the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard, the mainstream Regional Plan Association recommended—to no avail—that the MTA reciprocally request more long-term revenue.

Empire State Development then also amended project agreements at the developer’s request. But both agencies had leverage; Forest City was desperate to move the money-losing New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn and had a short, end-of-2009 window to float tax-exempt financing.

Long term oversight

Because megaprojects span multiple administrations, Hankin wisely observed that those who inherit a project “often do not feel an appropriate sense of responsibility.”

Indeed, that’s the pattern with Atlantic Yards. Hankin, whatever her flaws, got to know the project. Since she left, Empire State Development has had three nominal project managers for Atlantic Yards, as institutional memory diminishes.

It's also why the community coalition BrooklynSpeaks and some Brooklyn elected officials long sought an entity to provide project oversight. Instead, in 2014 they accepted a gubernatorially-controlled advisory body, the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which, while ventilating some issues, has been kept out of the loop on others and had relatively little impact.

Whose voice?

"It is a risk for the government to hold the developer accountable, especially when positive relationships with these developers are politically essential," Hankin said.

Developers and the real estate industry, Hankin observed, use lobbyists and the press to steer project momentum, leaving the mayor and/or governor overmatched “against an entire conglomerate,” with governmental leverage only prior to approval.

That seems partly true--private entities can concentrate spending and orchestrate media events--but I wonder. The city and state retain a huge bully pulpit, but only if deployed. With Atlantic Yards, I suspect, the top-down support from governors and mayors have hamstrung agency pushback.

Hankin, no longer in the more freewheeling academic world, didn't respond to my request for comment, and has password-protected her personal web site, where I initially found the video and article. Now Senior VP of the office space company WeWork, she recently provoked headlines for bundling the largest single contribution to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-election campaign. I can't blame her for not commenting.

Equitable policy, and what to do next

To achieve equity when megaprojects are built, Hankin intriguingly suggested that third-party advocates for local communities be required. That surely could help, but only if those advocates were truly empowered, not used as window-dressing. She wrote:
It is essential for government to take a proactive role overseeing implementation of benefits by mandating third party advocates for local communities and by rewriting economic development policy so that it contributes to the economic growth of a locality, not just the economic growth of big business. The CBAs executed in New York will not create any long-lasting positive impact locally. Other cities have been successful in delivering meaningful benefits to local residents while New York has failed miserably.
Hankin also suggested that megaprojects fund a “placemaking project,” such as a new cultural facility or a business incubator. That seems plausible, though the mutable nature of megaprojects would require such a commitment be locked in.

She wisely pointed to the need to ensure partnerships with less-established MWBE (minority- and women-owned business enterprises) contractors, not the “same handful of construction firms... used on every single project.”

Indeed, the developers of Atlantic Yards, which in the Community Benefits Agreement claimed to pursue "systemic changes in the traditional ways of doing business on large urban development projects," have worked for a decade with McKissack & McKissack, which calls itself "the oldest minority-owned professional design and construction firm in the United States."

Demanding more of government

Government should be conducting ongoing economic analyses of megaprojects, Hankin wrote, so such projects benefit all:
Policies that have dictated megaprojects have contributed to the widening economic gap in New York, speeding up the impacts of gentrification, displacing residents and local businesses, and supporting the growth of big business. Development in New York has a multitude of complexities. To be truly successful, policies will require a more holistic perspective that includes all of its citizens. New Yorkers should demand more of their government.
Who could argue with that? (Though Hankin, as her reflections indicate, was also sometimes frustrated by a certain slice of New Yorkers who were demanding more from their government.)

What's missing from her analysis, conducted at the end of her fellowship year, is a recognition of how politically difficult it would be. After all, New Yorkers can’t always get basic honesty from government. Consider: shortly before Hankin's tenure, ESD and its environmental monitor appeared to condone a cover-up of a Forest City contractor's falsification.

New ESD President Howard Zemsky was quoted in a June 2015 press release, likely prepared by the developer, that wrongly claimed the new Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park schedule meant housing would come “10 years earlier than originally predicted.” (Rather, it was 10 years earlier than the previously-extended "outside date." The project was originally predicted to be finished in 2013, not 2025!)

When I examined the state's monitoring of mold concerns at the modular tower, the documents I received from ESD in response to a Freedom of Information Law request were too redacted to provide answers.

Hankin surely knows that her own agency fell short. In March 2010, before she took the job, a state judge slammed the ESD for "deplorable lack of transparency" in its failure to acknowledge the possibility that Atlantic Yards might take 25 years to build rather than ten years. In July 2011, that judge, Marcy Friedman, ordered a new round of environmental review, calling an ESD legal claim "patently incorrect."

What's next

Today, Pacific Park faces a dramatic change that merits the skepticism Hankin lodged: the developers—now Greenland Forest City Partners, led by the Shanghai government-owned Greenland Group—seek to get ESD, her former agency, to amend project agreements. Their goal: a giant two-tower project across from the Barclays Center, nearly three times the bulk of the building previously approved.

This new approval process will be overseen by the unelected ESD board, controlled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A few members of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation may raise concerns, but most are Cuomo appointees.

I've called Atlantic Yards not a "public-private partnership" but a "private-public" one driven by the developer. Indeed, as noted, Hankin called agencies like ESD "quasi-private entities [that] function more like a private corporation." 

So her reflections remind us it's unwise to bet against the combination of the developer and the state, unless, of course, New Yorkers demand more.

Former state overseer: not-so-affordable Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park "affordable housing" builds distrust

It's notable how many advocates and elected officials have applauded the not-so-affordable subsidized housing that's part of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, calling it, for example, "a model for the shared vision of a New York that works for all."
From the Daily News

By contrast, expert analyst Tom Waters of the Community Service Society said, “Those apartments aren’t meeting the most serious needs of the city, at all.” (And the Daily News, anomalously, produced a tough headline, right, at the groundbreaking of 535 Carlton.)

Waters doesn't have a dog in this fight, unlike organizations associated with ACORN, which signed the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding with original developer Forest City Ratner.

Former state overseer gets harsh

A particularly powerful--and previously unknown--criticism comes from a very unexpected source, Arana Hankin, the former project director for Empire State Development.

(As I describe in more detail separately, in the 2013-14 academic year, she pursued a Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and reflected critically on the project she previously defended.)

Consider her comments in the video below, a 9/9/13 presentation Hankin made to her new academic colleagues. The "very complicated" methodology behind affordable housing, she observed, "just adds to the community's distrust."



Most people, she said, assume that affordable housing is below the Area Median Income (AMI), she said.  (The term “income-linked" would be more precise, since "affordable" merely means that rents aim at 30% of household income.)

According to the chart, the maximum income, at 160% of AMI,
was $132,800 for a four-person household. Now it's $144,960.
In the first Atlantic Yards residential tower, aka B2 (or 461 Dean Street), 40% of the affordable units go to households with incomes above 100% of AMI, Hankin noted.

Despite a promise of family-sized units, this first tower, flanking the Barclays Center, has no three-bedroom apartments, but many studios. (See my coverage of the compromises.)

"So it just continues to build the distrust, and there's misshapen expectations because of the ways in which the project was essentially sold to the community," Hankin said. As she wrote separately in an article:
Private developers’ use of the CBA [Community Benefits Agreement] and government’s insistence on taking a backseat role has continually marginalized low-income communities and stoked destructive infighting for limited resources. Local leaders who have signed these CBAs no longer are able to publically oppose these projects as a condition of benefit delivery, yet, because the developer has the upper hand during negotiations, these agreements are typically not legally enforceable and many of the benefits are never realized.
Or, those benefits are diminished, as noted below.

More context
It's actually worse than Hankin discussed. First, the New York City AMI--now an astounding $90,600 for a four-person household and $81,600 for three people--is inflated because it includes wealthy suburban counties. That makes a poor fit for Brooklyn, where the Census Bureau reports median income at $46,958 (for households of 2.74 people).

The largest chunk of two-bedroom affordable apartments in that first tower, 461 Dean--built from modular components--will rent for $3,012. In "100% affordable" 535 Carlton, two-bedroom affordable units can cost $3,223.

Those levels well exceed the $2,700 threshold at which vacant rent-regulated apartments can leave rent-stabilization, though these Pacific Park units will be considered "rent-stabilized" since annual increases will be tied to annual Rent Guidelines Board decisions.

Hankin did not mention that, after 2009 renegotiations, ESD gave Forest City 25 years—rather than the long-promised ten years—to build out the project. Since her lecture and paper, renegotiations in 2014, coupled with a threatened lawsuit and a new majority investor (Greenland bought 70% of the project, minus the arena and one tower), produced a new timetable with a 2025 deadline for the affordable units.

Expensive "affordable housing"

Undermining that progress, 65% of 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, two "fully affordable" buildings, will go to households earning above 100% of AMI.

Half the units are aimed at households earning between 145% and 165% of AMI. That’s drawn no criticism from government agencies or elected officials, though only 20% of the project's subsidized units were supposed to go to that middle-income cohort.

Mayor Bill de Blasio even called one building a model, though such middle-income housing aims at a tiny fraction of New Yorkers and departs from his focus on low-income affordable housing.

I have to think that Hankin, were she liberated again to speak candidly, would agree that it's no model.

Perhaps the discourse in New York could accommodate academics David Madden and Peter Marcuse, who in their new book, In Defense of Housing, write:
When so-called affordable housing programs are producing apartments priced at levels virtually identical to what developers would demand without the affordability requirement, it is clear that the term "affordable" is not so much descriptive as much as ideological.
That's not precisely the case here, as even a $3,000 two-bedroom apartment may be below-market. But such units are far too costly for the vast majority of those desperately seeking--and, in some cases, having cheered for--"affordable housing."