Ratner: Affordable housing won’t work for Atlantic Yards

The latest bombshell to drop at the Atlantic Yards project came yesterday with the release of renderings of its first planned residential tower. As reported today by the Wall Street Journal,

    Mr. Ratner said Thursday that the existing incentives for developments where half the units are priced for middle- and low-income tenants "don't work for a high-rise building that's union built."

    He added that he had "accepted the fact that we're not going to get more subsidy."

The first part of Bruce Ratner’s shocking statement pits union workers against working families, and becomes truly appalling when one considers his project removed 171 units of occupied affordable housing from the Atlantic Yards footprint before beginning construction. It sounds like the families he displaced shouldn’t plan on coming back now.

The second part of his statement may set the stage for Forest City Ratner to claim an “Affordable Housing Subsidy Unavailability” under the master development agreement it executed with the Empire State Development Corporation. That’s one of the conditions that allow FCR to drag construction of Atlantic Yards out even longer than the 25 years which it renegotiated with the ESDC in 2009 (and which a State Supreme Court judge ruled that ESDC approved illegally).

It’s possible that Mr. Ratner is posturing for a negotiation with union officials aimed at reducing wages for labor on his project. But it’s also likely that the result will be not only a reduction to union scale, but fewer affordable units than promised, with a longer wait for those units to be delivered, and at a greater cost to the public.

Why do we think so? Let’s review the score on the plan that was approved originally:

  • First, $200 million of State and City subsidy wasn’t enough for Atlantic Yards.
  • Next, Frank Gehry’s architecture was too expensive for Atlantic Yards.
  • Then, the 10-year project schedule was too short for Atlantic Yards.
  • Eight acres of open space also didn’t work for Atlantic Yards, unless one considers an 1,100-car surface parking lot to be open space.
  • And providing unionized jobs for local residents hasn’t worked for Atlantic Yards, either.

Now, the 2,250 units of affordable housing are in greater doubt. It may be the only public promise that FCR will be able to keep is that its arena will create a traffic nightmare in central Brooklyn.

At a September 26 meeting with community leaders and local legislators, ESDC CEO Kenneth Adams dismissed the idea that Atlantic Yards, like other large State projects, required dedicated oversight from his agency (as the State Assembly voted to approve in June). “Every project is different,” he said.

In a sense, Mr. Adams is right. Atlantic Yards is different practically every month. But that’s why his ESDC needs to bring this project under control.