‘Better Than Nothing’ Won’t Cut it for Critics of Brooklyn Housing Development

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William Alatriste

Then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, flanked by then-Planning Commission Chairman Carl Weisbrod and then-HPD Commissioner Vickie Been at a 2015 hearing. Glen shaped the affordable housing offered at 15 Bridge Park Drive.

Housing advocates raised concerns Friday over the almost $3,000-a-month asking rent for affordable housing units in a new waterfront luxury residential building in Brooklyn with a controversial history.

Sitting across the East River from the ever-changing Manhattan skyline and amid 85 acres of Brooklyn Bridge Park sits 15 Brooklyn Bridge Drive, a 140-unit building at Pier 6 off the southern entrance to the park on Atlantic Avenue. A few more steps into the park is one of the city’s ferry stops.

The building is listed on the city’s affordable housing lottery site. Rents on 40 available apartments range from a studio apartment for $2,947 to a three-bedroom apartments for $4,380 for annual household incomes that range from $101,040 to $204,270 for residents with one to a six-person household.

VOCAL-NY held a protest Friday morning in front of the Brooklyn property, depicting it as illustrative of flaws with the mayor’s housing plan.

“The mayor has consistently denied that he has not driven up rent prices,” said Joseph Loonam, housing campaign coordinator at VOCAL-NY, in an interview with City Limits. “These homes are not even for the middle class. They are for the upper class. We found the lottery on the city’s housing site and we have to shine a light on this. His so-called affordable plan is not affordable.”

But the Department of Housing Preservation and Development says 15 Brooklyn Bridge Drive did not receive any subsidies or financing from the city.

While the 40 units in question are listed on the city’s affordable housing lottery site, the city’s lottery system isn’t handling applications and the units do not count toward the de Blasio administration’s goals.

That’s because 15 Bridge Drive is different from most affordable housing projects.

The building is one of two sited in the park (the other is the 30-story building at 50 Brooklyn Bridge Park Drive). Together, they form the Pier 6 plan, which the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s board approved in 2016.

According to the Brooklyn Bridge Park General Project Plan, the park operates “under a mandate to be financially self-sustaining.” The park collects a portion of the permits and concessions for operations and maintenance funds and the other majority funding comes from “revenue-generating development sites” such as the Pier 6 residential development. According to reports, the residential development sites will produce a one-time revenue of $110 million as well as  $2.7 million in annual rent for the park.

There was legal pushback in 2015, as community groups Brooklyn Heights Association and Save the View Now opposed the development. There were two lawsuits, one against a luxury highrise on Pier 1 and another against the 15 and 50 Bridge Park Drive development on Pier 6.  The litigation against the waterfront property on Pier 6 ended last year when Brooklyn Heights Association and Save the View Now decided not to appeal after when a judge dismissed the petition saying the lawsuit did not have enough evidence to continue.* (The case against Pier 1 development was also struck down after a Supreme Court judge found the four-month statute of limitations imposed on such actions had passed.)

Robert Perris, district manager for the local Community Board, says the biggest issue for the community was the height of the building and how it blocked the views of the waterfront. But because of the unique nature of the project, there was little the board could say about it. “The community board’s ability to comment was limited because this was state project and not a city project,” Perris said.

According to the state Empire State Development, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, which manages and operates the parkland, is a state subsidiary. Brooklyn Bridge Park is governed by a 17-member board of directors appointed and chosen  by the mayor, the governor and local elected officials.

The de Blasio administration say then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen—serving as  chair of the park board—shaped a development that would have been otherwise completely market-rate housing.

Glen negotiated 25 housing units for “low-income” households under 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI) which is estimated at $76,880 for a household of three. Another 25 units would be “middle-income,” meaning set aside for households with incomes  under 130 percent AMI which is estimated at $124,930 for a family of three. And 50 of the units would be for households making under 165 percent AMI which is estimated at $158,565 for a family of three. The other 40 units at the site would be market-rate apartments.

The rents for studio to three-bedroom apartments set aside for low-income households ranged from $1,394 for one person to $2,075 for up to a 6-person household. Middle-income rents ranged from $2,307 for one person to $3,341 for a 6-person household.

According to HPD, the 80 percent and 130 percent AMI housing units have been filled through the housing lottery system and those approved applicants moved in this year. All of the incoming residents will have access to the fitness center, children’s playroom, and rooftop terrace.

The remaining apartments fall in the 165 percent AMI tier and the developers have had a difficult time filling those (a problem not uncommon to higher-price “affordable housing”).

“The affordable housing in this development was a result of direct negotiations that created a unique opportunity to guarantee affordability where there otherwise would not have been. Affordable housing should and can be a part of all new development conversations. This negotiation allowed for the creation of low and middle-income units in what would have otherwise been a 100-percent market rate development at no cost to the city,” said the HPD press secretary.

VOCAL-NY said it has been making one main consistent demand to the mayor: to build more housing for the homeless from the city. It wants an estimated 30,0000 housing units dedicated to homeless individuals and families, and 24,000 of those housing units should be newly -constructed. The group supports Bronx Councilmember Rafael Salamanca’s bill, Intro 1211, which would require 15 percent of all new housing development projects that receive city financial assistance for homeless families or individuals.

To the group, the backstory at 15 Bridge Park Drive doesn’t change the fact that it is targeting a precious resource at income groups with less urgent needs.

“We targeted this development because it was on the HPD lottery website that New Yorkers use to apply for the city’s affordable housing stock. If it’s not in the mayor’s portfolio, then the city should answer to why it’s online in the first place,” says Paulette Soltani, Political Director at VOCAL-NY. “Former deputy mayor Glen had the ability to include homeless set aside units in this development, and she chose not to. Her decision represents what we have consistently seen this administration do: deny homeless New Yorkers housing opportunities. At the end of the day, thousands of apartments are being sold as ‘affordable’ to New Yorkers, but over 61,000 homeless people in our city will never be able to access those units. Whether it’s on HPD’s lottery website or in political negotiations behind closed doors, this administration is responsible for housing homeless New Yorkers, and they are failing.”

 

* Clarification: An earlier version erroneously reported that two lawsuits concerning developments in the park concerned the same properties and were dismissed for the same reasons. 

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