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June 22, 2007

Ratner sticks low-income renters with bill for Atlantic Yards

One detail about the Atlantic Yards exception that most bloggers and reporters are overlooking will likely eventually generate considerable outrage.

Atlantic Yards "affordable" housing isn't just going to cost taxpayers more money than other developments that qualify under the 421-a program. It will hit lower-income tenants in the pocketbook as well!

The very people who are supposed to benefit from 421-a reform will get to kick in a higher percentage of their income toward rent, just for the privilege of living at Atlantic Yards. In the most simple terms, Ratner will get to make more off the poor than all other developers receiving the same tax breaks.

The only voices in the media that have even tried to tackle this issue are Norman Oder, in his first post on Atlantic Yards Report, and Brad Lander, in Juan Gonzalez's Daily News column.

Oder does a great job of overexplaining it (we've already complained):

But how could Atlantic Yards have 20 percent of its units affordable to families earning 70 percent of AMI [Area Media Income]? As currently configured, Atlantic Yards would have 4500 rentals, with 20 percent of them low-income, up to 50 percent of AMI, and perhaps another 5 percent up to 70 percent of AMI. But the 1730 market-rate condos, and 200 affordable for-sale units, would skew the balance upward.

So the project, and the bill, may undergo some adjustment, but one way of meeting the new goal would be to rent apartments to tenants whose incomes are 70 percent of AMI but to charge them more. The bill states that “the rent for such units does not exceed thirty percent of eighty percent of the area median incomes adjusted for family size.”

Translation. If you earn 70 percent of AMI, you might get an apartment, but you'd have to pay rent as if you earned 80 percent of AMI.

Lander, a veteran affordable housing advocate, explains it more clearly in Gonzalez's column:

The special provision, says Brad Lander, director for the Pratt Center for Community Development, will let Ratner charge an average of more than $350 per month in additional rent for the "affordable units" in Atlantic Yards.

A cynical public has grown used to shrinking or non-existing benefits years after a project's completion, but to watch public benefits unravel even before a project has broken ground is surreal, and is an indictment of the total absence of effective political leadership where Atlantic Yards is concerned.

Without knowing the complete financial picture — financial projections have never been released, despite nearly $2 billion of public subsidy — one can only come to two conclusions:

1) Bruce Ratner is a greedy devil who would shake down his own mother for her bottom dollar, or

2) the financial viability of Atlantic Yards is so precarious that Ratner has to extract income in every conceivable manner, including jacking up the rent for the low-income housing even before a single unit is built.

Posted by lumi at June 22, 2007 10:51 PM