Community organizations join to call for a new plan at Atlantic Yards

BROOKLYN, NY—On the day of the opening of Barclays Center, a coalition of community organizations today joined in a protest of Atlantic Yards’ failure to deliver on the promises of local jobs and affordable housing used to win approval for the $5 billion project, and called on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York to present a new plan for the site that prioritizes public benefits over the development of luxury housing.

BrooklynSpeaks, Brown Community Development Corporation, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) and the Fifth Avenue Committee were joined by numerous civic groups and block associations in demanding that the State:

At the time of Atlantic Yards’ approval in 2006, in return for an estimated $2.1 billion in taxpayer subsidies, access to the power of eminent domain, the purchase of public land below its market value, and an override of the City’s zoning regulations as well as a bypass of the its democratic land use review process, Forest City Ratner Companies committed to provide within ten years 2,250 units of affordable housing, 10,000 permanent jobs, 8 acres of open space, and a thriving mixed-use 15-tower development.

But less than three years later, the State agreed to modify the project terms. In a move courts have ruled violated State law, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) attempted to conceal an extension of the project schedule from 10 to 25 years—an extension which pushed the vast majority of promised jobs and housing into the distant future.

Now, two and a half years after the arena groundbreaking, the gap between promise and reality is stark:

  • As the result of eminent domain project demolition and construction has caused the loss of 171 affordable apartments from the Atlantic Yards footprint.
  • Not a single unit of affordable housing is under construction. Groundbreaking for the first residential tower has been repeatedly delayed, with current plans calling for only 9 apartments for families earning the median income for Brooklyn.
  • The average income of families who previously lived in those 171 affordable apartments was less than $15,000 annually, much less than the annual income necessary for any family to qualify for the future ‘affordable housing’ at Atlantic Yards.
  • Plans for the office building that was to provide space for the bulk of the permanent jobs have been shelved. According to FCRC, the arena will provide only 1,900 part time and non-living wage jobs, and 105 full-time jobs.
  • A one-acre “interim plaza” in front of the arena is likely to be the only open space available for at least a decade, and perhaps much longer.
  • The rest of the site, roughly 18 acres, remains a blighted wasteland of vacant land, and a surface parking lot.

“After delaying construction of the project’s first residential building for two years, Forest City is now taking advantage of scarce government affordable housing subsidies to primarily build studio and one-bedroom apartments for more affluent tenants,” said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee. “It’s not what Brooklyn was promised and certainly does not meet the critical need for housing affordable to Brooklyn’s working class families.”

“Taxpaying residents of Brooklyn have once again lost the opportunity for a return on their investment,” said Rev. Clinton Miller of Brown Memorial Baptist Church. “One reason we see continued budget cuts impacting all New Yorkers is because the City and the State routinely give money, tax breaks and other incentives to developers like Forest City Ratner and fail to hold them accountable for their promises. Although many are happy to see a professional basketball team come to Brooklyn, projects such as Atlantic Yards dramatically lessen the trust that the rest of us have in government.”

Individuals who have attempted to participate in so-called job training programs offered through the project appeared with the sponsoring organizations to express outrage over the outcome so far. "We were promised work on the arena as well as union cards in exchange for 15 weeks of unpaid ‘apprenticeships’. But we didn't get the work or the cards. Several of us gave up jobs or turned down other offers based on these promises made repeatedly by Ratner and BUILD representatives. We are suing not only to be compensated for the jobs we lost, but also to prevent future developers from dividing our communities by race and economics, only to enrich themselves", said Kathleen Noriega, an electrician working as a home attendant, one of seven plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Bruce Ratner and BUILD seeking unpaid wages under Federal and state labor laws.

"Forest City Ratner has pulled a bait and switch on Brooklyn, with the Mayor and past and present Governors as accomplices. They were never going to build the proposed and approved project. We cannot let one developer hold so much important land, seized by eminent domain and demolished, hostage for the coming generation," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokeswoman Candace Carponter. "In addition to the demands stated by the other sponsors, DDDB's position is that the remainder of the site must be taken away from Forest City, bid out to multiple developers to build according to guidelines developed by the communities that would be directly impacted. This will minimize risk of failure and delay, create businesses and jobs much more quickly, and expedite housing truly affordable to lower income Brooklynites and families. If we do not change course now, Brooklyn will suffer festering developer's blight for decades."

“Forest City continues to blame litigation for project delays, but the real reason affordable housing is held up is because the ESDC agreed to let the developer have 25 years to deliver it—and in doing so, violated State law,” said Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, which, along with other BrooklynSpeaks organizations and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, won a court decision ordering the project plan to be revisited. “ESDC now has an obligation to explore alternatives to the current plan, and should bring in other developers if Forest City can’t live up to its commitments in the ten years promised.”

“The broken promises of the Atlantic Yards are part of a larger pattern of big developers rigging the system to profit at our expense,” said Alvin Bartolomey of Families United for Racial & Economic Equality (FUREE), a member-led organization of low-income people of color organizing against displacement caused by Downtown Brooklyn’s luxury development boom. “FUREE members deal with poverty, housing insecurity and unemployment every day. We need our elected officials to join with the community to fight for fair development that benefits everyone, especially those most in need. That means giving us a real seat at the table and maximizing affordable housing, and good jobs with benefits.”