Brooklyn's elected officials demand new commitment for Atlantic Yards' affordable housing in advance of sale of Forest City Ratner's interest in project

BROOKLYN, November 15, 2013: Today, a coalition of Brooklyn elected officials, who represent the communities surrounding the Atlantic Yards project, and prominent civic groups, gathered at the Fifth Avenue Committee to call on Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to accelerate the delivery of the 2,250 units of affordable housing promised at the site and acknowledge in the newly required environmental impact statement, the socioeconomic damage to the community from the delay.  The coalition also presented demands that must be met before FCRC is allowed to sell a majority interest in the Project.

The group issued the following statement:

“In the seven years since the approval of the Atlantic Yards project, an arena has been built, but commitments of affordable housing for Brooklynites remain unmet. During the same time, the market for luxury apartments in Brooklyn has exploded, while the borough’s crisis in affordable housing spirals further out of control. We have watched with concern as the State has resisted taking action to ensure public benefits financed with taxpayer dollars are delivered as promised, even when faced with a court order to compel the review of the impacts from delaying completion from 10 to 25 years. ESDC failed to consider the impacts of the delay and now the people living in the neighborhoods surrounding the Project are being displaced at an alarming rate, which is particularly true for the many families and elderly who are being priced out of their homes due to gentrification. Now, instead of offering accountability to the people of New York, Forest City Ratner Companies has announced plans to sell a majority interest in Atlantic Yards to a foreign developer. Today we call on Governor Cuomo, ESDC, and Forest City Ratner to do the following:

“First, that ESDC defer approval of any sale of Forest City Ratner’s interest in the Atlantic Yards project until after a study of alternatives to expedite construction, consistent with the order from the New York State Supreme Court, has been completed.

“Second, that ESDC make any sale of Forest City Ratner’s interest contingent upon a written commitment to deliver the affordable apartments planned for the Atlantic Yards projects in the timeframe in which they were originally promised.

“Third, that the Governor, ESDC and Forest City Ratner publicly commit to improving the accountability of the Atlantic Yards project to the public, stating their support of legislation to create a dedicated local development corporation to oversee the project until its completion whose board includes outside directors appointed by the elected representatives of the people of Brooklyn.”

Elected officials joining this call were Assembly members James F. Brennan, Karim Camara, Joseph R. Lentol, Joan L. Millman and Walter T. Mosley; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; City Council members Letitia James, Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, and Council member elect Laurie Cumbo; and U.S. Representatives Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia M. Velázquez.

At the time Atlantic Yards was approved in 2006, Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) committed to completing its arena and 16 towers with 2,250 affordable apartments by 2016. However, in 2009, FCRC renegotiated the timetable for the project so that it could delay completion until 2035. A State court ruled that ESDC illegally approved the 2009 change, but construction of affordable housing at Atlantic Yards has continued to languish, with the first units not expected to be occupied before 2015.

“Now is the time to review the current construction schedule and get a written commitment from FCRC that the residential buildings and affordable housing units will be constructed in less than 10-years.  Following the 25-year build out schedule is too long for our community to wait for the affordable housing units to be delivered.” Said Assembly member Jim Brennan, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions.

"The Atlantic Yards project is a public-private partnership made possible by the investment of hundreds of millions of precious taxpayer dollars. Yet, the public has still not experienced the benefit of thousands of affordable housing units that were promised a decade ago. The decision by the developer to sell a majority stake in the project to a foreign investor raises troubling questions that must be answered before approval to move forward is granted,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries.

“25 years is too long for the communities in need to wait for promised affordable housing.  Our neighbors need housing now and the State must assert its oversight responsibility to ensure developers keep their commitments to the public,” said Representative Nydia Velázquez.

“ESDC’s obligation to ensure the public’s funds are used appropriately includes its careful review before approval of the proposed sale an equity interest to a group of Chinese investors.  Even throughout the financial crisis, financing for affordable housing was available, and the market is now healthy,” said Assemblymember Joan Millman. “What Atlantic Yards needs is not more remote investors.  It needs a careful assessment of reasonable alternatives so we can  deliver on the benefits that were promised to our communities.”

“Forest City and others have indicated the Greenland investment will deliver the affordable housing much more quickly, but we expect those commitments to be made in writing as part of the project agreements,” noted State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “And if the development team doesn't meet its deadlines, the State must require it to compensate the public for any and all delays in the development of the affordable housing. The affordable housing must come now.”

"Affordable housing is as urgent a need in Brooklyn today–if not more urgent–as when Forest City Ratner Companies first promised 2,250 affordable units nearly a decade ago,” said City Council member Brad Lander. “But it’s hard to live on a promise.  Our communities need to see real deadlines and commitments, with real consequences for failure or further delay.”

“When the development of Atlantic Yards was proposed, the families and children of Brooklyn were promised several thousand units of affordable housing,” said Representative Yvette Clarke. “Today, as the cost of renting an apartment has continued to increase, Forest City Ratner has both a legal–and, more importantly, a moral–duty to uphold that promise.  Today, the people in our community need actions, not words.”

“A commitment is a commitment and Forest City should be held to their agreement to develop affordable housing at Atlantic Yards,” said Council member Stephen Levin. “The community depends on these units being built and will not accept any further delays.”

“The broken promises at Atlantic Yards show what happens when elected representatives are left out of the process,” said Assemblyman Walter Mosley, whose 57th Assembly District includes nearly all of the Atlantic Yards footprint. “The ‘home court advantage’ Brooklyn gained with the new arena has not proved beneficial for the working families who are being squeezed out of our borough and city. We stand here today ready to work with the State to make sure a new plan at Atlantic Yards will be a win for everyone.”

“Without a fair development plan, affordable housing will come too late to help low-income residents, thousands of whom will likely have already been displaced from the communities that were supposed to benefit from Atlantic Yards.,” added City Council member and Public Advocate-elect Letitia James. “The time for promises has ended—there will be no new deal without a project agreement with the community that includes a firm timeline.”

This week, the coalition of elected officials sent a letter to MaryAnne Gilmartin, FCRC’s Chief Executive Officer requesting a meeting with FCRC to discuss their concerns about the construction schedule and other issues, including concerns about governance and the development of future open space areas.